Precious Cocoa on the day I took her home. I had no idea what was ahead of me when it came to training her.

Cocoa when she was four months old. By the time she was five months, she was enrolled in Dog School.

Cocoa is on her way to becoming a Delta Society dog. I just got off the telephone with one of her trainers from Dog School 101. Her checkup class (before her final exam) is on July 12 at 2:30 p.m. Then the final exam is on July 19. Then she will be able to go into nursing homes for visits. She has her basic and CGC (Canine Good Citizenship) degrees. Is this an honor? I think it is. Is this something only “special” dogs can do? Absolutely not. This is something any dog can do, if their owners make the choice to train them so that they can give back to others a portion of what has been given to them.

I knew from the first moment that I held Cocoa in my arms I wanted her to be something more that wild and unruly. But five months into her young life, this is exactly what she was becoming: WILD. I wanted her to learn to walk calmly beside me, sit on command, and come when called. However, it was hard to imagine this as being a possibility, especially after I witnessed her swinging like a circus performer on the bottom limbs of my year-old weeping cherry tree. “What has happened?” I asked myself. One day, she was a sweet loving two and a half month old puppy following at my heels, and the next thing I knew she had turned in to an outraged little character that was learning to watch me from a distance and deliberately disobey.

Swinging on the weeping cherry tree in the front yard became a serious problem. I would tell her no and call her to come, but she totally ignored me. The above photo captures the exact moment I realized we would end up in a training class.

More Than A Wild Bean
I knew I could not allow her to grow up this way. I wanted her to be the type of dog that could go anywhere without causing problems or confussion. I also wanted her to be an encouragement but Cocoa was developing an attitude. If she could talk, she probably would have looked up at me and said: “It’s all about me, Mommy! Didn’t you get the memo?” As she approached her five-month birthday, it became evident she actually believed her own bad press. She acted as if she was royalty and needed to be shipped off to the England where she could run free across the Great Park lawn at Windsor Castle. Something needed to be done.

One day while I was lamenting to my vet about her “hard-headed approach to life,” we watched as she pulled her lead out of my hand, gather it in her mouth and head for the door. This dog was not dumb. Without taking a second breath, he asked if I had thought about enrolling her in dog school.

At that point, I had no idea what it would take to get Cocoa to a point where she would walk calmly on the end of a lead. Though I was motivated for change, I confess there was a lot involved in her training. But thanks to Sandy and Xalina, who have been and still are committed to her success, Cocoa is in a state of becoming something much better than a “wild and silly bean”! That’s what I call her when she does something completely nuts and also pretty cute. The truth is: she is on her way to enjoying life because a trained dog is a happy dog. They don’t fuss with being fearful because they realize their pack leader is in charge and they don’t have to worry.

Under my desk—one of her favorite places when she was a puppy.

Captured on Camera
The following photos make up a section on this blog called “Training Up Cocoa.” A few were taken with a Nikon point and shoot before I decided to step up a little and purchase a D-40. I hope that they will make someone who is reading this smile. But I also hope that they will inspire many people to go through the wonderful experience of obedience training for his or her dog. One of the first things I learned is that dog training is not just about changing wrong behavior in our dogs. It is all about changing our behavior and learning how to be a pack leader.

The rewards Cocoa and I receive as a result of visiting the elderly and sick will be many. The last part of my grandmother’s life was spent in a nursing home. She loved to have visitors and she loved dogs. Cocoa’s training ended up changing me—my level of patience, communication, and discipline. I hope you enjoy “training up Cocoa” and some of the tips I offer along the way. I’m not an expert when it comes to dogs. Like most people, I’m in the process of learning from some pretty cool experts through Dog School 101. And I’m forever grateful to them for their patience, encouragement, and cheers over Cocoa’s successes.

Taking first place in a contest at the end of our beginner’s class at Dog School 101. The prizes included a hula hoop and a bag of treats. The hula hoop was supposed to be used to teach her not to be afraid. The treats were eaten within moments.