Episode 52 – Today I am joined by the fabulous Kelly Gorman Dunbar. Kelly talks about how she grew up with a dog named Charlie Brown, why you shouldn’t get a smart dog, how she does Pilates with her dogs, and why training your dog goes on forever…
So sit back, relax and enjoy the show!
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Dom: Hello, me bonny bairns, and welcome to the Superhero Dog Owners Show, episode 52.
Alex: That is impressive, if I do say so myself.
Dom: Isn’t it? That means you can watch one a week for how long? A year.
Alex: That’s right.
Dom: I’ve always been good with maths and days of the week.
Alex: Good, I’m glad.
Dom: So, on today’s show, Alex, moving swiftly on, on today’s show, we’re going to be talking to Kelly Gorman Dunbar,who is a dog trainer from the United States.
Dom: Really interesting chat coming up with Kelly. We had Paul Owens last week. We’ve got Joe Kelly coming back next week or the week after. The yanks are taking over.
Alex: It would appear so, yes.
Dom: Yeah. I think we just had a little batch of American dog trainers, didn’t we Alex, all at the same time?
Alex: Yeah, we have been kind of a bit all over the world, haven’t we?
Alex: We’ve been as far as India and …
Alex: Yes, correct.
Dom: We spoke to Rachel Bain, who’s originally from Darlington, but she spoke to us from Thailand when we spoke to her.
Alex: Yeah, so Thailand as well. We’ve had a lot of people from the States and Canada sort of thing.
Dom: Yeah, all over, and speaking of the States, Alex, I have a little announcement, well a non-announcement, to make. So, we did the Grow Your Pet Business Fast and the How to Be Your Dog’s Superhero tour in the UK last year, and I’m going to be going to the States with this as well, yeah? So, we got a few dates-
Alex: That’s very exciting.
Dom: … a few venues confirmed. Yeah, we’re going to Chicago, I think New York, Texas, and I’m speaking to somebody in Philly, too. But I was supposed to be going this year. I was supposed to be going at Easter. But what happened was time just basically ran away from me. Time ran away from me, and I was … just didn’t feel I had enough time to put everything together to get the thing done. You know, it took so long to kind of sort out that by the time it came round, we didn’t have enough time to sell the tickets. It was starting to worry me a little bit, and I thought, “Why are you worrying about this? Why don’t you just postpone it?” So, we postponed it, and lo and behold, I felt a lot better.
Dom: And I think there’s something to be said for saying no to things, whether that’s with your dog, you know, because I know a lot of people who … or a lot of people who joined the inner circle … who, they’d go to the park with their dogs, and they’re in this kind of social circle where they’re chatting on with people, as you do in the park and stuff … I don’t, but as normal people do, I think, in the park. They’re chatting on. They might be having a good time, you know, getting a bit of exercise, a bit of fresh air, but their dog might not necessarily be having a good time, so the dog will be, he might be getting a little bit bullied by other dogs, or he might just be a dog that’s not suited to that kind of environment, being around dogs.
I know from my own experience with Flo, my first dog, she was a little dog reactive, and she didn’t like other dogs at all. And me, like a complete idiot, you know, thought, “Okay, what do I need to do to fix this? I need to take her to the park to be with other dogs.”
Dom: She must have thought I was a complete fool, you know what I mean? And this went on for quite a while until I thought, “Why am I doing this? Why am I taking this dog and exposing it to something that she doesn’t want to do. So, sometimes you have to right by the dog, don’t we, in saying no to that kind of thing?
Alex: That’s it. I think, in a way, I don’t think anyone would blame you for having taken that approach because you’re kind of like, “Right. This is the problem, and I’m going to face it head on. We’re going to tackle this problem by literally kind of diving straight into it.” But as you say, it turns out that that’s not necessarily, anyway, the right thing to do for the dog. Sometimes it’s best just to treat it as, “Okay, why don’t we just avoid other dogs. Let’s avoid this issue”?
