Dog Days of Summer, Vol 2: Puppy preschool impacts students and their humans

by Malcolm Butler

When Patrick Sexton and Sharon St. Andre found themselves spending inordinate amounts of time with clients who were having trouble dealing with behavioral issues with new puppies, the two decided it was time to put a plan in place.

Enter, Puppy Preschool.

About five years ago Patrick – owner of Sexton Animal Health Center on East Kentucky in Ruston – and St. Andre developed a program – named Puppy Preschool by Patrick’s wife – that allows owners to bring their newest furry friends to a place where they can learn how to become better “citizens.”

“We started having a conversation,” said Sharon. “What if we had a program where we could help the human understand how to work with their puppy and the puppy would have a place to go to get basic training and socializing.”

“Whatever routines and behavior that you want that dog to have as an adult, you will establish that in the first 7 to 14 weeks,” said Patrick. “You need to realize that those first few months you have them you need to be focused on intentionally curbing the bad behavior and reinforcing the positive ones and teaching them what you want them to know.”

What started out as a beta test with a couple of English Bulldogs has turned into a very effective training program for local puppies and their humans.

“Most people don’t know how to do it or they just don’t have time,” said Patrick. “Teaching puppies how to act is important between 7 to 14 weeks of age. That’s when you have the most opportunity to imprint how you want them to act, good or bad. And it desensitizes them; gets them out of the house so they aren’t so anxious when they leave their home environment.”

As impactful as the program is for puppies, it’s just as important for their owners.

“We gained our sanity,” said Melanie Morgan, whose border collie Fancy was a star student of the program. “Fancy learned how to use her brain. As a border collie and she was so smart. She learned how to figure stuff out, and we learned how to work with her.

“Ms Sharon always worked with us so we could learn with her. That made everything make more sense and made it so much more worth it. She didn’t go learn and that was it. We learned too so we could keep doing everything at home. And keep helping Fancy be the best dog she could be.”

According to Sharon the program takes about four to six weeks depending on the consistency of the owner bringing the pupil to Puppy Preschool.

“For a puppy that is 7 to 14 weeks old, if the human does their homework because I send notes home; if they do their homework – and believe me we know if they do or not – it takes four weeks generally,” said Sharon. “It’s also important that they bring the puppy consistently during those four (to six) weeks.”

Sharon said although seven to 14 weeks is the perfect age to begin the program, they will take puppies up to the age of six months. Any dog much older than that falls into a different category.

“In the beginning I did take older dogs, but they are very time consuming,” said Sharon. “And as I got more puppy preschoolers I just didn’t have the time to spend with them. With the older dogs it’s not training, it’s rehabilitation.”

Requirements to enroll in Puppy Preschool include a beginning consult ($40) with the owner and the puppy, and that the dog is up to date on vaccinations and is on flea medication.

“Our goal is to create a happy and balance dog that fits your family,” said Sharon. “That is why I like to have a consult with the humans because I need to know what the family dynamic is like.”

“I’ve seen her be so patient with so many pups and truly listen to owner’s concerns and teach them how to reinforce the skills she teaches,” said Sara Liner, who worked with Sharon at Sexton’s for three years. “The best foundation for any family is a good family dog, and Sharon has helped so many families have a loyal, well behaved companion to enjoy.”

Sharon said there is a limit on the number of preschoolers they are able to train on a daily basis.

“We try to keep preschoolers limited to a max of 15,” she said. “That’s about as much physical time as we can give to the training. The puppies shut down after 15 minutes. We go back and reintroduce training to them in the afternoons.

“We don’t have enough hours in the day if it gets over 15 preschoolers (if they are in training they are preschoolers). In a perfect world they are done in four weeks if they come every day. If they don’t come every day, it stretches out.”

Sharon said the puppies are trained on very basic obedience and good manners, including areas such as sit and stay, stay put at a door or gate, put their head through a leash, go in a kennel when asked, wait to eat, and other rules that humans set for their puppies. The preschoolers receive a certificate (or diploma) once they have received a mastery grade in all the areas.

For more information on Puppy Preschool, owners can call 318-251-8283. The cost of Puppy Preschool is $15 per day.

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