SDOS Episode 54 -How To Do More With Your Dog with Kyra Sundance

Episode 54 – Today I am talking to the one and only Kyra Sundance! Kyra is one of the worlds most popular dog trainers as a huge fan of her many books I was chuffed to bits to get this opportunity to find out more about her dog training skills. We rap about desert Tortoises, how Kyra got involved with dogs and became a TV sensation, why she LOVES clicker and trick training, why everyone needs to teach their dog a ‘Spin’ and she shares the best advice she was never given (but she gives it to you, today!). Enjoy and don’t forget to leave a review and subscribe to the show.

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Full Transcript

Dom:     Hello me Bonnie Bairns and welcome to episode 54 of The Superhero Dog Owners Show. I’m your host, Dom Hodgson and I’m joined by my very good friend …

Alex:      Hello.

Dom:     Alex the video guy.

Alex:      Hiding behind the camera as usual.

Dom:     Yeah, definitely. Always, always. So Alex you have just returned all fresh-faced from a week away on the slopes.

Alex:      I have, yes. I little too fresh-faced, I got a bit of sunburn on the final day. I was like Rudolph but-

Dom:     You can’t tell, don’t worry.

Alex:      Okay, that’s good.

Dom:     It doesn’t distract from your good looks.

Alex:      Thank you very much. Yeah, yeah. A week snowboarding for me, skiing for the other seven people I went with, so I was the odd one out. But yeah, had an excellent time on the slopes of Flaine in France.

Dom:     Very nice, very nice. You were raving about it when you came to see me, you were like, “Best trip ever”, so what made it so good?

Alex:      I’ve been twice before abroad and I think this year I definitely did my best boarding, yes. I certainly fell over a few times and I hurt myself. But not as much as previously and I kind of pushed myself and did a few runs that I wouldn’t have done in previous years. It had that kind of knock-on effect where you do one thing and you think, “Oh I did that, I got down that, that was pretty good, I’ll do something a bit bigger next time”. Or you do the same run again and you do it better so it was just awesome, yeah, it’s this kind of knock-on confidence, really.

Dom:     Good, good. I’ve had a snowboarding lesson with Toby a couple of years ago on the dry slopes in sun and costs, which is a bit of a joke present by my wife. But we had good fun at the time. But it’s hard isn’t it?

Alex:      Yeah, it is.

Dom:     It’s quite hard to deal with the whole just flying down sort of five, 10 yards, jump me. What was it like for you the first time you went out there? You felt quite intimidated? Was it scary?

Alex:      Big time, yes. The first time.

Dom:     Were you a natural?

Alex:      No, not really. So I used to want to be able to skateboard but I never really could. I could get on board and go to a straight line and balance but that was kind of it. And I thought, “Oh, well, if I can kind of do that, maybe I’ll be able to snowboard” and I think it was kind of a bit of a cross over and stuff but not much really. So the first time I went away was with some friends who were going on a uni trip. I’d finished uni but it was part of this big uni trip. So, they were all drinking every night and all the rest of it wasn’t really great because I worked with my friends who were quite experienced at it. They were like “Oh, it’s fine, we’ll guide you round. We’ll take you on the slopes, we’ll show you where I go and stuff”.

So we went to Val Thorens and I had a couple of lessons beforehand and that was it. I just blindly followed them, I didn’t think maybe I should just stick to one slope for now and get used to it. I was like, “No, no, just go with them, it’s fine”. It was one of the largest ski areas in Europe, ended up in the next valley along, and all the time they were kind of speeding off down the hills and I was just on my heel edge the whole time like, “Oh my God, this is terrible” going really, really slow.

Then on the way back, try to follow them. They obviously went zooming off. I was lagging behind. Saw a sign and was like, “Right, that’s the way to the town. I’m going back to the town” and ended up in the town below where I was supposed to be. Usually when that kind of thing happens, it’s like, “Oh, no worries, I’ll just get a lift back up and then I’ll ski back down where I’m supposed to be”. But I was so tired from having such poor technique that I couldn’t face it, so I found a bar, went to this bar and was like, “Bonjour. Val Thorens?” and they were like, “Oh, you get this lift up and you go back down”. I was like, “No, I can’t get a lift up, I’m so tired” and they were like, “What? You just a lift, it’s fine”

So I started walking up this hairpin road, me and my backpack, with my snowboards, completely on my own, no phone reception or anything. And then this car came along with these four French blokes and they were like “Oh, are you going to Val Thorens? Do you want a lift?” And I was like, do I take the risk and get in this car with these random people or do I just carry on walking for two miles up this massive incline. Anyway, got in the car, went all the way up, and everything’s fine. But to answer your question, first time I went sucked. No, I wasn’t very good, no.

