Cindy Coleman, of Walled Lake, works through dog obedience training with her 1-year-old chocolate Lab, Gracie, at Animal House Pet Services in Roseville. Owner and Head Dog Trainer Mechelle Geier recommends basic obedience training for any new pet owner.
METRO DETROIT — As the COVID-19 pandemic raged on in 2020, many people found themselves isolated. Cut off from co-workers, friends and family, many turned to pet adoption centers in search of a furry friend.
At points throughout the pandemic, many shelters ran out of pets for families to adopt due to such high demand. As the number of dogs in Michigan homes grew, so did the number of dogs in need of obedience training classes. As restrictions were lifted and it became safer to interact face to face, many pet owners sought help in gaining a more well-behaved dog.
“Initially with the pandemic, boarding went down as people weren’t traveling, and day care did the same as people were staying home,” said Linda Travis, the owner of 4 Paws Community Center in Bloomfield Township. “Training has remained constant. When we were locked down, there weren’t any classes, but as restrictions were lifted, we’ve had a lot more people interested in training and looking to develop a companion that works well in their household.”
Mandy Bradley, 4 Paws’ manager and an Animal Behavior College dog trainer, said the world of dog and pet ownership has dramatically changed in recent years. Before, it was more acceptable to leave a dog home alone and outside for longer periods of time. But recently, dogs and other pets have become an extension of the family, and owners want their dogs trained to be more compatible with the human lifestyle.
Travis is adamant about the importance of the business’s “Lunch and Learn” program. Customers can choose a 30-minute or 60-minute session, during which trainers will work with their dog on both basic and more advanced training techniques. The 30-minute sessions are broken up into three 10-minute increments, and the 60-minute sessions are broken up into six 10-minute portions.
Shorter training periods allow for the dogs to work on a desired behavior while giving them breaks to keep from becoming frustrated. When it comes to training on your own versus taking group classes, Bradley recommends group training with other dogs as it provides training while dealing with real-life circumstances.
“I find that having group classes is really good because it gives your dog a mock chance to interact with other dogs,” Bradley said. “A lot of times, dogs that are trained on a shock collar don’t really learn. They just start guessing and will just keep up with bad behavior until the shocking stops. With positive reinforcement, they’re taught that good things happen when they behave well.”
Mechelle Geier, the co-owner and head dog trainer at Animal House Pet Services in Roseville, said her business also saw an increase in clients as restrictions were lifted throughout the state. In February 2020, Geier said, there were between 15 and 20 dogs at a given time in her doggy day care. Today, she estimates that Animal House sees a minimum of 30 dogs every day in their doggy day care program.
“Given the pandemic, business got quiet when it first hit and people were staying home when they weren’t before,” Geier said. “A lot of people got puppies because, before, they didn’t have time. The thing that we saw with the boom of everybody getting an animal is that we weren’t out socializing, so the dogs weren’t out socializing.”
That lack of socialization among dogs has caused a lot of dogs to become fearful and skeptical of things they don’t recognize. Geier said that everyday items such as fire hydrants and mailboxes instill fear in dogs, and that fear turns into aggression. Animal House has seen several clients looking to build confidence in their dogs again while showing them the world can be a fun place.
Among the services available at Animal House are obedience classes, and a board and train program where owners leave their dog with trainers for a week to learn basic commands. After that week, the dog is picked up, and the trainers at Animal House relay all the proper information to the owner.
Animal House also offers what they call a Puppy Plan, where employees come to people’s homes before they even get a dog. During the visit, they will help people prepare their home for a new puppy while helping to set up the house for potty training and other issues that arise during those first days at home.
Geier recommends a basic obedience class for the majority of new pet owners. Animal House offers a six-week course that covers the sit, stay, down and come commands, as well as leash walking manners.
Another important consideration as life slowly returns back to normal and restrictions are lifted is the issue of pet owners returning to the office. In the blink of an eye, dogs that had all day to spend with their owner at home will now find themselves alone for long periods of time.
“These dogs aren’t used to being left alone. They’re not used to a crate,” Geier said. “They’re gonna be bored or have a lot of anxiety from people not being home. What I would encourage people to do at this time, start leaving your pet alone for very short periods of time. Start with just a few minutes and run to the corner store. Make sure to reward them if they’ve been good when you come back.”
For more information on services provided at Animal House, call (586) 772-3647 or email [email protected] For 4 Paws, call (248) 230-7927.