Puppies are popular gifts for Christmas and children’s birthdays, but what happens next? Stuart Anderson went to a dog obedience school to find out.
Dogs, as the saying goes, are not just for Christmas.
They are a loving companion and a friend for life – but only if they learn how to behave.
That’s why every new year after festive decorations are packed away and fresh four-legged friends are running riot around the house, a dedicated team of Portsmouth dog trainers gets ready for an influx.
The Angel Paws obedience school opens its doors to a procession of lively, cheeky puppies, keen to please, play, chew and be loved.
Rebecca Cornick, 32, from Copnor, is one of the founders of the school.
She says many puppy owners aren’t aware of the effort required to raise a dog untill they get one.
‘A puppy isn’t just for Christmas, but we do find that people tend to get them at a Christmas present or as gifts for their children,’ she says.
‘People are taken in by the cuteness of them and then the reality of having a puppy kicks in.
‘We are there as an extra support for people who didn’t realise it was going to be hard work.’
Rebecca says the school teaches dog owners how to get their pets to stay, return, be quiet, and socialise with other dogs by using rewards and positive reinforcement.
She says: ‘The reward can be some food, or you can also just make a bit of a fuss over them.
‘That often works just as well.’
The classes are run by volunteers, who also teach owners how to care for their pets, so worming, fleas and illness are all on the curriculum.
Co-founder Kerry Quinton, 49, of Copnor, says it can be heartbreaking to hear about dog owners who don’t put in the effort to train their pet and end up disowning them when the going gets tough.
She says: ‘It’s normally when summer comes up that they start hitting that eight-month mark.
‘Puppies go through a phase and their behaviour changes.
‘They can become more difficult to handle, and, just like teenagers, they start pushing the boundaries.
‘And when the holidays come up a lot of people want to do things with their children and don’t know what to do with their dog.’
Kerry says the classes are just as much about training the owners as their dogs.
‘Dogs don’t speak English, of course, but they pick up on your body language,’ she says.
‘You have to make it clear to them what’s not acceptable behaviour.
‘We can tell that the owners that are at the classes are the ones that really want to take care of their dogs.
‘They really want to bond with their pets and it’s just lovely to see. The dogs know that it is class night and they get really excited.’
Kerry says she became fascinated with canine behaviour after she adopted a German shepherd with aggression problems.
She says: ‘It was quite hard work getting him used to socialisation, but of course it was worth it in the end.’
Chris Popham, 62, is among the dog lovers at the class.
The Copnor resident has brought along her six-month-old puppy Cooper. He’s a cockapoo, a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle and has the personality of a big clown.
Chris says Cooper is her third dog.
‘I’ve got a chocolate labrador as well at the moment.’
Chris says she loves everything about being a dog owner, except perhaps the toilet training.
‘You develop a closeness with the animal and it gets you out and walking,’ she says.
‘The toilet training took a very long time but we got there in the end.’
Chris says Cooper has learned a lot through the course, including how to play nicely with other canines.
‘He always wants to get in there and join in with the toys and all the other dogs.’
Both Rebecca and Kerry say the best advice they have for potential dog owners is to research different breeds.
Kerry says: ‘Some dogs take longer to train than others. Terriers can be really mischievous.
‘You have to try and make sure the breed you choose can suit your lifestyle.
‘A lot of people give up on their dog, but if you put the work in you can turn them around.
‘You will end up with a really lovely companion for a long time.’
‘I’ve learned a lot about dogs’
It has been a steep learning curve for Flossy, a six-month-old ‘cavapoo’ with an adorable grin and tonnes of energy.
His owner, seven-year-old Melody MacLeod, of Milton, says she’s also picked up a thing or two during the obedience course.
Melody says: ‘I’ve learned quite a lot about dogs, like how to check their eyes, nose and tails as well as training Flossy.
‘I walk her about three times a day. She always wants to walk, that’s the poodle in her.’
A cavapoo is a cavalier King Charles spaniel and miniature poodle cross. Melody got Flossy for her birthday last year on August 27.
She says: ‘She was quite jumpy. She used to snatch treats out of your hand and she hadn’t learned anything yet. So we decided to come to puppy school.
‘She’s learned lots in the last seven weeks.
She’s learned sit, stay, and instead of snatching she’s learned to take it nicely.’
At a glance
COST: Puppy classes are £45 for seven weeks. There are also obedience classes at bronze, silver and gold levels regulated by the Kennel Club which cost £40.
WHERE: Angel Paws’ classes are at Moneyfields Sport and Social Club, Moneyfield Avenue, Portsmouth PO3 6LA.
