Kyle Warren with three of his dogs at his Stone Ridge home.(Photo by Kathryn Heidecker)
By KATHRYN HEIDECKER, Correspondent
“Dog Finds Man,” is the title of Kyle Warren’s popular blog about adventures with his search-and-rescue German shepherds, Quax and Maya. It’s also an apt description of his life thus far. A training officer for Eagle Valley Search Dogs (online at evdogs.org), Warren is a search-and-rescue handler, a member of the New York State Federation of Search and Rescue dogs and owner of Canine Instinct, a Stone Ridge-based dog-training company through which he has successfully trained more than 2,300 dogs. “There is no aspect of my life that is not 110 percent dog-centric,” Warren said proudly. Warren, a lifelong Hudson Valley resident, described an idyllic childhood experience growing up on a small farm in Glenford. He admits he hasn’t strayed too far from his roots. The 1999 Onteora High School graduate has moved “a total of nine miles in my life,” he said in a recent interview at the Vly Atwood home he shares with his girlfriend and their eight dogs. But it is vocation, not location, that inspires him. “My dogs are my family, they are my life,” said Warren. Dogs are also his livelihood, in an animal training career that he began pursuing when he was still a teen. In between making the high school honor roll and participating on Onteora’s wrestling team, Warren earned money with an unusual part-time job: training dogs. At age 10, the family dog, a German short-haired pointer, captivated Warren’s interest and energies as he experimented with training techniques. By the time his peers were getting their driver’s licenses, he had established a flourishing business called “The Pack of Northern Pride” (now Canine Instinct), specializing in training difficult-to-manage canines. “I even trained my teacher’s dogs,” Warren recalled with a smile. “I converted my farm barn into a dog kennel, and I would work with the dogs every day.” At the same time, Warren worked at The Barnyard Feed and Pet Supply Store on Route 28 in Kingston, where he focused on soaking in as much knowledge as possible about animal nutrition. Later, he worked as a vet technician at the Animal Emergency Clinic of the Hudson Valley, where he gained experience with the medical aspects of dog care. After dabbling in higher education at Ulster County Community College, Warren was sidelined from dog training with a severe back injury. He put the time he spent in bed to good use, writing about the subject he knows best: training dogs. At age 21, he penned the training tome, “Stay. Come. Heel. Every Time: The Warren Method of Dog Training Using Love, Trust, and Respect.” The book is dedicated to Jake, a Hungarian vizsla Warren owned before it died at age 6 because of a blood disorder. “I was bed-bound for two weeks,” Warren said. “I’m a busybody. I’m always on go, so I sat there with a pen and a paper and I started to write.” He later self-published the book, and today uses it as reference material for the (human) students in his dog-training classes. In his book, he outlines “The Warren Method.” He describes it as a common-sense, simple, straightforward and natural way to communicate with the dogs, without the use of treats or bribes. In 2006, Warren decided to plunge into certifying Quax as a search-and-rescue dog. “It is a huge time commitment, and you don’t get paid or reimbursed for anything,” Warren said. “But it takes my ultimate passion of spending time with a working dog for a cause.” In the three years since he began working with search-and-tescue dogs, Warren has chased down dozens of leads. In addition to Quax, who is a certified live-find and cadaver dog and trained to find both living and dead subjects, Maya is certified as a trailing dog and used to follow the trail of specific person based on the scent of a clue like a sock. Missions with Quax and Maya take Warren all over New York state. They are also are expensive, time-consuming and exhausting. To Warren, however, it is a worthwhile endeavor. “It has reshaped my life, but the finished product can save people’s lives.” Recently, Warren and Maya searched the acreage surrounding The Family Foundation School, a boarding school for teenagers that owned and operated by Rita Argiros (also the president of Eagle Valley Search Dogs) and were successful in locating a runaway teenager. Warren’s success with training aggressive dogs — his self-described claim to fame — can be equally rewarding. A 7-year-old black lab was brought to Warren for lessons to curb a dangerous habit. “The dog had been confined because it was unpredictable, unreliable and randomly bit certain people,” he said. Lessons with Warren were a last-ditch effort to save the animal from being possibly euthanized. Warren successfully rehabilitated the dog, which is now happily living with its original family. The key to approaching these aggressive dogs, according to Warren, is “an organized approach.” Is he ever scared? “Not really,” he responded, “It is a useless emotion in the heat of the moment.” Warren’s “family” plays an instrumental role in training his clients’ dogs. “I will put Hazel in a sit-stay, and have dogs run around her,” he said, “I use them for demonstrations and distractions.” The brood also helps provide a little extra income. A litter of puppies between Quax and Lee produced Drago, the newest member of the K-9 narcotics team for the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office. Purebred puppies like these can fetch between $1,800 and $3,500 Warren said. The members of Warren’s dog team are treated with top-notch care by their owner. Each dog consumes a raw-food diet of organic Bells and Evans chicken, organic raw sweet potatoes and 1,000 milligrams of salmon oil each day. Currently at work on a second book based on canine psychology, Warren received national attention for his dog-training skills when he graced the February cover of Field and Stream magazine. The avid outdoorsman said he was excited about the exposure, but more enthralled that his pride and joy — Quax and Maya — were on the cover next to him. Over the past several years, filmmaker Nick Goodman has been documenting Warren’s adventures with his dogs. He is set to release a documentary movie in the near future. With all this media attention, can Warren live up to his reputation? More than 2,000 dogs later, has he ever met a canine he couldn’t train? For this animal lover, dogs are perhaps the fairer species. “I’ve worked with people that could not be trained to handle their dogs,” Warren says with a laugh. “I can always train a dog.”