Dom: Yeah, you’re avoiding it, you know, and that allows you to manage the situation a lot better. And often, certainly with what happened Flo, she started chilling out a lot more. She was like, “Oh, okay, right. I’m not going to be taken to this place now where I feel like I have to defend myself.” And she started to relax a lot more. Eventually, with a lot of training as well, the behaviour completely sort of changed and went completely the other way. She never liked other dogs particularly, but she sort of coped with them, and she was able to be around them. She just wasn’t bothered by them. In many ways, she was the best dog I’ve ever had because she would just walk past another dog as if it was like a lamppost or something, you know? But, we live and learn, don’t we? We live and learn. We’re going to learn a lot more today in this interesting interview with Kelly Gorman Dunbar.
Dom: So, Alex, the video guy, would you be so kind as to … I’m not going to say it. I’m not going to say, “Flex that finger.” Would you be so kind as to push the button?
Alex: Of course.
Dom: So, my guest today is a dog trainer. She was very specific about being a dog trainer, which I love. She’s the founder and president of Open Paw, which is a non-profit organisation devoted to addressing the unwanted animal problem via education, and they try and keep dogs and cats out of shelters by keeping them in their original homes. She recruits and trains instructors for the world-famous Sirius Puppy & Dog Training programme based in Berkeley, California. She’s the creator of the Complete Puppy Training Course. I could on and on and tell you what she’s been doing, but I’d rather just have a talk with her, so I’m delighted to welcome to the show, Kelly Gorman Dunbar. Hello, Kelly.
Kelly: Hello, Dom, how are you?
Dom: I’m very good. I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to speak to me.
Kelly: It’s early here.
Dom: Are you loaded up with coffee?
Kelly: No, I only had time for a little bit.
Dom: Okay, all right, then. Well, you can do your best with this. This is the greyhound round. This is a quickfire round. We’re going to get to know you a little bit better, so just give me the first answer that comes into your head.
Do you prefer red or white wine?
Kelly: I prefer red, but I have to drink white.
Dom: Okay. Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Kelly: A brain works best in the morning.
Dom: What’s your favourite cartoon character?
Kelly: Favourite cartoon character? I love Snoopy.
Dom: Yeah, good answer.
Dom: Popular answer, that one, as well, actually. Would you prefer to walk a beagle at the beach or a Weimaraner in the woods?
Kelly: A beagle in the woods?
Dom: I’ll give you that. I’ll give you that. Okay. What’s your favourite animal that isn’t a dog.
Kelly: Goats, if we’re talking domestic animals.
Dom: Okay, cool, yeah, really good answer. We haven’t had that one before. That’s good. And what is the trick or thing that you most like doing with your own dog?
Kelly: Well, trick-wise, we do a lot of sit pretty, I guess.
Dom: Sitting up.
Kelly: I call it their Pilates. They work their core strength.
Dom: Yeah, good one. Yeah, brilliant. Good answers, Kelly. I’m going to give you eight out of 10.
Kelly: Oh, thank you.
Dom: All right, then. I want to go back in time a little bit. We got loads going on. There’s loads we’re going to talk about, but where did it all kind of start? Before you were Kelly the dog trainer, when you were just little Kelly growing up, what was your experience with dogs, and where did dogs first come into your life?
Kelly: Well, I’ve always had a dog. I mean, I think my first dog came into my life when I was about three, right around three or four, right around the time I had my first memory. My life has been filled with dogs. Little Kelly trained dogs all the time. I guess I’ve always been a dog trainer in that sense. My dog was my best friend growing up. I had the same dog between five, kindergarten age here in the US, and graduating from high school. I had one dog, and he-
Dom: And what was the dog?
Kelly: It was fun. He was a Sheltie, and his name was Charlie Brown.
Kelly: I was five when I named him.
Dom: So, was there anybody who kind of helped you or who inspired you with the dogs?
Kelly: You posed this question in advance, and … the dogs inspired me. I don’t know that there was a human person that was actually … or a dog trainer or owner. I just really love spending time with my animals and with animals in general. I actually had a goat for a little while when I was a kid as well and trained the goat like when trained my dog, even walked the goat in town. You know, I think I’ve always just really connected with animals, maybe sometimes even better than people, which I think a lot of dog trainers can relate to.
Dom: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I think you’re right. Okay, can you … I like people to … This show is for pet dog owners, as you know, and I like to let them know that we make loads of mistakes as well, dog trainers, so can you tell me an embarrassing dog training story?
