If you thought the dog trainers on TV were the best of the best… you’d be wrong. Sure, Cesar Milan is (for the most part) pretty good at rehabilitating dogs with problems. And that British woman who walks around with the knee-high boots and the bad attitude?
Don’t get me started.
There are hundreds of trainers who are much, much better than they are, but they don’t have television shows because they’re too busy training dogs. Here’s my pick for seven of the best you’ve probably never heard of before:
The Seven Best Dog Trainers You’ve
Probably Never Heard Of Before
Needless to say, the seven dog trainers below make the trainers on Animal Planet look like amateurs. [Which in many cases, they are!]
For basic training, most balanced trainers will cut it– and what makes an exceptional companion dog trainer is their ability to teach the owner by explaining difficult concepts in an easily understood manner and by combining techniques into a methodology that builds on both the dog and owner’s previous skill set. I’d like to think that my dog training book does a good job of this.
But When You Want To Move Beyond Basic Dog Obedience Training And Behavior, These Are The Folks At The Top Of My List…
(In no particular order)
1. Fred Hassen
I first met Fred Hassen when he interviewed me for a radio show he was doing in Las Vegas, back in the late 90’s. But that was only a phone interview and although I was aware of his reputation as a mostly “e-collar” trainer, it was a long time before streaming flash video and Youtube gave me the opportunity to actually see him train. It wasn’t until 2007 that we met in person for the first time. Fred had invited me to attend one of his seminars that was being held in Los Angeles.
What I saw blew me away (see some of the video I filmed at that seminar, below).
Hassen is the father of advanced e-collar theory, in my opinion. Sure, e-collars have been around long before Hassen started using them. But Hassen was the first to combine an attention-based training approach with the e-collar. That allowed him to work his dogs around any type of distraction and maintain the kind of attention and precision you would normally only see inside the obedience ring.
What makes Hassen a great dog trainer? Like most masters of any discipline, he is obsessive-compulsive. But unlike most obsessive-compulsives, he has been able to channel his proclivities into dog training. I’ve met Hassen at least a couple dozen times. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without an e-collar in his hand, whether he had a dog with him or not. The man is obsessed with dog training and his training is at a very high level. As the founder of one of the largest dog training franchises in America, he’s got a lot of eyeballs on him. But even if he didn’t, I have no doubt that Hassen is the kind of guy who would devote every spare moment to training his dog (or anyone elses!)
Atlanta dog trainer Darin Shepherd once told me, “When I was going through the Sit Means Sit dog trainer school, I had my RV parked in front of Fred’s house. At 3:00 AM in the morning, I was startled to find somebody walking into my RV.
“Go back to sleep, Darin,” said Hassen, “I’m just taking your dog out to work him.”
Another trainer told me that Hassen called him when his plane was delayed in Boston and suggested that he come to the airport for an hour to schmooze. The trainer showed up to find Hassen on the tarmac, working his dog. That’s the kind of obsessive-compulsive behavior that makes for a master dog trainer.
2. Dave Skoletsky
The Belgian Malinois is a tough breed. They’re not for amateurs. Naturally, I had to have one. “The Dude” was actually my second Belgian Malinois. A Sheriff in Nevada had bred “The Dude’s” parents and then sold him to a civilian. By about eleven months, he’d had enough. The dog was too much for him.
When I saw the ad on Craigslist, I knew I had to go see the dog. The owner begged me to take him. He was asking $600 for the dog. I only had about $125 in my pocket.
“Sold!” he said.
I took the dog home and it wasn’t long before I realized that the dog was way too much for my mostly sedentary lifestyle, too. “The Dude” was a very strong, dominant dog. And he also had some very serious fear aggression issues. Way more than I wanted to deal with at this point in my life. For a dog like this, you never know how far you can go with fixing a behavior like that: Best case scenario, you can completely eliminate the behavior. Worst case scenario: You can control the aggression, but you’ll always need to be on top of it.
I gave the dog to another trainer, who put more work into the dog (and renamed him, “Yeager”) before that trainer gave Yeager to Massachusetts dog trainer Dave Skoletsky.
I won’t bore you with the details, but Skoletsky absolutely transformed Yeager into an amazing dog he could take anywhere and do demonstrations with. At the same time, Skoletsky began competing in the Dock Dogs sport with Yeager and even set a world record!
The best way to know how good a trainer is, is to watch him work the same dog you’ve worked and see how he does with the dog. In this case, Skoletsky did with Yeager better than I could have expected almost anyone to do. A total turn around (see video below)
I’ve seen Skoletsky work all kinds of dogs… including little Chihuahuas. It doesn’t matter: Skoletsky gets them to do high level obedience and enjoy the process, too. I’d have no hesitations about sending a dog to Skoletsky for training if I was otherwise over-booked.
As a side note: Skoletsky set up Team 21 and along with Yeager, works to raise awareness about Down Syndrome … an all-around admirable endeavor.
3. Bart Bellon
Bart Bellon grew up in East-Central Africa and then later moved back to his native Belgium where he quickly became enthralled with Belgium Ring Sport. Shunned by the older trainers because he was “too young,” Bellon resigned himself to standing in the corner and watching the club members work their dogs… for six months!