Dom:     Which is often the case with everything though, isn’t it?

Alex:      It is.

Dom:     We try and the first time you train a dog or you whatever, you training a puppy or writing an email, driving lessons, whatever the hell it is that you do first, you generally suck but just keep on going and you eventually get bit better, which you done.

Alex:      No, yeah, exactly. Now I would call myself a pretty confident boardist, so. Yeah, it only took a few years.

Dom:     Good stuff, good stuff. I think it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new as well, doing something different.

Today’s guest, this podcast guest, who I’m tremendously excited to talk about, is Kyra Sundance. Kyra’s doctrine and mantra, if you like, her catchphrase is “Do more with your dog”. I love that

Alex:      True, like it.

Dom:     One of these things that I wish I’d invented it myself. I think it’s something everybody should do. We’ve had so many guests on the podcast and Kyra is big to running with her dogs and she does tricks and all this kind of thing as well, but I’m just big into people doing more with their dog. That’s why I try and make it nice and simple for people, just playing simple scent work games or retrieve games, or whatever the hell it is. But do something, for God’s sake, do something with your dog because he’s crying out for some help.

So anyway. We had a few communication problems setting up this interview with Kyra, but we eventually got there and when we convinced her that it was okay to do a video podcast without any lippy on. No, but she actually put some lippy on, didn’t she? We were good to go, so shall we listen to the interview?

Alex:      Yeah let’s have a watch.

Dom:     Alex will you please press the button.

Alex:      I will.

Dom:     My guest today is a world renowned performer, international best selling author, and a dog trainer, obviously. She’s based in California, she heads up the world acclaimed stunt dog team and they performed in front of the king of Morocco, Disney’s Hollywood stage, and the Tonight and Ellen Show. She’s also got her own podcast. We didn’t get her or last time we tried to do this, but I’m delighted to welcome onto the show Kyra Sundance.

Hello Kyra.

Kyra:      Hey, Dom. Thanks for having me on your podcast.

Dom:     You’re very welcome, you’re very welcome. Have you had a busy day?

Kyra:      Well, it’s 9:00 AM in California so-

Dom:     Not yet

Kyra:      … yeah, it’s a little bit of a [inaudible 00:06:58]. You coulda given me an extra half an hour to get settled, but we’ll go with it.

Dom:     Brilliant, brilliant. Okay, so we’re going to start with the Greyhound round. This is a quick-fire round and we want to get to know you a little bit better.

Are you ready?

Kyra:      Oh dang, I hate these. Alright go for it.

Dom:     Would you rather be chased by an Irish Wolfhound or a hundred Chihuahuas?

Kyra:      Doesn’t matter, I can outrun both of them.

Dom:     You probably can, yeah.

Who is your favourite superhero?

Kyra:      Don’t have one. Next question.

Dom:     Do you prefer Indian or Chinese food?

Kyra:      Mexican, I live in Southern California.

Dom:     Okay, she’s gonna be awkward, I can see it.

Would you prefer to walk a Pomeranian in a park or a bulldog in the beach?

Kyra:      God, these are hard questions. Again, Southern California, let’s go with the beach.

Dom:     Good choice, good choice.

What’s your favourite animal that isn’t a dog?

Kyra:      I have a bunch of desert tortoises that are the perfect pets, right. They come out in the summer and they run around and they’re super zen to just watch through the thing. Winter they hibernate, you forget about them for another six months.

Dom:     Brilliant. We’ve never had anybody mention those before so that’s great. Well done, well done. Alright then, we’re going to talk about your amazing career that you’ve had in a moment, but before the books and before the TV appearances, where did all start with you? What age did you start getting involved with dogs?

Kyra:      So I was heavily involved the world of competitive dog sports. We used to do AKC, American Kennel Club here, competitive obedience, agility, hunting, retrieving, dock diving, discs, and all of that. So I did the whole thing with the getting titles, going to trials and working your way up, and different stores and stuff like that. So through that, it makes you become a very good trainer.

