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The Yankee Express

Luke Valentino learns on the go; training tips and trips

Luke Valentino

By Amy LeClaire

I couldn’t be happier with my new pup, Luke Valentino. He’s playful, pugnacious and imperfectly perfect. In some ways he’s a typical pup; testing his limits then dashing away from me, a dirty sock in his mouth. In others, he’s as unique as his full name. “Thank you for being such a good boy, Luke.” I kiss his nose and snout, traces of puppy breath still evident, even though he’s almost too big to be held.
“Love you back, Mama.” His body is pressed against my chest, causing his hind legs to open like a frog’s while his paws rest on my shoulders. He licks my full chin and face as though cleaning dribbles of ice cream from a cone. I can’t help but giggle to my puppy’s innocence and honesty. His appreciation for me, I realize, falls somewhere between loving me for me, and the flavor of my facial cream. 

 Luke visits Wells State Park, Sturbridge

“You’re the best puppy.” Either way, I cherish moments that are short-lived. Luke Valentino already weighs a healthy 28 pounds and picking him up is getting harder and harder. Whether his behavior is typical or atypical, one aspect has remained constant with the numerous dogs that I’ve owned. Training a dog takes a lot of time and work, but the rewards of putting forth the effort make a significant difference in living happily ever after (or not) with your pooch. I’m not a professional trainer; simply someone who has spent a lot of time studying the behavior of dogs. Since Luke is nearly four months old, and we’re both still in one piece (and living in peace), I thought I’d shared my secrets. Luke Valentino has stolen my heart, along with a few too many sneakers. 

Training happens all the time
Your dog may be able to sit on command for a reward and roll over (is there any benefit from the crazy trick?) or even hand you his paw in the kitchen, but what about when the spontaneity of life gets in the way? What if your dog is accustomed, exclusively, to being trained in isolation and, consequently, freaks out in public?  What if a quirky terrier catches her eye in the ice cream parlor line, and she snakes through your legs to drool over the poor dog? Or what if you need to host a party and your hungry pooch causes a guest to trip while counter surfing? 
It might be time to train.

 A Travel Day at TJ Maxx, Auburn

Travel with your dog
Dogs need to learn how to behave in human situations, especially if they are to live with one. Traveling with your pet offers hands-on opportunity to train on the go, on the fly, and on the scene. The more time you spend with your dog, the more training opportunities naturally arise. Luke rides in the backseat, seated comfortably in a travel crate lined with a plush mattress and chew toys. The sides of the crate have netted windows so that he’s enclosed, but can still discern what’s happening. We’re going for a ride! His on-the-go bed is designed for comfort, safety and leisurely naps. He adores the prospect of a new adventure equally as much as he does the journey. In fact, often times he’ll awaken to the sound of my parked car and sit up with bedhead, one ear flapped open. “Where’d we end up? Mind if I just relax here for a bit?” Luke is more “chill” than most puppies we’ve had. We often refer to him as Professor Luke, the puppy most likely to study the sound of spoons dropped into the dishwasher bin. “Hmm.” He’ll cock his head to the sound. “That is fascinating.“ His curiosity draws him closer to the edge of the door, where he pokes his nose at a fork then backs off. “Ouch.”
Amid traveling training days, he’s even met some of his readers at CVS. Perched like a teddy bear in a metal carriage, he once raised his chin over the edge to say hello. “Wait a minute. Is that Luke Valentino?”
“That’s me!” Have you ever noticed how utterly happy puppies are (especially Goldens) to greet new people. He licks the hand of a loyal reader and smiles proudly. “Isn’t this place incredible?” Since food is LOVE for Goldens (and most dogs), it serves as the ultimate motivator and training tool. “Good boy, Luke.” I reward him for being positive. Lincoln taught me to wear rose-colored glasses and see the good in every situation. The legacy goes on. “Mommy is so proud of you, Luke.” He gnaws at the fleshy part of my palm, testing me. “Luke Valentino.” I lower my voice and he tests further, biting yet softening his grip. Puppies know more than you think. 

