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Learning to Lead
by Jessica Garcia
Mar 23, 2010 | 1346 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For the Tribune/Lani Craig -
Larry Machado gives Rosco a treat at a Sunday dog training class.
For the Tribune/Lani Craig - Larry Machado gives Rosco a treat at a Sunday dog training class.
Larry Machado’s 18-year-old son Derek and his 12-week-old beagle Rusco have one thing in common: They like to play rough.

But Larry said he wants to discourage that behavior in his beagle, so he brings Derek to a puppy training class on Sundays to encourage the young man to stop Rusco’s biting and jumping and to take better care of him.

“I have one son living at home still, but it doesn’t mean he can’t be trained,” Machado said. “Kids that age tend to be rough with (pets) and being rough and being inconsistent really sends mixed messages to the pet. … Even at 18, he’s learning a lot to train pets and make them calm and well-behaved.”

According to the Machados’ trainer, Pamela Wangsness, everyone in the family can find some way to be responsible for a pet.

Wangsness, also known as PJ, is a certified professional dog trainer who runs her own business, Dog Training by PJ. She frequently holds puppy or kitten training classes in which children, mostly about 7- to 10-year-olds, are encouraged to attend with their parents and learn how to care for their pet.

Wangsness said the first step to considering a pet for the family is to think about whether the child or children in the home are ready for an animal to care for and live with on a longterm basis. If a parent wants to help prepare the child before bringing a dog or a cat home, she recommends trying out the child’s skills outside the home.

“Often times, we think it’s going to be an easy task when you decide whether to adopt a shelter dog or puppy dog,” she said. “If they want to be with pets, then have them volunteer at any of the local shelters as long as there’s parental supervision. So time is really the first thing to consider either in adopting a dog or a cat.”

Assigning simple tasks also allows the child to feel they have a part in taking care of a pet, Wangsness said. However, she added that parents ultimately must learn an important truth.

“Depending on the child’s age, there are certainly responsibilities that you can let a particular age of child do,” she said. “Often it’s feeding, taking the dog out to potty, cleaning up after them … but ultimately, it still is the parent’s job to take care of it.”

Adults should ensure that the end result is giving a child confidence by being involved in one or two aspects of pet care, Wangsness said.

Playing games with the dog can be healthy for both child and dog, but supervision is also required of the parent.

“I think as long as the child can take direction (they can be ready to care for a pet), but it depends on the dog as well,” Wangness said.

Larry said Rusco has been a “terrorist” to his older dog, Sarah, a mixed beagle and Border collie, because she wants to wrestle. To help Derek train Rusco better and help Rusco respect Sarah, the family will continue to go to the dog training classes.

“Much to (Derek’s) dismay, we made him (go to the training),” Larry said. “But he’s really enjoying it. We’ve only been twice, but the changes in the puppy are quite obvious.”

Wangnsness said it’s also important to ensure that the pet understands who’s really in charge. Some parents sit back and monitor their children as a professional trainer works with them, but parent involvement is part of establishing a proper relationship of authority with the dog, she said.

Larry agreed.

“It’s kind of being a parent from the seat of your pants,” he said. “You’re never too old to learn.”

Wangsness also ensures children know how to approach an animal and how the animal should respond to a human so as to help with bite or injury prevention.

Kids must learn how not to get too excited and mishandle a dog, Wangsness said, while parents of very young toddlers often need to be reminded to refrain children from hugging, poking or generally annoying an animal, especially a dog.

“If it’s a dog, it’s usually jumping on the children,” Wangsness said of teaching the pet to behave properly. “If it’s a puppy, it’s mouthing the children. One of the things I always remind parents is that it’s perfectly normal puppy or dog behavior and we’re just giving the children enough ability to help teach the dog. It’s a lot of management on the adult’s part.”

Leaving pets alone while they’re sleeping or eating and giving them space is part of teaching a child when to leave an animal alone.

Likewise, teaching the animal to live peacefully among children falls on the parent’s shoulders, she added.

“I’m working with a family that has a 3-year-old toddler and they have a baby arriving in the next couple of months,” Wangsness said. “They’ve done a good job of teaching their adult dog to be with their toddler, but now they’re worried about a baby coming on board, so we’ve worked to desensitize the dog to baby smells and noises. They feel comfortable with the dog and toddler, but we’ve reminded them that they should never, ever be left alone.”

Currently, Wangness is teaching a Sunday morning puppy training class that began on March 14, but she also offers other times during the week for animal socialization. She said she always provides written materials for families to read and become well-acquainted with the concepts she teaches in her classes.

For more information, visit Wangsness said she can also be found on Facebook if community members have questions or issues they would like to ask her about.
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