And then one day I saw a flyer for auditions for a TV show in Burbank called Pet Star on Animal Planet. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that channel or that TV show. Okay, it’s animal talent competition where they have 10 different pets on and there are celebrity judges and each animal does a special talent thing like whatever, walks a tightrope or whatever. So I saw their auditions, I’m like, “Dude, you have a well-trained dog, let’s go make up a thing and go to the auditions”. It was kind of spur of the moment and we got on the show and they’re like, “Yeah, you’re coming to the TV show”.

And so we filmed the competition and we won. They’re like, “Alright, we need you back here tomorrow for the championship” ’cause we were the last episode of the season and the next day was the season finale where they take the winners of everyone in the 15 episodes and they put them together. They’re like, “Yeah, you’re coming back tomorrow so we’re putting you up in a hotel”. And I’m like “What? Wait, what?” I’m like, “I don’t have any makeup, I don’t have any clothes, I don’t have any dog treats”. So they put us in a hotel and the next morning I found there was a K-Mart, which is like a Wal-Mart, I’m like “Alright, I need some clothes” and I bought these hideous pink capri pants and hideous things to wear and I purchased cheap dog food that they had or whatever.

So we went on the next day and we actually ended up getting the bronze medal. That was the first of the year that Skidboot, who’s a famous dog, he won. From there we started getting calls for fairs and different kind of events, going yeah could you come and do a show for us and we’ll pay you. I’m like well, sure, let’s work at the show so we kind of invented our own little show and then over time just got to be better and better

Dom:     Wow. Brilliant, brilliant. Good story. Did you have dogs when you were a kid growing up?

Kyra:      Yeah, I had a Weimaraner, which is what I have now. I have a theory that the dog you had as a kid just gets in your heart super much and that it’s still there. So yeah, I’m a Weimaraner girl at this point.

Dom:     Is that the Weimaraner I can hear in the background?

Kyra:      Yeah. I put eardrops in her ear this morning so she keeps shaking her head. And she’s-

Dom:     There she is. There she is.

Kyra:      Can you see her? Can you see her right there sitting in the chair?

Dom:     Yeah.

Kyra:      Okay.

Dom:     Brilliant, brilliant.

Kyra:      They’re always matching me so she’s got her purple on today.

Dom:     Really cute, really cute. I really loved the whole “Do more with your dog” mantra that you came up with. I know clicker training is something that you love and you love teaching as well. Was there a specific moment when you sort of fell in love with clicker training?

Kyra:      So clicker training, I prefer to use the word marker training ’cause it doesn’t have to be the actual clicker tool, you can use a tongue click, you can use a ballpoint pen, you can use a beep, whatever, they’re kind of synonymous, but whatever, marker training. Marker training is used with every type of animal training, of every species, and it’s been used for a hundred years. Anyone who tells you that they are a professional or really good animal training who doesn’t use marker training, they’re mistaken. They may not realise that they’re using it, but all of animal training relies on marker training. That’s how we let the dog know when he did something right. So yeah, anyone who’s worth their weight in salt is doing marker training.

Dom:     Okay, cool, cool. Where did you first learn about clicker training then?

Kyra:      Struggling to remember. Okay, so … I couldn’t even tell ya this one, I couldn’t even remember. I think it was probably more of an organic process of … you start to feel that sense of needing to let the dog know with exact timing when they exactly did something right and then somebody introduces you to, hey you should have one particular sound you always use, you should have one particular word always use, and you start to grow into that a little bit better and better.

Dom:     Brilliant, brilliant. So sell me on marker training then. How does it make it easy for people?

Kyra:      Okay. The beauty of marker training, and this is the beauty for the trainer too, is there’s only one rule to marker training, which is that you mark or you click your clicker at the moment the dog is doing something correctly or on the path to doing something correctly. When you see novice people trying to train their dogs is they’re like yes; good; no; no, not that; yeah; oh; no, no; right. It’s confusing for the person, it’s confusing for the dog, it’s frustrating for the person.

When you put a clicker in their hand and you say just click when they do something right, it makes it so easy for the person. They have one job, they got this little clicker, and they’re watching, they’re watching to see if the dog steps on the box or whatever they’re watching for, alright, they one job to do. So it makes it really easy for the trainer. It makes it really easy for the dog because instead of giving all this variable feedback, the dog has one job to do. The dog needs to make you click that clicker. So he’s like does this make you click? Does this make you click? Ooh that made you click, okay, let’s do that. So I think that right it just makes the rules super simple.