Kelly: Oh, I don’t have any of those.
Dom: Just make one up.
Kelly: No, actually, there are many to choose from. When I first started as a professional trainer back in my 20s, I was still trying to build up my business. I lived in Chicago, in the city, and I decided to do a dog training class, my first ever training class, for my neighbours. We had a park, kind of a communal area, a square. All the dog people were always out there, so I kind of thought, “Well, I’ll practise with them,” and I gave them the opportunity to do free class with me in the park. Class instruction is different than actually training a dog, first of all, so it was a little bit of an eye-opener for the whole time frame. So, we had our first class. I felt pretty good about it. I was happy. We were talking afterwards, milling about, and I had my dog out at this point, and he walked up behind one of the students … a man, not a dog … and he lifted his leg and peed on his leg. So much for the professional and her dog. No.
Dom: Thanks very much. Brilliant. Okay, personally, I think there’s never been a better time to be a dog owner, probably a dog trainer as well, but definitely be a dog owner. There’s more knowledge out there about dogs. There are more people practising , especially through the work that you’re been doing as well, positive methods. Yet, there seems to be more kind of dog problems than ever there was, you know what I mean? Why do you think that might be?
Kelly: I agree. I does feel like there are a lot of problems, which is good for dog trainers, not great for owners maybe, but I think about this a lot. I think that people’s expectations have changed very much. People are much less tolerant of animals being animals. They want animals to fit into a very small box in their lives. Also, I think, honestly, the tendency of people to choose exotic breeds and specific breeds, I don’t think that that was always a thing. When I was growing up, people just found the local mutts, you know, and just had whatever dog came into their life, for the most part. Now, everybody wants a specialised breed, and I think, in some cases, maybe it’s partially the romance of it. You know, they read the breed histories, and they have access to all of this online that you read and you search all these fancy breeds. Maybe they want to be different. Maybe it’s status. Maybe it’s just the romantic idea of having this-
Dom: They are beautiful as well, aren’t they? These pedigree dogs, they are beautiful dogs to look at and stuff.
Kelly: I mean, I love researching breeds and going to dog shows. I mean, it is a great kind of fantasy to think of yourself out on the plains with your Rhodesian ridgeback or African whatever hound. So, I think people really have more access to learning about those breeds than ever before and therefore are seeking them out. You know, you don’t really need an African lion hound if you live in the city. You don’t need a Tibetan mastiff if you live in a suburban home with children around and no invaders coming in from the hills. I just see a lot of mismatches. A livestock herding dog living in an urban area. I mean, they’re enormous. They’re suspicious. They’re territorial. So, I think you combine people’s expectations, which have become very specific and less tolerant with their kind of gallant ideas, and I don’t think it’s a good match.
Dom: Yeah, no. I think you’re dead right. Yeah. You know, everyone’s so busy, aren’t we, these days? You have less time, don’t you? And yet, these dogs require more. They require more training, and stimulation, and exercise, and stuff. Like you say, it’s just a mismatch that you’re setting yourself up for a really difficult life with your dog, aren’t you?
Kelly: I just wish people would think about that in advance because if you enjoy a breed … Let’s say you enjoy a smart dog like a border collie. People always want the smartest dogs, right? They think, “Okay, I’m going to get a border collie because I want a smart dog.” Well, okay, that’s great, but then we have to honour whatever the breed was specialised for. A smart dog is going to require a lot of mental stimulation. People aren’t necessarily ready to give that.
It’s so important to look at the specialisation of the breed and try to, as best we can in captivity … In our kind of suburban world today, nobody is really doing any of the work of dogs anymore. So, you get a working breed or a breed bred for a specific purpose, and then what I’ve seen in private training is that these people are trying to quash the very thing that that dog is, whether it be a terrier that’s kind of going to ground or a border collie that’s herding the children around the furniture. They do that sometimes. Have you seen that?
Kelly: People just want to cross the dog not find appropriate outlets for them. So, as a trainer, that’s what I want to do is try to help people appreciate their dogs’ inherent skills and desires.
