Dana Falsetta, a new dog trainer at the Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk, offers treats to a couple of enthusiastic puppies  during Puppy Playgroup, a weekly training session. Tammy Wells Photo

WEST KENNEBUNK- Run, run, run. Sniff, sniff, sniff. Ohhhhh, treats!

If it was possible to sum up what the puppies were thinking on a recent Thursday morning playdate at the Animal Welfare Society, “run, sniff, what’s that, treat,” might have been right on target.

They romped and ran and navigated the Animal Welfare Society training room with curiosity and delight.

They made you laugh.

Puppies check out a tunnel during a Puppy Playgroup training session at the Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk. Tammy Wells Photo

And amid all the fun, the canines were learning something, too – how to get along with other puppies.

Welcome to Puppy Playgroup, a weekly training hosted by certified dog trainer and certified canine behavior consultant Dana Falsetta, who joined AWS in January after a decade as a trainer in Philadelphia.


Puppy Playgroup is designed for puppies between 10 and 14 weeks old up to five months. It is not an obedience training, Falsetta pointed out. “It teaches puppies how to be brave, and to explore, to love learning, and the give and take social cues with their peers,” she said.

Falsetta comes to AWS from Philly Unleashed Dog Training in Philadelphia. During her decade there, Falsetta worked with veterinarians throughout the city promoting safe puppy socialization and low stress handling. She also consulted with the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Shelter Rotation. She is a Fear Free Certified Professional and an American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. As well, she worked with exotic animals and lent her training experience to the Philadelphia Zoo and the Academy of Natural Sciences.

AWS training manager Roberta Guertin has her arms full of puppies during a recent Puppy Playgroup session. Tammy Wells Photo

Falsetta, who earned a degree in sculpture and worked in project management for a number of tech firms, said she decided some years ago that what she really wanted to do was work with animals. So, she talked to her vet and went to work with the veterinary firm in reception and customer service to get a feel for the industry.

She earned her certifications and worked at her Philadelphia gig before she and her husband decided they wanted to move to Maine after visiting here for years. As it turns out she interviewed for the training job at AWS on the same day the couple found they house they’d later buy.

AWS offers 25 classes a week from Puppy Playgroup to various degrees of obedience classes, and Falsetta is in the process of developing new programs that will help the animal shelter deal with dogs with various challenges being brought in for surrender.

At home, Dana and her husband share their lives with their pit bull Fawkes 7, whom she rescued as an 8-week old puppy, a cat named Olive, a ball python named Sprout and three Shetland sheep named Captain Jack Sparrow, Pepe Le Pew and Steve.

“Sniff, sniff,” went the puppies at Puppy Playgroup, a training session at AWS in West Kennebunk. Tammy Wells Photo

Her low stress motto continues with the sheep; they stand still, for shearing or for vet care, she said.

Puppy Playgroup, a drop-in group, is held Thursdays in February and will be conducted on Tuesdays in March. More information is available by clicking on the training tab at: https://animalwelfaresociety.org/

On a recent visit, four shelter puppies, litter mates who were to go up for adoption later that day, were invited to Puppy Playgroup. They romped and played and tumbled and chased each other and had a fine old time – just being pups.

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