Doing protection work with dogs was my first professional experience as a dog “trainer.” I had already begun to experiment with my theory of pack-power—related training, and my ability to get packs of dogs to work reliably in tandem was getting me some attention—especially when I was out in the park with a pack of perfectly behaved rotties following me off-leash. And it was that growing reputation that drew my first celebrity client, Jada Pinkett. At the time I met her, she was just a young actress starting out. Living alone in Los Angeles, she felt she needed protection dogs. She did not have a lot of experience or knowledge of powerful dogs, but she had a very open mind and was willing to learn.
She learned more than simply which commands to use or how to choose a leash or style of “dog training.” It was really all about teaching her how to feel confident as the leader of her dogs. We achieved this through weeks and weeks of hands-on practice but also through the body language she expressed, the thoughts she focused on, and the energy she projected when she was with her dogs.
Sharing this experience with Jada was an “aha!” moment for me. It really clicked for me, working with her, how important the owner is when it comes to dog training. I knew then that this would be my new challenge and my mission—training people to understand how to communicate with their dogs.
Around this time in my development I stopped thinking of myself as a dog “trainer” and also let go of thinking about what I do with dogs as “training.” I was realizing that I would need to train owners and rehabilitate, fulfill, or balance their dogs.
When I came to this country, there were no professionals focused on helping dog owners to understand their dogs. Nor were there any who focused on fulfilling the basic needs of the dogs themselves. It was all about getting dogs to do what people want, using our language or our own means of teaching them.
Since that time when I changed my focus, I’ve personally redefined the word training to mean answering to commands (“sit,” “stay,” “come,” “heel”), doing tricks, or doing some behavior that is not necessarily natural to the dog. Or the behavior may be natural to the dog, but we want to control it in a way that is more based on human needs than the dog’s needs. I believe that dog training is something created by humans, but that dog psychology—what I try to get my clients to practice first and foremost—is created by Mother Nature.