WHEN: Evening classes take place throughout the year, visit angelpaws.co.uk for more details.
CONTACT: For more information about the puppy clases call (023) 9243 0010 or 07734 904 090.
A breed of their own
The labrador retriever has topped a poll of Portsmouth’s most popular dog breeds.
The BBC analysed 10 years of microchipping data by Petlog and Animalcare and found 6,600 labs had been registered in the area.
The poll, which did not include cross-breeds, found Portsmouth residents had also tagged 5,800 Jack Russell terriers, 4,600 Staffordshire bull terriers, 3,200 cocker spaniels and 3,100 English springer spaniels.
The Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association says about 25 per cent of all households own a pooch - meaning there are more than 8.5 million across the UK.
Kerry says other breeds go through spurts of popularity which are often prompted by film and television.
She says ‘northern’ breeds including Alaskan malamutes and Siberian huskies were currently popular choices thanks to the success of the TV show Games of Thrones, which features pet wolves (pictured left).
Kerry says: ‘Also, when 101 Dalmatians came out we got quite a few dalmatians coming through the classes.
‘Sometimes people see the the labradors on the Andrex ads on the telly and decide they want one for themselves.
‘But those dogs are always so well screen trained - they don’t show them chewing on the furniture!’
‘I’d wanted a dog for a long time’
Southsea’s Becky Scott, 32, had been dreaming of getting a dog her whole adult life.
Her dream came true after she saw an adorable Tibetan terrier advertised in a newspaper about four months ago.
Becky says two-year-old Austin’s big, floppy ears and friendly nature made him an excellent companion.
‘The breed is not very common,’ she says.
‘I didn’t know about them until I met one in the pub.
‘This was just before we were due to get a dog, and then we saw one in the paper advertised for re-homing, and so we re-homed him about four months ago.
‘I’d always had dogs as a child, but this is my first one as an adult.
‘I’d wanted one for a long, long time.’
Becky says Austin is calmer than most of the other dogs in the obedience course because he is a little older.
But, she says, the pooch still has his moments.
‘He does get excited, especially when we’re down on the beach. ‘And chasing other dogs, he does love that.
‘But he’s generally a little bit better behaved.’
Becky says Austin has come a long way during the course.
She says: ‘The most important thing is getting your dog to listen to you and he’s definitely improved on that.
‘It’s especially important in public situations when there are other dogs about.
‘It’s really important that they listen to you and they come back when you ask them to.’
Poppy has learned to play nicely
It was love at first sight when Anouska Zanellotti first clapped eyes on a tiny ball of fun she called Poppy.
Anouska, 26, and partner Jamie, 36, are delighted with their nine-month-old pet, a chihuahua/pug cross known as a chug.
Anouska says: ‘I always liked pugs but when I found out about this breed, I fell in love straight away.
‘We had always wanted a dog and we decided that she was the one.
‘She’s the best of both breeds, a nice mixture.’
At just under one foot from nose to tail, Jamie says Poppy is ‘a nice, portable size.’
Anouska and Jamie decided to take Poppy to puppy class so she would feel more at ease with other animals.
Anouska says: ‘She was nervy at first but since we’ve been coming to class she’s become a lot more sociable.
‘We have three cats at home so she’s used to being around other animals – plus, they’re bigger than her.’
Life in the dog house
When dogs are lost or given up by their owners, they are often taken to the kennels on Great Salterns Farm in Burrfields Road, Copnor.
Administered by Portsmouth City Council, the kennels can hold up to 16 dogs at a time.
Built contracts team leader Louise Bunker says the kennels are responsible for housing stray or lost dogs until they are claimed by their owners or rehomed.
Louise says: ‘Our standard duty is to have the dog for seven days.
‘If it’s not claimed within that time then the dog becomes the responsibility of the council instead of the owner.
‘That means we can look to re-home that dog. We have a register of people who are interested which helps us to re-home the dogs with a stable owner.’
Louise says the kennels receives reports of stray dogs in all kinds of places.
‘It can be absolutely anywhere,’ she says.
‘It could be in an abandoned building or in a park or they could be on the road which is, of course, quite dangerous.’
Louise says the kennels usually have about 10 dogs at any one time.
‘There are certainly dogs that come in that you do feel an affinity for, but you have to try to stay detached.’
If you have lost your dog or want to report a stray, call the kennels on (023) 9268 8181 or out-of-office on (023) 9282 2251.
Anyone interested in re-homing a dog can call (023) 9268 8091 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.