Field & Stream
Dog training is a mystifying topic for many people. There are so many ways to work with dogs, and I certainly have my own preferred methods. At the end of the day, it’s all about having the dog respond to you while still getting to be a dog when he’s off-duty. As a dog trainer, I’m part-handler, part-teacher. I’m teaching you, developing your canine instinct too. I enjoy getting into the heads of both my dogs and humans and finding what works best on an individual basis.
But the bottom line:
it’s all about communicating.
There’s a common sense, simple, straightforward, natural way to communicate with dogs, and it’s based on love, trust and respect. Love between a handler and dog puts their relationship in a positive framework. The handler makes the relationship functional by earning respect from the dog; respect can’t be obtained with food or muscle. And with love and respect, comes trust. Once you gain your dog’s trust, it becomes the progressive component of the relationship. Having that combination of love, trust, and respect enables the handler and dog to work as a team and accomplish nearly anything.
What tools can we use to build that relationship to have more effective learning experiences with our dogs? I often break down the important elements of our relationship into simple terms, such as consistency and an earning system.
Consistency has to be one of the most frequently misinterpreted words used when working with dogs. Most often, people assume it means repetition—if you put a dog on a sit-stay on a rug and the dog breaks the stay ten times, it’s enough to just put the dog back on the rug ten times. What often happens is first a person calls the dog back and says, “Sit,” and then pulls the dog by the collar and basically puts them in the same spot. Next time: different words, different spot. Next time: different motions, but angrier. From a dog’s perspective, there’s nothing the same about this at all. It begins to feel more like a test of wills.
Your dog must hear, see, and feel the same things coming from you, the handler, during authoritative times—that means mechanically, physically, and emotionally. From a dog’s perspective, all leaders have goals, but good leaders have plans. So when the dog breaks the stay ten times, yes, the handler puts the dog back in the same spot ten times. But she does it according to her own plan, which means she does it mechanically and emotionally the same way: hand in the same spot on the dog’s body, voice in the same tone, dog in the same location. Every time. That is how a dog defines consistency.
I often tell my students that a dog will only handle well when the handler has presented him or herself well over a period of time. Dogs base the present on the past. So in a sense, dog training—which is really educating yourself and your dog—is about creating a new history between yourself and your dog, in which you become not a human dog biscuit dispenser or tennis ball launcher but a leader.
You Get What You Reinforce –
Not Necessarily What You Want
The Earning System
The earning system comes into play for both dog and human. The most important question a handler can ask himself is, “Have I earned the right to be in this situation with my dog?” One of the greatest challenges for us humans is keeping our dogs on an earning system. But there’s a very good reason for it.
You keep your dogs on the earning system because that’s what enables you to have control over your dog to keep him safe and keep yourself sane and ultimately give your dog more safe, recreational fun. Again, this is based on the respect that your dog has for you and the trust that you’re able to have in your dog. That’s what the component of discipline is all about. When I refer to discipline, I’m talking about educating the dog to have the necessary sense of priority that you, as a handler, and your commands, such as stay, heel and come, are the most important thing in any environment at any given time. This is what creates security and safety for your dog.
There’s no single, cookie-cutter plan that will work with all dogs. But for you to be the best trainer for your dog, you should develop a plan of consistency and create objectives you can adhere to and measure your success in increments.
I’ve created a system of checks and balances and grading for my canine and human students, and it goes a long way. Framed within the earning system, it works with the idea of small steps: we make sure we’ve achieved a lower level of success, in a less distracting environment, before we go further.
Consider teaching a dog to walk well on a leash in the heel command. For a dog, that means being on the left, close to the handler’s left leg, in a loose leash. The handler and the dog must be able to walk their city block, or, if you live in a rural area, to the end of your current visual environment—the neighbor’s mailbox, the bend in the road, the hill, etc. You want your dog walking with you—not pulling against you as if you’re a mobile fence post. You want your dog to demonstrate cooperation with the heel command without much correction in a distracting environment.
There’s a difference between Reward and Bribery.
If you have to wear him down, you haven’t earned the right to be in that environment with him. That’s a key point of assessment. Always ask yourself this question: “Have I earned the right to be in this situation with my dog?” The answer obviously has everything to do with lower level success in previous and/or less distracting environments.
If you’re working on heeling your dog from your driveway to the bend in the road two hundred feet ahead and the dog is doing terribly, you should not leave that visual environment with him. This would be rewarding the dog with new environmental delights. If you had planned to do a twenty-minute walk with a specific destination in mind, and the success is just not there, then commit yourself to staying in the first visual environment for the rest of the walk. This encourages the dog to give more attention to its handler and makes it a more synergistic walking experience. Why? By advancing from one environment to the next on the same walk, despite the dog’s less-than-stellar performance, the handler would be conveying to the dog that even though as a handler you want the dog to stop pulling, it must not be too important—since you continue to give the dog new environments to indulge in.
I hope this information is useful. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. But just remember, the more responsive your dog is to you, the more you can do with him, and the more fun your life together will be.