Dom:     Brilliant, brilliant. So easy for the dog and easy for the owner, or the trainer. Fantastic, fantastic. Now I love training tricks with my cocker spaniel and we love doing tricks and we’re always helping my clients out teaching tricks as well. But some pet dog owners maybe have never done any trick training before, they might think it’s too difficult for them, they might think that trick training’s just something that maybe dog trainers do or if you want to do a talent show. What would be a great place for them to start trick training and trying to get me to do more with their dog? What would you recommend they do?

Kyra:      The reality of tricks for pet owners and stuff is that it has a finished result to it. When we teach heeling to a dog or loose leash walking or whatever. I actually have an obedience class that I go to that I’ve been going to once a week for the past 16 years. We go to this obedience class, the first 20 minutes of class we heel in circles. Heel, heel forward, and heel backward. That’s what I’ve been doing for 16 years because heeling is never really done. It’s sort of this work in progress that you’re always … When you teach a trick like the roll over, you can say “Roll over”, your dog rolls over and you’re like, ta-da. Right, it’s done and it’s so gratifying for the person to have this thing, I said a word, he did the roll over and it’s there. Plus you got this great thing where people get so excited when they show off the trick or you’re in PetSmart and someone compliments your dog, you’re like look you can shake his paw, and right?

Dom:     Yeah, yeah.

Kyra:      What’s more fun than that. Nobody wants to see your beautiful obedience heeling. Sorry, it’s awesome, nobody really wants to see it.

Dom:     Now that’s a good point, yeah. I’s really gratifying for the teacher, the owner, and it gives you lots of opportunities to tell your dog you did a good thing, didn’t he. Lots of opportunities to reward your dog, teaching tricks.

Kyra:      Yes, it is. Another thing I love about trick training and mission clicker training and stuff like that, I come from a world of competitive obedience where the dog is on your left side a lot and you’re doing this thing, which is great. When you’re teaching tricks, you ever notice the dog is staring in your eyes all the time because he’s trying to understand what do you want me to do? You want me to do this, you want me to do this, and he’s staring at you, you’re staring at him, you’re like go with that, and it’s that eye to eye thing that’s just this bonding thing.

I don’t know ’cause I do a lot of dog sports. I do agility, I go running with my dogs, we disc and hunting, all that. There are things that my dog loves, she loves hunting competitions, it’s really fun. But there is nothing as bonding as that tricks because we’re both working toward this common goal and we can’t quite understand each other, we’re trying, and then when we do understand each other, we’re like, “Yay”. We accomplished this mutual goal so, I don’t know, it’s really fun.

Dom:     Brilliant, brilliant. No, I love that, I love that.

What would be a great for people to start then? So they’ve taught their dog a sit, obviously, because everybody teaches their dog a sit. What would be a really good, easy trick for someone to have a go at and how would you do it?

Kyra:      Oh my gosh. The trick I always start my beginning classes with is a spin, a circle trick ’cause it’s so easy. So you have a treat in your hand and this is the method calling “luring” where you have a treat and you get the dog to follow the treat with his nose. So you have … kind of do it up a little bit higher here so you can see my hand. You start with the treat in his nose, move it in a big circle, get your dog to do a circle. At the end of the circle, release the treat. You say, “Spin”, go big circle, release the treat. As your dog gets better and better, you start to go faster until the end, you’re following circles until the end you just kinda go “Spin” and your dog goes and spins.

I swear you could teach the dog that in a couple sessions and that’s one of those tricks, and you’ve probably taught spins to your dogs, right?

Dom:     Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, definitely. Yeah.

Kyra:      It’s one of those tricks that the dogs seem to super enjoy and sometimes if you just there with a clicky in your hand, that’s when they default things, they’re like, “How to spin? How to spin?”

Dom:     Yeah they do. I love that, yeah. You can teach any dog that as well, pug or Saint Bernard, any dog can do a spin, can’t it? It’s brilliant, cool trick.

Kyra:      Yeah, for the super small dogs, your chihuahua height, it does take a little bit more for the person because they have to bend down so low to get to the dog that; you can always put them on the table or something.

Dom:     Definitely, yeah. Good plan, good plan. Alright then, that’s fantastic advice.

Talking about advice, what is the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given your life, either dog related or something else?

Kyra:      That’s a hard question. Best advice I’ve ever been given. I’m gonna change that question to best advice I’ve never been given.

Dom:     Okay.

