The expression "man's best friend" has become one of the most endearing terms for dog lovers to describe their canine companions, even though some owners might tell you their four-legged "best bud" can often behave like "the devil's own."
Parents typically have to be responsible for training their unruly kids how not to jump on the furniture. But dog owners can hire someone else to teach their pet how to behave.
When Oprah Winfrey has issues with her pet pooches, she calls her friend Cesar Milan, aka the "Dog Whisperer." These days, the California-based Milan is a household name in the dog-training community, with his own show on cable television, books on dog behavior and nationwide seminars on how to help dogs become "healthy and balanced," according to his Web site.
In addition to Oprah, Milan's clients include actor Will Smith and rapper Redman, whose mild-mannered pit bull, Daddy, is one of the most popular assistants on Milan's show. Another trainer whose celebrity status rivals that of Milan is Tyson Kilmer, a Canadian-born former fashion model who has become a hot commodity in the dog-training world.
Based in Los Angeles, Kilmer's roster of A-list clients includes Sheryl Crow, Rob Lowe, Viacom CEO Tom Freshton, Marilyn Manson, Mike Tyson and most recently, Utah Jazz stars Deron Williams and Ronnie Brewer.
Like Milan, Kilmer is involved in numerous ventures, including the upcoming launch of his own webcast, as well as a television show on "Animal Planet," the title of which has yet to be determined, due out later this year.
Jazz point guard Williams sent his puppies to Kilmer in California for training. When Kilmer brought the dogs back to Utah two months ago, he also brought two Rottweiler puppies for another client, in addition to his own personal pet, a 100-pound French mastiff named Cleo. They all stayed at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Salt Lake, where the well-behaved animals amazed guests and staff alike.
Kilmer's premium services come at a premium price, ranging from $2,500 to $15,000 depending upon the level of training. But for Brewer and Williams, his services are well worth the cost.
While training celebrities' pets may be the way for some trainers, most dog trainers work with average families, whose pets have the same kinds of issues as their more famous counterparts.
In the Salt Lake area, prices for private individual training range from $52 to $100 per hour, with some trainers offering in-home instruction. For non-personalized classes, prices began at $75 for a six-week course for one hour per week to $210 for a four-week course meeting once a week.
Some trainers also offer an intensive "boot camp," where the dog stays with the trainer for four weeks. Prices begin at $400 and go up to $1,200.
Utah has no governing body that regulates trainers, which means the methods can vary widely, and so can results. That's why those in the business say buyers should beware.
A few trainers, including Marshall Tanner of Alpha Dog Training in Salt Lake City, say some cases of bad behavior in dogs may require canine drugs, similar to those given to humans who have behavior disorders. But other trainers disapprove of such methods.
Michelle Rizzi, owner of Handle with Care Dog Training in Salt Lake City, says she uses positive-reinforcement training that employs "treats and toys and lots of praise" to motivate and reward dogs while training. The dog is then gradually weaned off the treats, which she says keeps the process fun for the dog.
Because there are no unified standards for trainers, what is considered positive training might vary from instructor to instructor. Rizzi, who is certified by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, says that is why owners should question their prospective trainers thoroughly before hiring them.
Rizzi says some trainers use methods that owners might find disturbing. She says that could include shock collars, spike collars or choke collars. "They all cause dogs pain and are not humane," she says.
James O'Bryan, who works for Anthony's Pets in Sandy, says in some cases, the animal is incorrigible. "But most dogs can be rehabilitated through some kind of training and behavior modification," he says.
O'Bryan says many people run into problems because they don't think about what breed of dog would work best with their lifestyle before they buy. They also make the mistake of treating a dog as though it were human.
"People don't take the time to educate themselves on what dogs need," he says. "Dogs need discipline and structure and rules and boundaries and need to be told what to do in a way that's effective."
When dogs lack that structure, they tend to develop behavior problems, he says. "Dogs expect people to treat them like they live in a pack of dogs, and if that doesn't happen, they get frustrated."
Tanner says owners need to establish themselves as the leaders of the pack. "You have to learn how to be a leader using dog language, eye contact, body language and vocal tonality," he says.
Both Jazz players have adopted blue-nose pit bull terriers. Williams has two 5-month-olds named Kaine and Kasha, while Jazz guard Brewer has Jade, who is a few weeks older. Brewer says he was excited to get Jade initially, but that quickly changed when he realized how out of control she was.
"When I first got her, she was using the bathroom everywhere, jumping on furniture, jumping on (teammates C.J. Miles and Paul Millsap) when they came over," he says. "They would say, 'Man, your dog is so bad!'"
Brewer says he even brought Jade over to Williams' house, hoping the socialization with the other dogs would help calm her down, but it didn't work. During the visit, an excited Jade ran around constantly, while Williams' dogs were relaxed and well-behaved.
After just over two weeks of dog ownership, Brewer decided to send Jade to California to train with Kilmer, who says Jade was a "heathen" with no discipline when she arrived.
She went through two months of intensive training, and she now is the model pet. She obeys commands, and she is much more relaxed.
Brewer says now that his dog is well-trained, he is going to ensure she stays that way by maintaining a disciplined, healthy lifestyle, the importance of which he knows firsthand as a professional athlete.
"You can relate being on a routine schedule. I know when to eat, when to rest, when to train and that's going to help with her," he says. "For me, it's a good situation that I got her trained early and working with Tyson."
Kilmer says that in training the dogs, he's a creating a situation where they understand how to behave on- and off-leash, in and around the house, around children and in every situation.
"What I'm doing with these guys is building an entire life for them," he says.
The end result is freedom for the entire family, with the dogs being included in more of the family's activities, he says.
Kilmer assists clients like Williams and Brewer for about a year, making trips back and forth every few weeks. Each time, the owners are given commands and behaviors to work on with the animals to enable the dogs and their owners to build upon what they have previously learned, Kilmer says.1 comment on this story
Kilmer had Williams and his family place dog beds throughout their home, and the dogs are taught to go to their beds in various rooms. That way, the dogs can always be around, but not be in the way, Kilmer says.
During an in-home session at the Williams' house, Kilmer took the entire family through a training regimen. Williams, his wife, Amy, their daughters, Denae and Daija, all learned to interact with the dogs so the animals could know and understand their place within the family inside the house. The dogs could have posed potential risks to the children and house, so training them was important, Williams says."Teaching these guys the hard lessons and how to survive right now is imperative (so) when they are going to be 95 or 100 pounds, they're not going to be getting in trouble," Kilmer says. "This training is about curbing their first impulses, wanting to protect and be aggressive, and teaching them tolerance."