Dom: Yeah. Because there is lots you can do … You know, if you’ve got a border collie, like you say, who likes herding, or a Jack Russell that’s going to enjoy digging and killing things, there are other things you can find for them to do that don’t involve actually the thing that they were bred for. This moves us nicely onto play. Let’s talk about play. How much play should we be doing with our dogs? More play or more training with them do you think?
Kelly: To me, that’s one in the same. So, play and training, to make it enjoyable at both ends of the leash, should just be considered the same thing. When you are playing with your dog, you should always have a little training to introduce. To me, it’s a conversation. Training is an ongoing conversation. You’re sharing a language with your dog. You are playing and you’re training, and I want people to do both. Training isn’t something you put in a small box. It’s not something you do in a room for an hour a week. Training is living with your dog. Before you open the door to play fetch, have your dog sit, and then reward by running through the door and throwing the ball and then chasing your dog to catch the ball, try to get the ball at the same time. You’ll lose, but they’ll enjoy the engagement. Then, when he gets the ball, have him come back and sit again, or do “put down,” or spin, and throw the ball.
You just incorporate them together, and the dog then finds the training inherently enjoyable. I think humans do, too. I mean, when you separate them out, you know, people get very stern. “I’m training now. It’s talk like this,” and their faces get ugly, and it’s all very boring. And then when they’re playing a game or teaching even just a trick, they’re smiling, and, “Roll over. Play dead. Sit pretty.” Well, it’s a whole different aspect. So, I just say combine the two.
Dom: Definitely. No, I agree, and it is infectious, isn’t it? I think if you … My kind of light bulb moment happened a few years ago when I realised how I could play with my dog and be interesting to my dog, be as interesting as a bird, or another dog, or something. But then, it wasn’t just … I don’t know, I didn’t just think, “I’ll use that to train him.” I think the more you do like that with your dog, it is … Well, I suppose for some people who are really miserable, maybe … for most people it is. Having a bit of a mess about and a bit of fun, it makes you feel good.
Kelly: Yeah, and you got a dog to enjoy hanging out with your dog. I think play should be a part of your everyday conversation.
Dom: Definitely, yeah. Brilliant. I’m a big fan of sort of continually learning and trying to get better at stuff. Personally, I am as well, you know, things I want to get good at. I think that dog training’s one of them. I suppose running a business is another one. I have other hobbies as well. I’m sure everyone does. We talked a bit about this on messenger before, about how kind of learning how to train your dog and getting better at training your dog, even if you’re a dog owner, shouldn’t be just something that you kind of do once at a class and put to bed, should it? Yeah?
Kelly: No, absolutely not. That’s so frustrating to me. People think that there’s an endpoint to training, but this goes back to it being a conversation, an ongoing way of life. One class doesn’t do it. I wish people understood when they got a puppy, or a or a newly adopted dog into their home that you are building a lifestyle. It’s not about just the class. It is about incorporating training into daily life. It’s about learning new skills, practising in all different environments. You know, you take a class or you practise in your back garden, and great. That’s awesome. I love that people do that, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the dog to being in the park or going on a walk through the city.
People get frustrated and think, “Well, he’s trained. He’s just being stubborn. He knows it. He does it in class.” No. If you’ve never trained in the park, if you’ve never trained on a walk, they’re not going to get that. So, to me, it is definitely an ongoing process. I mean, if you want a good, solid dog that can be your companion throughout your life, throughout its life, but throughout your daily life, and do errands with you, hop in the car and go for errands, or go to the coffee shop, and walk in the park, and go on holiday, then you really have to invest upfront.
People, I think, are impatient. They want training to be just finished. Maybe that goes back to the training not being fun for those people. If you can make training fun and just realise, “Hey, we’re in for the long haul, but we’re playing every day and training every day everywhere we go,” if you focus on that solidly for six months to a year at the beginning of your relationship, you’ll have a dog that is a breeze for life, a wonderful companion. And you know what? You’ll probably enjoy training him so much when you undertake it in this fashion that you won’t stop when your dog is trained. You’ll just continue to build your conversation and your vocabulary and kind of interweave that into your-
Dom: Definitely, yeah, and enjoy more and more things together. Yeah. Kelly, if you could wave a magic wand, and you could get every pet dog owner anywhere in the world to do something new with their dog that they currently don’t do or aren’t doing at the moment, what would it be and why?
