The Puppy whisperer. Dog training Montreal.

Dog training Montreal. Gaby Popper, the Puppy whisperer.

In the end, the 11-year-old won out.

We’re still not sure if it was his unrelenting pleading or our giving in to our own deep-down desire, but my husband and I caved and we got a puppy.

Bella, a beautiful Goldendoodle, came into our life the first week of March. And life has not been the same since.

Oh, to have as much energy and tenacity as a puppy. From Day 1 it’s been an adventure. Gone are the leisurely mornings reading the newspaper, because Bella wants to read it first. She’s relentless in her desire to get her paws on print! Even if we sneak it in she’ll hear the rustling of the paper and will come running from wherever she is. And she’ll jump up, over and over and over again trying to grab it from my hands.

And her nose for socks knows no bounds. The first week, she discovered my son’s penchant for leaving his socks around the house. Big problem. She’s put more holes in socks in under three months than Evan has in 10 years.

I really believe she thinks they’re hers — she’ll keep them by her side, and don’t even try to get them away from her.

Oh, and T-shirts. In less than a week she put holes in three of Evan’s favourites. In fact it was the hole in his Marvin the Martian T-shirt that really sent him over the edge and momentarily made him want to sell her.

I gently reminded him that I didn’t sell him when he bit me as a baby. That seemed to make him see the light.

But it was her trip out to the middle of our pool that sealed my decision to find a dog trainer.

There we were out on our back deck the second week in March. I was nervous to let Bella out there alone, but my husband Greg thought it would be fine.

Our above-ground pool has a cover on it (thankfully) which was covered in about a foot of ice.

One minute Bella was happily prancing around the deck and the next she’s in the middle of the ice floe.

The sight of us will surely be etched in the minds of our neighbours forever. Me in my nightgown screaming for her to come in. My husband trying his best to lure her in with dog treats and my son running around the pool holding his head in both hands screaming that something horrible was about to happen to his dog.

The only one unaffected by all this was Bella, who calmly decided it was the perfect place for her to do her morning business.

When we finally did manage to get her back to land, I knew we had to get some help.

After all, like all new parents, we want her to be well behaved, learn right from wrong, good from bad. And the stack of books we’d purchased clearly wasn’t cutting it.

I think we’ve done a good job so far with Evan, but Bella was far more headstrong at a much earlier age.

What we needed was a puppy whisperer. And I found him in Gaby Popper. I’d heard his name mentioned by friends of friends — as well as my own husband, who had his dog trained by Popper over 20 years ago — and his website offered a gold mine of information, including a 32-page how-to guide.

Popper has been in business for more than 35 years in Montreal and has trained about 10,000 dogs and their owners.

When I called Popper Dog Training Montreal I was struck by his voice, which sounded calm and measured, almost soothing.

Popper thought the best option for us would be private lessons — which he strongly recommends for families with either young children, elderly or handicapped members — rather than group classes. Doggy kindergarten can come later.

On his first visit to the house, it turns out, we had been doing everything wrong.

Popper looked into Bella’s toy bin and said, “What are you doing with a cotton rope? Do you want her to chew on things that are made of cotton for the rest of her life?”

Well, that explains her love of socks.

“And what about that rubber chew toy? Do you honestly think she’ll know the difference between that bone and a running shoe? Rubber is rubber.”

So much for teaching her right from wrong at an early age.

What was totally mesmerizing to me, though, was to watch Popper interact with Bella.

When she’s out on our back deck, she barks at anything and everything and we’re unable to stop her.

Popper had no problem.

Out he went, walked straight up to her, looked down and said in a stern yet gentle voice “enough.”

And she stopped.

He really is a puppy whisperer!

I asked Popper what we’d been doing wrong and he said that when Greg went out, he bent over at the waist and told her to stop.

“Why bend over? You’re the boss, you’re in charge, not her, don’t bend down to her level.” And he went on to regale us with a story of a police officer who was constantly bending over when he spoke to his dog.

“I asked him if he bent over when he arrested someone?” Point well taken.

The three of us went for a walk and the control that Popper displayed was amazing. Whenever I take the leash she’s jumping ahead, darting here and there, but when Popper took over, it was like she was a different dog. She marched along at his heel, sat when he told her to, and came when he simply patted his side. Amazing.

On visit No. 2, a week later, I didn’t exactly fare any better.

I tend to baby talk to her — after all, she is my little girl. In fact, a neighbour said to me about Bella: “With her dark hair and dark eyes, she looks like you.” Still not quite sure how to take that.

Anyway, as I was talking away — “How’s my little girl?” — Popper told me to stop talking to her like she was a child.

“She’s never going to listen to you. All she hears is blah, blah, blah. She doesn’t understand English and she’s going to zone out everything you say.”

Sheesh. Not her, too. I thought only Greg did that.

Strike 2.

And, sadly, visit No. 3 wasn’t much better. “That dog is going to bite you and you will want to sell her.”

What?

Why, I wondered, had Popper told me that? Apparently it had to do with my not holding the leash in the right position. And there is a proper technique to holding a leash. If you don’t hold it properly, it sends the wrong message to the dog.

I asked Popper when Bella would stop jumping up, or trying to jump up, on people.

“How long have you been asking your husband to pick up his socks? Or your son to clean up his room?”

Was visit four any better? Nope. Apparently because of my continued inability to hold the leash properly, it’s giving the dog a bald spot.

Great, first Greg, now Bella’s losing her hair.

More guilt. Again, it’s the leash thing. When I pull up, it continually rubs her in the same spot, thus resulting in the bald spot.

But I must give credit to Popper. In the month and a half we’ve been in training, she’s certainly come a long way. We’re being consistent with the SitStayDown mantra and it’s working; she does sit, she’s getting better at staying and well, let’s just say the down is a work in progress.

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