fb-pixel

No Puppy Left Behind

Brigit waits for a treat after identifying the correct box in a "nose work" (scent detection) class at The Pet Republic.
Brigit waits for a treat after identifying the correct box in a "nose work" (scent detection) class at The Pet Republic.Kieran Kesner for The Boston Globe

Considering that dogs are already sleeping in their owners’ beds, shaping family vacations, and spending time in the workplace, it would seem their integration into human society is complete.

But not quite. Like children before them, a growing number of dogs are being enrolled in enrichment programs — undergoing a formal education in a way once reserved for show dogs.

They are taking puppy kindergarten, basic manners classes, manners classes so advanced they have prerequisites, agility and tricks courses, and “nosework” — a wildly popular program that teaches civilian dogs police-dog style scent detection.

In Danvers, the Everydog Training Center runs Frisbee classes — $180 for six weeks — for owner-dog teams who want to take their disc game to the next level. And come 2017, Pet Republic , a boutique training facility in Cambridge, plans to offer person-dog dance lessons.

Advertisement



Pet Republic owner Jill Hourihan expects the class to be popular. “Unlike your spouse, your dog will do what you tell them,” she said.

With some training, of course. Gone are the days when a person would get a dog, teach Fido to sit and stay, and, in the suburbs at least, send him out alone, no questions asked.

In 2015, Americans spent $5.41 billion on pet services, including training — up from $4.84 billion in 2014, according to the American Pet Products Association. The Connecticut-based trade association expects spending on “pet services” to rise almost 6 percent in 2016.

The rush to train is being driven by a few factors. As dogs become true family members, owners want to make their lives interesting, and as they go places yesterday’s canines could only dream about — like “yappy hours” at fancy hotels — behavior has become crucial. Some residential buildings allow only trained dogs to move in.

Advertisement



Dog owners note that Facebook, where videos of performing dogs are widely shared, has normalized the notion of advanced training, as have the popularity of dog whisperer Cesar Millan and Victoria Stilwell, the English trainer and TV personality.

Some owners are hiring trainers for dogs who were rescued from a Southern state and are traumatized or have emotional problems, said Vivian Zottola a trainer who owns Boston K9 Concierge in South Boston.

But many owners are taking classes simply for the joy of it -- even if it means rising earlier than usual on a weekend.

“Being up at 10 on a Sunday morning doesn’t sound so horrible anymore,” said Matthew Daniels, a research scientist from Somerville, the owner of a rescued lab mix. “It’s nice to have something to do with Tilly as a family.”

The family has completed Pet Republic’s “Basic Manners,” “Manners 2,” and “Tricks,” and are working their way through “Fundamentals of Agility.”

Tilly can now almost ride a skateboard (she gets three feet on) and walk on a balance beam.

She’s also learned to tone down the wet kisses, said Carolyn Hayes, an archivist for special collections at Harvard Medical School.

Tilly’s new self-control has improved her relationship with Hayes’s mother. “When my parents came over Christmas we were constantly telling Tilly to ‘Leave it,’” Hayes said. “ ‘It’ was my mother.”

The trend can be seen at MSPCA-Angell in Jamaica Plain, where training classes have grown from two per week in 2007 to 35 a week now — and go way beyond basic puppy training.

Advertisement



Courses include “Rally Obedience,” in which dog and handler learn to complete a timed obedience course, and “Obility!” where dogs are taught to jump, go through tunnels, and stand on things that move — skills they’ll need if they want to compete in the fast-growing sport of canine agility.

Madeline Miller and Orca posed for the instructor after completion of “nose work” at Pet Republic.
Madeline Miller and Orca posed for the instructor after completion of “nose work” at Pet Republic.Kieran Kesner for The Boston Globe

The demand for training is also prompting more people to go into the field.

Steven Appelbaum, founder of the Animal Behavior College, said his online school graduated 1,800 trainers last year, up from 17 when he started the California-based program in 1998. Other trainer programs also report a growth in students and types of classes.

With pay rates that can hit $250 per hour for private lessons at the very high end, according to Applebaum, and the opportunity to work with dogs, training has become a fantasy second career — a new version of leaving the corporate world to run a bed and breakfast or an independent bookstore.

In Natick, Claire Frantz and her husband hired a personal trainer to prepare Pickles, their energetic Boston terrier, for the baby the couple is expecting in September.

“We are trying to desensitize Pickles to certain sounds,” Frantz, an attorney, said. “We start playing [a recording of a baby crying and a doorbell ringing] at a low volume, and treat Pickles, and then gradually increase the volume while treating her.”

The training has gone well, but “the true test will be in September when our baby arrives,” Franz noted.

Advertisement



Meanwhile, on a recent Monday night at Pet Republic, the final meeting of a six-week, $192 “Intro to Nosework” class was underway.

The dogs had worked their way up from the first lesson, when they hunted for a smelly dog cookie, to the more difficult challenge of sniffing out a subtle birch-oil-swabbed Q-tip hiddeninside a tin.

“Good girl!” Marianne Leep, the owner of a mini goldendoodle, gushed as her beloved Brigit zeroed in on the target and promptly sat for her reward treat.

On the sidelines, Orca and her owner, Madeline Miller, an oceanographer, were lost in their own private world of love.

“She is rotating through her bag of tricks [to get treats],” Miller said, smiling indulgently as the black-and-white mutt strategically offered a paw.

A few minutes shy of 9:30 p.m., trainer Alison MacDonald decided to end the class slightly early. Two of the four canine students were absent, meaning Brigit and Orca had done twice as much sniffing as usual, and they were losing focus.

“Nosework is more tiring than you would think,” MacDonald said.

With that, the dogs (and their owners) collected their certificates — and immediately inquired about future classes.


Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.