When the club decoy/agitator didn’t show up one day, Bellon volunteered to put on the padded suit and the rest is history: Years later, he would win his first working dog national championship in 1992. From 1992 to 2002, as training director of his local working dog club, Bellow helped his members take home seven national championships– two himself, with two different dogs.
Bellon is the thinking man’s dog trainer. You can read more about his background in training and how he developed his “NePoPo (TM)” system, here. Bellon is a master at getting a dog to work with both precision and attitude and is a popular attraction on the dog training seminar circuit.
4. Leri Hanson
I first met Leri Hanson at a Schutzhund club in Southern California over twenty years ago. And to be honest: She scared me! She looked like a biker chick with a bandana wrapped around her head and a pit bull on the end of her leash. Scratch that: Not just any biker chick, but the kind of biker chick who would be riding at the head of the pack.
“I would later come to find out that Hanson has a heart of gold– and once you get to know her– you’ll learn that she is one of the sweetest people you will ever meet.”
Hanson is the real deal, the genuine article. She is passionate about the pit bull breed as well as training in general. She is an active advocate against breed-specific legislation, too. But what’s really cool about Hanson is that she puts her money where her mouth is: She is a top trainer who has devoted much of her training career to working the Bully breeds and showcasing their wide versatility by competing with these dogs in a very impressive manner.
Hanson has very high standards for both herself and the people she trains with, which is one of the things you’ll find with most top trainers: They have a picture in their head of what the dog’s behavior should look like and then they work tirelessly (or motivate you, tirelessly!) to reach that training goal.
Hanson has been a competitor and promoter of French Ring, Mondio Ring and several other working dog sports. And she’s fantastic at thinking up new and creative ideas for working her dogs around distractions: Have you ever made your dog hold a down-stay when a man is walking two feet from your dog with a leaf blower? What about when that same man is spraying your dog with a hose? Sounds easy? It’s not. That’s the kind of training I like, because if your dog will listen around the most crazy, inventive distractions you can think of, then the typical stuff you might run into around town is a piece of cake. I’ve seen Hanson train around some truly crazy distractions! And lest you think the dogs wouldn’t like it… she gets them to do it with a big smile on their faces. Dogs love working with Hanson almost as much as Hanson loves working with dogs. Because for the dogs, being on the training field with her is just a whole lot of fun.
5. Robin MacFarlaine
Robin MacFarlane owns That’s My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. But that’s only part of the story: Are you interested in learning the art of remote collar training? Is your existing dog business in need of supercharging? Are you ready to take your skills to a new level? MacFarlane is “a trainer’s trainer.” She runs workshops and seminars to teach the art of remote collar training, and she’s darn good at it!
What’s unique about MacFarlane is that she is a natural teacher: She has the ability to demonstrate and explain the new approach to e-collar training like nobody else. I know a lot of really good dog trainers, and a lot of them use the modern approach to e-collar training. But while many are excellent dog trainers, very few have the ability to teach the concepts the way that MacFarlane can. Her two-dvd series on using the remote collar is a “must have.” A competent dog trainer can use those two dvds to build an entire training system around and then take their dog on to incredibly high levels. I’ve used them myself and they’ve been a worthy addition to my bag of tricks, especially when preparing a dog to be a future demo dog.
Robin is a tireless advocate for the remote collar and works hard to dispell the myths surrounding this amazing dog training tool with her blog: The Truth About Shock Collars.
6. Kyra Sundance
Kyra Sundance is in a category of her own. She is the author of the best selling dog training book: 101 Dog Tricks, as well as several others. If you’re interested in teaching your dog performance-style tricks, this is hands-down the book to get. It’s beautifully photographed and it breaks each trick down into “bite sized chunks” (no pun intended) that make it easy for the trainer to understand and for the dog to learn.
Sundance’s world-acclaimed acrobatic Stunt Dog Team performs on premier stages internationally at circuses, professional sports halftime shows, and on television shows such as The Tonight Show (twice), Ellen, ET, Worldwide Fido Awards, Animal Planet, Showdog Moms & Dads, and more. Kyra and her dogs starred in Disney’s Underdog stage show, and starred in a command performance in Marrakech for the King of Morocco.
Sundance is nationally ranked in competitive dog sports, works as a set trainer for dog actors, and lectures for international professional dog organizations.
7. Francis Metcalf
I’d heard about Francis Metcalf for years, but it wasn’t until Youtube really started to catch on that I had a chance to see some of his training in action. As it turns out, Metcalf lives in a 100 year-old house in Oakland, California that’s just five hours from where I live. I need to make time to get over there and train with him, as it’s obvious he is a master at what he does.
Metcalf has a flare for the dramatic and his marketing positions him as an old-timey Circus dog trainer. Which I think is cool as hell! He even runs a, “Circus Dog School“.
From an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Metcalf has worked in the past with the SFSPCA, training dogs to work with people with disabilities. He trained Izzy the poodle, a 15-pound therapy dog who worked with kids in the oncology unit at UCSF Children’s Hospital. He’s also trained dog and cats for TV and stage appearances.”
You can watch some of his videos on his Youtube channel “Master Of Hounds” and you’ll see just how good this guy is…
I’ll probably do another article at some point in the future titled, “Another Seven Of The Best Dog Trainers You’ve Probably Never Heard Of Before,” as there are so many great dog trainers out there now– and the internet has given us all the opportunity to connect with each other and share our skills.