Kelly: I think I would have more people … There’s so many answers here. That’s why I’m hesitating. Two answers. The easier one would be not feed their people, to use their daily ration of food throughout the day in training, and in practise, and in play, and prolong that inherently wonderful reward of the eating and food, which is our life source. All dogs do like to eat well enough that they are alive. It’s a great way to enhance your relationship. It’s great classical conditioning, you know, the positive associations that come with something that is associated with food. It’s such a strong bond. It will help your dog to love you, love new places, love training, love new people. And it really is a bonding experience.
I mean, think about people. So much of what we do relationship-wise centres around food. The same should be true with our animals, our best friends. Most people throw the kibble in a bowl, and if you have a Labrador, it’s gone before it’s hit the bowl bottom. It’s a 30-second process for so many dogs when it could be, literally, hours of fun, whether it’s actually actively engaging in hand feeding and playing, or at least using food-dispensing toys. There are so many of those on the market. I mean, talk about a great time to be a pet owner. You have some great innovations in feeding your dog, just puzzle toys. So, when you’re absent, your dog could still be having fun and doing the hunt for their food versus just the end gulping. It helps dogs tremendously, even if you just use food-stuffed toys and don’t play and train. It’s probably the best thing you can do for a companion dog, especially a companion dog that might be left home alone while everyone’s at work or at school.
Dom: I agree. I agree completely. Yeah. Fantastic advice. What was the second one, then, or should we just stick with one?
Kelly: Oh, I’d like to say videotape. Videotape yourself-
Dom: All right, cool.
Kelly: That’s a little more trainery answer, so I was like, “I don’t know if it works.” If you don’t know how to play with your dog, if you’re not sure if you’re doing it right, or if you want to work on your own affecting mechanics, it’s a great thing. And now, everybody has a-
Dom: Yeah, of course, it’s so easy, isn’t it? Yeah.
Kelly: I think you learn a lot about yourself and about your interactions in that way, and it’s a great way , just watching.
Dom: Always difficult, but yeah, well worth doing, I would imagine. Yeah. If you think, “Well, if I don’t think I’m very interesting, why would my dog possibly think I was very interesting?”
Kelly: Yeah, and it’s difficult to do. People have trouble quantifying. I know that sounds all sciency and boring, but you have to know … I find that pet dog owners do not reinforce frequently enough. They don’t reward their dog frequently enough. The biggest difference between a dog trainer and a pet owner, dog owner, is the rate of reinforcement and reward and feedback that they give the dog. I mean, people would say, “Oh, trainers get so much better results.” Well, sure, we’re professionals, but honestly, it’s just the amount of communication and feedback that we’re giving. So, I do think that most pet owners could really learn how to smile a little more, do some body, personal play, games, and just engage. And if you watch yourself, I think you’d be very surprised, not with your dog necessarily-
Dom: No, definitely, yeah. I probably would actually as well. But no, I get your point. I get your point.
Kelly: If people watch what they’re doing, I think they would be surprised, and that it would be very valuable.
Dom: Definitely. Yeah, Brilliant. Good advice. Talking about advice, what’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given in your life, dog related or something else?
Kelly: Well, something that I’m still working on, just being in the moment, being present, to try to be present and not to be on my phone, not to be in my head. That goes for dog training or really for any conversation. I have a great friend and mentor that’s very good at that, and I admire people who can sit and give you full attention. That’s something that I aspire to do with dogs. I think I’m getting better with dogs, and I’m working on it with people as well.
Dom: That’s good advice.
Kelly: Our phones are making it more difficult.
Dom: Yeah, for sure.
Kelly: All the time rather than being present, and that’s just a shame. You know, you see people at the dog park, “Hmm, hmm,” looking at their phone, not paying attention. And the dogs know when you check out. I mean how many people out there have the dog come and sigh or paw at them when they’re on the computer or on the phone. It’s kind of sad. So, just to be actually mentally present and focused.
Dom: A bit more present, yeah. No, that’s really good advice, yeah. I could certainly take that onboard, I think. Where can people go to find out more about you then and what you’re up to, Kelly?
