At his first puppy socialization session at Canine Coach dog training center, 4-month-old purebred German shepherd Loki Bear sat in a corner snapping at every dog that walked past him. But at his second play date last week, he explored the training room, cautiously sniffing out new friends.
"This is a huge improvement," lead dog trainer Linda Brennen told the Tuesday evening class' half-dozen other attendees, who have brought their pooches in the hopes they can learn how to behave around other dogs at an early age.
The sessions are offered at Canine Coach Inc., a company Brennen founded seven years ago and that celebrated the grand opening of its Black Forest location last week.
Many of the programs offered, including the puppy day school and puppy kindergarten, are geared toward dogs between 8 weeks and 5 months old.
"We start from the beginning," Brennen said.
"We teach people how to socialize the dogs properly and we make sure that they're getting started on the right foot so they don't come back a year later or two years later, with behavioral problems. That has always been my first love - to help families establish the proper relationships with their dogs so that they don't develop problems later."
Brennen previously worked as a trainer at North Powers Animal Hospital and Pine Creek Veterinary Hospital, where she took on 50 to 60 clients at a time.
Her business grew to a point where she had to decide between expanding or turning pets and their owners away, she said.
She has since hired a pair of dog trainers and a few other employees to staff the location, a 2,545-square-foot facility on Black Forest Road with two 600-square-foot training areas. The new location began operating about six weeks ago.
"We've picked up lots of little tips and tricks to help him be a better dog," said Jeth Fogg, owner of 4-month-old labradoodle puppy Cody, who has attended Brennen's classes at the new center for about a month.
At the beginning of her career, Brennen worked under high-profile dog behavior expert Ian Dunbar, who is known as the father of positive dog training in the United States. The technique stresses positive reinforcement with treats and praise instead of punishing dogs for misbehavior, relying solely on discipline.
"People think of positive trainers as permissive - that we just let the dogs get away with everything - that's not true," Brennen said.
"But we prefer to use management to prevent the dogs from making mistakes rather than having to punish them once they've made them."
For example, if a puppy sneaks food from the counter, the best solution is to keep them away from the kitchen until they're old enough to know better, she said.
But canine coaching isn't just about the dogs, said trainer Megan Lundberg, who started working with Brennen last year.
"Trainers also have to be really good at working with people, and she also connects with people very well," Lundberg said. "She's very friendly, very approachable and just a wonderful teacher. She just has a way of explaining things that helps you and guides you."
Colorado Springs resident Karen Nelson hired Brennen about a year ago to train her rescue puppy Crash, who showed signs of fear and aggression as an 11-month-old. Within 30 minutes of her first visit, Brennen had made a difference.
"We continued with Linda for training, and Crash just amazed us every single time, Nelson said. "She more trains the owners than she does the dogs.
"She gives us a lot of confidence when it comes to getting our dogs to do what we need them to do and keep them safe."