The Jumpstart Program began in November 2011 when I received a call from Brian Zalaznick. Brian was about to be married and wanted two things in his wonderful new life: his beautiful new bride, Cindy, and his doodle puppy, Chester.
There was only one problem, Cindy was a cat person who had never had a dog, let alone a puppy. She had grave reservations over the thought of raising one. But Brian had been without a dog for several years and his heart ached to include one in his new family.
I could hear the longing in his voice, and the tension. “Someone told me you could help. How do we make this work?”
I hesitated. Dog walks, daycare, overnights when it got overwhelming? No matter what I did during the day they could still be up in the night worrying over a bundle of fur and whatever he’d produced. Not exactly the stuff of honeymoons. I realized there was only one thing that would assuage Cindy’s fears and relieve the potential strain raising a new puppy would put on their new marriage.
“Just give him to me. I’ll do it all,” I blurted out without thinking.
Then it occurred to me what I was promising. As my mind clicked through the list: potty training, socialization, perfect manners, obedience, alone time, crate training… everything Chester’ needed to know to make life with him effortless and fun.
“Done! When can we start?” Brian sounded relieved and delighted all at once. I was in for it now. Life 24/7 with a puppy. Madness! Would I ever learn to say “No”?
Chester arrived soon after. He was 8 weeks old and looked like a baby otter. His cuteness made him hard to resist. (Being cute is definitely a puppy’s strongest survival skill – especially at 2:00 AM when it’s time to take him out to go pee.)
It was exhausting and exhilarating all at once. Chester was a little fearful by nature, but trusting, bright and easy to teach. During the following 14 days he became machine-like, sitting when glanced at, staying at my heels on walks, racing back at top speed when I called him, running into his crate on command, staying glued to his place in the car… and bless his heart, going potty like a champ when I asked – anywhere, anytime.
Our two weeks came to a close and Cindy wanted a third. She wanted to be sure Chester was ready, that things would work out when Chester came home to stay. Brian was already smitten.
It was a Friday when I delivered Chester back to Brian and Cindy. It was a long weekend with no word from them. They didn’t call or email; there was only silence. I worried. Was Chester behaving, going potty, sitting like a good boy, walking nicely on-leash?
It was Tuesday when I came get Chester for Daycare. All my worries disappeared when the door opened and Cindy came out carrying Chester on her shoulder like a baby. Her eyes teared up a little.
“I love him!” she said. We both got teary.
Since then it’s been an amazing journey, finding the best ways to train and socialize puppies, adding lots of goals beyond basic obedience, like ringing bells to go out, using a dog door, and our newest skill – Bombproofing (the ability to sit quietly while children race around, yell and throw things).
I am so proud of the Jumpstart Program and look forward to sharing everything we’ve learned and helping lots of new puppies in the Jumpstart Nursery at Hillary’s Hound House.