116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Connie Adams always has liked dogs, but it took an especially bad dog to launch her family business.
'I got a dog who was awful, so I started training classes at Kirkwood,” Adams said one morning this past week.
It was in one of Kirkwood Community College's canine obedience classes that Adams and her future husband, Chuck Adams, and their friend Dawn Roth discovered mutual interests.
'He was also starting to learn to be a trainer, as was Dawn,” Adams recalled. 'So we all just started training there and became assistant trainers. We decided we wanted to do more positive training than corrective training.”
Positive training emphasizes reinforcement such as treats and praise to reward a dog's behavior. It's an alternative to corrective techniques based on strict physical control through choker collars and leads.
'I learned a lot from that (Kirkwood) trainer,” Adams said. 'A lot of it is stuff I'd still use, but in a different way.
'We found better results with positive training, rewards-based training.”
That led to the three launching Pawsitive Paws Academy in 2008. Connie quit her job as a music teacher in Cedar Rapids public schools a few years ago, while Chuck still works full-time elsewhere.
'We found a lot of clients who didn't want to put these aversive collars on the dogs,” Adams said. 'It's all about how they make those associations, so we transitioned to a positive training style.”
Starting with obedience training, the three partners added canine day care and boarding and grooming within their first year. Boarding and grooming services are offered for cats, too.
'We had clients begging us for day care,” Adams said. Owners can drop off their dogs after 6 a.m. and collect them by evening.
'The dogs come play and socialize. People are busier now, so that's where the day care comes in. People come home from work and they don't want to deal with an excited dog that's been sedentary all day.”
The three partners design classes using teaching techniques for the dogs' ages.
'We've always had a curriculum, but we re-evaluate constantly” Adams said. 'It's not necessarily how the dogs and puppies are responding. It's more how people have changed and what they're willing or not willing to commit to.”
It often comes down to the time an owner can devote to training and learning.
'If you invest time and yourself into your dog, that's how you get dogs to mind you,” Adams said.
'They want to mind you, but not out of fear. It transitions from the rewards to being about the activity.”
PPA's staff - there are 11 employees in addition to the three co-owners - also train in clients' homes.
'We have to help people know how to respond and a lot of times that works better in the home,” she said. 'I can train a dog and that might work for me, but that might be different for the owner.”
PPA also offers consultations with new owners adopting from the Cedar Rapids and Cedar Valley Humane Society shelters. The Adamses currently own five dogs, Roth three (and a few cats).
They participate in competitive obedience and agility events and advise some clients who do the same.
'We have a lot of clients who do just do agility for the fun because it's great way to build the relationship,” Adams said.
Staying in touch
As Iowa's coronavirus precautions took effect, 'we lost 80 percent of our boarding reservations over spring break,” Adams said. 'We were on track to be full.”
Adams is developing a series of Facebook posts to stay connected with clients.
'We'll show a trick or something,” she said. 'It's stuff we'd do in classes, but not maybe not everybody has.”
As of early this past week, no PPA staff have been laid off, and the business continues canine day care for clients who still are working. To minimize contact, staff collect dogs at their homes and deliver them at the end of the day.
'If you have a six-month-old puppy, how much work are you getting done at home?” Adams said. 'Not all dogs are going to let you get your work done.”
Adams, who passes along reliable pet-health information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emphasizes dogs aren't effective virus carriers. The virus doesn't take to porous surfaces such as a dog's fur.
'If they sneeze on their dog, by the time I get the dog it probably won't be on their coat anyway,” she said. 'Just wash your hands, and don't touch your face.”
Even some dogs seem to know something's changed. For example, border collies are 'very pattern-oriented,” Adams noted. 'Their whole world got thrown off.”
Many small businesses in the Corridor are still at work, making adjustments and adapting. If you know a business that could make for an intriguing 'My Biz” feature, let us know via email@example.com.
AT A GLANCE
' Owners: Chuck and Connie Adams, Dawn Roth
' Business: Pawsitive Paws Academy
' Address: 137 30th St. Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
' Phone: (319) 362-1991
' Website: pawsitivepawsacademy.com