San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Dog Hotel and Training Center a Canine Haven

PARADISE is far, far away, up in theclouds. You can’t reach it on foot, and thebus doesn’t go there. It’s a long journey,but in the end, the beauty of the placemakes it all worthwhile. Especially ifyou’re a dog.Pets’ Paradise is a dog hotel and trainingcenter sprawled across a vast expanseof field and forest in the mountains ofHeredia, north of San José. If you’re a dog,you may not fully appreciate the stunningview from the hotel driveway – a panoramicswath of the Central Valley and, deep inthe distance, the ocean between Jacó andPuntarenas, on the central Pacific coast –but you will doubtless enjoy, with mad,tail-wagging enthusiasm, the 19,000square meters of close-cropped grass, theintriguing structures of the agility trainingcourse (to certain dogs, what playgroundequipment is to kids), and the woodlandtrails leading to a waterfall-fed stream.There are lots of places to get muddyhere, and possibly even stinky, althoughthe proprietors will, unfortunately, runyou a bath should your people request it.There are ducks to chase, caged tropicalbirds to ponder, and a broad and invitingselection of trees to pee on. Dozens of tennisballs stud the grounds like so manyfelt-covered stones.KEEP in mind this isn’t one of thoselaze-about-by-the-pool hotels. The management– veterinarian Dr. Mary Marínand instructor Jory Freimann – sound awakeup call at 6 a.m. Hotel guests leavetheir naturally air-conditioned quarters,fenced crates, for two hours of play andagility or obedience training, followed bybreakfast at 8 and then unstructured playtimeuntil the rains come. After a rest,there’s more play and training, dinner at 5p.m., and lights out at 6:30.Clients have several options to choosefrom: boarding only; boarding with training,basic and advanced obedience classes;treatment of behavioral problems (Marín’sspecialty) and housebreaking; and themore rigorous agility and flyball training.There is 24-hour veterinary supervisionhere, on top of grooming services, vaccinations,spaying and neutering, and pre-andpost-partum care for pregnant females.Guests are allowed to bring favorite blanketsor toys, and their dietary requirementsare carefully noted.FREIMANN, a Haifa, Israel, nativewho began training dogs during hismandatory Israeli army service, relies onpositive reinforcement, using a soft trainingcollar rather than a choke chain; helikens its gentle tug to the neck hold amother uses on her pups. The idea, hesays, is to manipulate the dog – just a little– into thinking he has trained the owner,and not the other way around. Ownersreward good behavior with a treat or a toy,bad behavior with nothing. This applies toobedience as well as agility and flyball (arelay race for dog teams).“There is no ‘no’ in agility,” Freimannsays. “If the dog doesn’t do what he’s supposedto, he doesn’t get what he wants.And if he makes a mistake, it’s our fault,because we didn’t train him properly.”Contrary to popular belief, Freimannsays, you can teach an old dog new tricks,although some of them need to unlearn badhabits first. The most difficult students areeither very shy or very aggressive. Freimanntypically takes a month of daily practiceto train a dog himself, although heoffers a six-week weekend course in whichowners learn to train the dogs themselves.ONE balmy Sunday morning at Pets’Paradise, as yellow butterflies flitted amidthe tropical flowers and a hang glidersailed over the nearby treetops, Freimannand his clients prepared for agility practice.First up was Naomi, a sleek, longleggedDoberman named after Britishsupermodel Naomi Campbell. After a coupleof false starts – the opening sequencewas jump-jump-tire, not jump-jump-tunnel– Naomi ran the course confidently, endingin seated position, her tongue lolling sidewaysfrom her mouth in a happy doggygrin. The other dogs awaiting their turnsstrained at their leashes and whimperedimpatiently.Regulars (including the Border colliesFreimann breeds) practice dashing up anddown the seesaw or weaving through theslalom poles in open demonstrationsSundays at 10:30 a.m., as clients andprospective clients – on this day, a mix ofColombian, Tico, and Finnish pet owners –swap dog stories.Freimann says many people underestimatethe need for training, and often end upwith a dog that doesn’t socialize well withpeople and other dogs, doesn’t listen to itsowner, and may have a tendency to bite (outof fear) or run away. He adds that though heusually trains in Spanish, he can accommodatean assortment of hotel guests.“My dogs speak English, Spanish andHebrew,” he says.For more information, call 381-8285 or393-4904, or visit

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