Kelly: Well, openpaw.org, O-P-E-N-P-A-W dot O-R-G is the non-profit that I developed in conjunction with Ian Dunbar and Colleen Boyle, and that’s where you can probably find me, that or at dogstardaily.com.
Dom: That’s an awesome resource as well, yeah.
Kelly: Dog Star Daily is great for pet owners. There’s a lot of information there. We have videos. We have articles. We have blogs, and it’s a great free resource. This information is so important to get in the hands of people, keep dogs in their homes, and keep the relationship strong. We feel very strongly about that, so we have a resource for-
Dom: No, that’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant, yeah. When you’re not doing one of the million things that you do on a daily and weekly basis, how does Kelly like to chill out and relax?
Kelly: Well, chill out and relax. I love … Going back to dog stuff. I really do love to hike and be outside with the dogs. I also don’t mind a bit of karaoke from time to time.
Dom: Okay, cool. Come on, give me some sounds.
Kelly: You have to get out there and play for yourself, right? Need to be silly sometimes. So, hiking, karaoke, wine. That’s about it.
Dom: Sounds like a good night to me.
Kelly: It always leads back to wine.
Dom: Kelly, I’ve really enjoyed speaking to you. I’m sure the people watching will take a lot of value from everything you’ve said, some really good tips, some things I’ve never heard before as well. It’s been a blast. I really appreciate it, and we’ll have you on the show again some time.
Kelly: Very much, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Dom: You’re very welcome. You’re very welcome. Take care of yourself. So, Alex the video guy.
Alex: Yes, Dom.
Dom: How awesome was that?
Alex: That was really awesome. Really, really good, that.
Dom: Lovely chat with Kelly. What a lovely person, and brilliant dog trainer, too. I just want to thank all of my guests, Alex, not just Kelly. I want to thank all of my guests because we must have had …
Alex: Oh, we’ve had loads.
Dom: … kicking on for 25, 30 guests maybe.
Alex: Yeah, something like that.
Dom: Something like that, yeah.
Alex: All over the world.
Dom: Yeah, there’s been Amy Smith down in Australia, Jane Arden, David Davies … we did a couple with him … Sue McCabe, local. We got Shirin Merchant and Karan Shah as well in India, you know, loads. Please, if you’ve just tuned into this podcast, get scrolling back, and download some of the old episodes because there’s some dog training gold in there, I think.
Alex: There really is.
Dom: Yeah, definitely, yeah. If you want to learn more about how to play with your dog, then you should check out my best-selling book, How to Be Your Dog’s Superhero. This book will show you how to have more fun with your dog, how to connect with him, how to be his best friend by just finding out what he likes and then using that to get him onside and to get him looking at you, wagging his tail and following you around the park like the pied piper. This book has nearly 140 reviews on Amazon, positive ones, too.
Dom: Yeah, so I’m told, it’s unlike many other dog books out there because I’ll actually speak to you like a dog owner. I don’t use fancy dog training lingo, partly because I don’t know many of the words myself. This book’s going to help you to have a bit more fun with your dog, yeah? So, if you’ve got a dog, you love him, and you want to learn how to have a bit more fun with your dog, then get yourself a copy of this book. You can get it from Audible, Amazon, or from me as well. And you can also get a copy of, if you’re a pet business owner, Walk Yourself Wealthy. This is my second book. The quick, easy, and no BS guide to transform your passion for pooches into an insanely profitable and fun dog walking empire. How about that? So, that’s it for this week, Alex. Next week, we’ve got another guest on the show. This is the second interview with Joe Kelly, our good friend Joe Kelly.
Alex: Yes. Joe, yeah.
Dom: Irish dog trainer, now lives in New Jersey, and at the time of us recording this podcast, Joe had just had a little litter of puppies, hadn’t he?
Alex: Yes, that’s right.
Dom: Well, Joe hadn’t. It was one of Joe’s that had a little litter of puppies. So, we had a really interesting podcast with Joe. So, if you’ve got a puppy, getting a puppy, thinking about getting a puppy, then make sure you tune into next week’s show because you’re going to learn all about what you need to do to get your puppy onside.
Alex: Excellent. Looking forward to it.
Dom: Brilliant, so we’ll see you for episode 53, and if we don’t see you through the week, then we’ll see you through the window.