Consistency matters
My husband and I have been on point, and on the same page in certain areas, though inferior in others. Luke is able to “stay at his own spot” while we eat with the patience of an English butler. We’ve battled out that back and forth labor of bringing him back to his spot for a reward amid countless instances during which he’s snapped back to our feet. A meal eaten in peace is secondary to helping Luke learn that we don’t eat at the same table (unless we’re at an outdoor restaurant café of course). So I’ve weathered the begging storm during tired mornings and scored big. He’s so masterful that he’ll now assume his dining spot throughout the day, waiting for us to sit down and eat, just so he can show off good behavior while waiting for a reward. The triumph has become a Luke Valentino classic. We gush. “Look how intelligent Luke is! He really is a gifted puppy.”
We’ve also consistently potty-trained Luke, taking him out after naps and, frequently, throughout play times. This has been a process and has happened in gradual stages, with no perfection. Puppies drink a lot of water and pee a lot! It’s important to watch the signals of your puppy and have patience. We’ve finally reached a stage where we can confidently trust him to “tell us” without staying on top of him. He’ll casually sit at the front door to let us know he has to go out, even when we’re engrossed in our own tasks. 

Set limits so that you’re both happy
Although cuddling in bed with an eight-week old puppy may have been tempting, the decision to give Luke his own cozy sleeping quarters was a good one. Luke now sleeps comfortably in his crate from 11 pm to 8 am. He woke us up throughout the night during the first week home, then stretched his sleep time, finally, to 6 am. We realized he was getting up too early, and only to eat. He would play a bit; then want to sleep all morning. Why not just sleep later? Instead of rushing downstairs to his first whimper, at about 12 weeks, we decided to ignore him and see if he’d fall back to sleep. Our plan worked like a charm! Now we’re all fully rested and ready for the day’s adventures! The important thing is to help your pup to conform to the unique schedule that works for your household. 
How is Luke Valentino faring with off-the-couch behavior? B-  The low mark is ours to own. We’ve wavered. We’ve wobbled. We’ve been worn down by Luke’s cuteness and manipulation. We have not consistently shown him (as we had Lincoln) that his bed in the family room is far more fun than the leather couch. “No one talks during my movie” is a lost cause when it comes to training your dog. Luke needs to know that we’re willing to wrestle, romp, redirect him to his toys and teach him to play at his own spot every single time. Luke needs to know that sometimes adults need to sit.
“I won’t be any trouble.” He sits at the edge of the couch and lifts his chin to us. “I was thinking we could watch the movie together.” A teddy bear, it seems, wants to snuggle. “Luke, we’re going to relax now.” Luke is a puppy. He has no interest relaxing—now or later. “Come here, you.” We cave. We coddle. We shake hands with a devil in sheep’s clothing. Luke gets his way, and the suede pillows are about to pay a price. He thrashes them around with the aggression of a wolf. We struggle to discipline a pup that’s taken a turn for the worst. He lifts his gums to reveal a rebellious set of jagged puppy teeth. My husband, also a male, takes the domineering tactic personal. “I’m not letting him boss us around this way!” I nod my head in dismay. We’ve been inconsistent with this aspect of Luke Valentino’s training. Puppies can’t figure out what to do with their own tails, never mind every do & don’t of domestic life. Still; neither of us could have predicted what was to come, and how dark things were about to get on that infamous leather couch.  
“Oh gosh. Oh no.” I left him on the floor beside the couch for two minutes one time. I didn’t leave food or any chocking hazards behind, only a risk I hadn’t expected. I had planned to start writing this very column, and left my laptop screen flapped open, ready for words. A curious Luke, ready to chew, found the corner of the screen and dug his jagged choppers in to reveal a haunting sight. The screen, black as night, exposed the spread of a spider web, then a lightning bolt design which drew my index finger in, as though somehow I could zap an electrocuted system back to life. In shock, I touched the screen over and over again but the crack, now iridescent, had made its mark. Luke Valentino, a puppy learning his boundaries, had destroyed my Mac’s screen. 
Stories and documents and pictures sailed through my mind. I’m a writer. My words had been wiped. I stared down at my puppy. “Oh, Luke. You didn’t know what you were doing.” 
Luke smiled calmly up at me. “Want to play?” He was over it a full two seconds ago. 
“It will cost $578.00 to repair the screen.” The Apple technician delivered the cost of my inconsistency with such patience. He had navigated the technical waters of password confusion and i-cloud cloudiness to track down the identification of my broken machine with blissful ignorance. I ran my fingers through my hair. “Wow. The screen alone costs that much.” My gaze fell down on a patient Luke, who was seated beneath the workbench to partake on one of numerous “travel days.”  He smiled up at me as he does during our travel days together, and reminded me that perfection is impossible. “I love it here. Thank you for taking me along with you.”
If you want to learn more about how to best handle your pup—take him for the ride!  
  Stay tuned for more on Luke Valentino’s trips and triumphs.

Write to me at [email protected]