Kyra:      Nobody, nobody ever tells you, find your passion, follow your dream, and go for that full force, don’t worry about the money, just get something you’re passionate at and to work really, really hard on that. Nobody gives you that advice. Everyone around you, your parents, are like oh you should become a doctor because it’s stable and it makes a lot of money and the reason to make money as a dog trainer, nobody. I’m gonna give you that advice. Everyone listening, you know it, just find your passion, and work really hard at it and the money will follow.

Dom:     Brilliant, brilliant. And you said you couldn’t think of anything. That was excellent advice, really good advice. I was gonna say how have you used that advice in your own business, but that’s obviously how you’ve lived your whole life with your doesn’t, isn’t it, I suppose. Just following your passion and enjoying yourself. You always seem really happy.

Kyra:      Yeah. This whole dog thing, it’s not like I planned and said, “I think I’m gonna make money and buy” … Starting this dog company and whatever. It’s just something that started as a hobby and there was something that I was putting all my extra energy into and then it just grew from there, the money kind of follows from there.

Dom:     Mm-hmm (affirmative). Brilliant, brilliant. Great advice, Kyra. Brilliant.

When you’re not performing or teaching or appearing on TV shows, how do you like to chill out and relax?

Kyra:      Other than dogs, the other thing I’m passionate about is, I do a sport called ultrarunning, which is super long endurance running races, like mountain races, and we do 35 mile races. For the shorter distances up to 12 miles, I take the dogs with me. I’m lucky to live in an area … we have this nature path in California. So it goes from Mexico all the way up to Canada. So the entire length of the United States and it’s called the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s just this hiking trail and people will make these pilgrimmages during the summer to go all the way from Mexico to Canada, it’s a thing. But the rest of the year nobody does it, they only do it for that short period. So I live right by the Pacific Crest Trail and you can let dogs off leash there, it’s just this nature thing so we just go running for hours and hours up there. That’s the best thing in the world for me, that’s my happiest times in my life I think are on those trails.

Dom:     Brilliant. Brilliant.

So not very chilled out, but still very enjoyable.

Kyra:      Yeah, I don’t do chill so well.

Dom:     That’s fantastic.

Hey I wanna thank you very much for your time. I’ve really, really enjoyed speaking to you. Where can people go to find out more about you?

Kyra:      My website is called and there’s lots of books and DVDs. I also do workshops across the United States and Canada. We got 30 workshops coming up in 2017. We’ve also got a big event coming up in March of 2018, which is called Trick Dog Expo, happening in Purina Farms in Missouri and it’s going to be a conference and a trade show and we’re gonna have the first ever Trick Dog Championships there.

Dom:     Wow, brilliant. Oh, I might have to make a trip over.

Kyra:      You will. I expect you there.

Dom:     Hey fantastic. Hey thanks again very much for your time, Kyra. Been absolutely awesome. I’ll definitely get you on the show again some time if you’re up for it.

Kyra:      Great, I’ll see you around on Facebook, Dom. Good to talk to you.

Dom:     Awesome. Take care of yourself. Bye-bye.

So Alex.

Alex:      Yes, Dom?

Dom:     How awesome was that?

Alex:      That was really cool. Yeah, really enjoyed that.

Dom:     Superb. Superb dog trainer, real inspiration. Got a number of a books as well. She’s absolutely fab and so thank you to Kyra and thank you to all of the other guests that we’ve had as well, Alex. Because I have a big announcement to make.

Alex:      Oh, okay.

Dom:     Dun dun dun. That is the last time I will have to say it to you, Alex, how awesome was that?

Alex:      Why, you got a new video guy?

Dom:     No, no. We’re actually, this is the penultimate episode of the podcast.

Alex:      Oh man.

Dom:     So this podcast is coming to an end, we’ve had a tremendous run. Episode 55 will be the last one next week.

Alex:      Pretty good one, I bet that one.

Dom:     It’s gonna be a cracker … yeah I’m good as well, but we’re excited ’cause we got some new things coming up, haven’t we, which we’re gonna be sharing with you next week as well.

Alex:      Yes, we do.

Dom:     So next week we’re gonna be looking at the dog keepers rules and these are the rules that I have put together based on my own dog training experience. I have experience from my own dogs and all the knowledge that we’ve picked up from all of the fantastic dog trainers that we’ve had on this show. So, tune in next week for the penultimate episode of the Superhero Dog Owners Show. Almost forgot the name of the podcast there. And we’ll be looking at the dog keepers rules.

Alex:      Awesome, sounds good to me.

Dom:     So we’ll see you then, and if we don’t see you through the week, we’ll see you through the window.

Meet the Author

Dom Hodgson