Paws Up for Pets: Trainer helps dogs learn to mind manners in new homes

Boca Raton-based Ann Casper trains Lil’ Red, rescued from Hurricane Maria, to ease his anxiety. Photo provided

By Arden Moore

The holiday season is in full stride in Palm Beach County. And when it comes to bringing out the best in puppies and dogs, there’s a genuine Santa Paws in Boca Raton.

Meet Ann Casper, a professional dog trainer who operates Calming K9s. Her mission: to ease dogs’ transition into loving homes by giving them the gift of good manners.

“My focus is giving pet owners the tools and knowledge they need to have a well-behaved dog for the lifetime of that pet,” says Casper, a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals. “I focus on difficult-to-resolve behavior problems as well as working with rescue dogs who have pre-existing fear and anxiety issues.”

Sure, you can give your dog a fancy holiday outfit or a cool new toy, but imagine the dividends reaped when you gift your dog the proper training to stop yanking on the leash, barking nonstop or chewing your favorite sofa pillows. If you just adopted or plan to adopt a puppy or dog this holiday season, help your new pet get off on the right paw by signing up for obedience training classes or one-on-one canine training and behavior sessions with a professional dog trainer like Casper.

When I adopted Kona, a terrier mix, from a shelter two years ago, she had never lived in a home — only in a pair of shelters. First priority was house-training her. And, within two weeks of adoption, Kona and I were participating in our first basic obedience class together.

We progressed through three levels of obedience and then went on to complete her American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizenship and therapy pet certifications. Whew!

But all of this was worth it because Kona has evolved into a quick-learning, loyal and well-behaved dog that assists me in pet first-aid and pet behavior training classes.

Sure, sometimes the pup or dog you adopt at a shelter is a little rough around the edges. Coleen and Manly Ray of Boca Raton knew they needed serious canine help after adopting Lil’ Red, a medium-sized dog, from an organization that brought in homeless dogs impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year.

“We were happy to rescue a dog from the tragic conditions that exist for street dogs on the island, but Lil’ Red was extremely anxious, especially when guests came to visit or stay at our home,” Coleen Ray says. “We knew we needed professional help, and we reached out to Ann.”

In a few in-person training sessions, Casper worked with the Rays to help the dog feel more safe and secure in their home and on walks.

“Lil’ Red had terrible anxiety barking and separation anxiety, but she is doing great now,” says Casper. “She is now walking nicely on the leash, feeling calm and relaxed inside her crate in the house and no longer barking or growling at house guests. I tell my clients that I am training you to be a dog trainer because it is you — not me — who lives with the dog.”

Organizations also see the value of turning to professional dog trainers like Casper to help increase the chance for dogs under their care to be adopted.

Bobbi Miller is founder of Chesed Foundation, a group in Boca Raton that focuses on finding homes for companion animals with special needs.

“We firmly believe a pet has a better chance of remaining in the adoptive home if training issues are addressed while they are in foster care,” says Miller. “I appreciate that Ann has a heart for these abandoned pets and understands a nice home does not eliminate their issues. Ann has donated her time to help other foster people train and interact properly with their foster dogs and we are so grateful for Ann’s help.”

Miller shared the case of a foster dog named J.J., an “issue-ridden” chihuahua.

“This pet had little socialization and was aggressive to strangers and dogs outside the home and destructive in the home,” says Miller. “Ann assessed J.J. and in a short time, she had him walking with her on the leash outside and she instructed me how to avoid confrontations with other dogs and people on the street. Ann listened to my issues and concerns and immediately went to work, addressing each issue one at a time.”

As we enter the holiday season, do your best to ensure your dog does not feel left behind at home feeling anxious, confused or frustrated because the cherished daily walk has been skipped or his dinner forgotten. Maintaining those daily walks or play sessions with your dog can generate physical and mental benefits for you both.

Carefully assess whether your dog really needs to be dressed up like a four-legged Santa to entertain your holiday house guests — or would fare better in a closed back bedroom with a keep-busy toy, bedding and water, and a TV turned on.

“And as much as we may want our dogs to enjoy holiday parties or outdoor fairs, pay attention to your dog’s reactions,” says Casper, who shares her home with three canine rescues answering to the names of Jenny, Ray and Otis. “Sometimes, a dog’s ability to handle certain situations like parties, festivals and dog parks is just not there. Leave him at home if that is where he will be most comfortable and enjoy the holiday activities.”

On behalf of Kona, I wish all of you a safe, sane and special holiday season!

To learn more, visit or call 715-6624.

Arden Moore, founder of, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, speaker and master certified pet first-aid instructor. Learn more at

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