The worst thing you can do when approaching a strange dog is put out your hand for the dog to sniff, 18-year-old Callan Brothers explained.
“Hands are bite-me objects,” he said. “It’s a common mistake that a lot of people make.”
What you want to do is let them come up to you, he added, demonstrating with the Airedale terrier by his side who sniffed his waist and thigh as he approached her, standing back to give her space to do her thing. Satisfied, she flopped at his feet and looked up as if waiting for the pat on her head.
The terrier, Merda, is one of 50 dogs under Brothers’ tutelage as owner of B-3 K9, the dog training business he started four years ago when he was still in high school.
Since graduating last December, the Gillette native has taken his operation full time, working one-on-one with local dogs to break bad habits and work on social skills.
That day, Merda held the “stay” position in the sprawling picnic area in Cam-Plex Park, waiting for other dogs to approach her so she could work on her confidence skills.
Much like humans, Brothers explained, dogs with confidence issues tend to exhibit aggression and avoidance to compensate for those fears. To combat this, Brothers likes to get them comfortable in many different environments, often taking them to big-box stores to train on things like being comfortable around strangers and other stimuli, like loud noises and swishing electric doors, as well as open park environments like the Cam-Plex, which is popular for roaming dogs without leashes. Brothers also uses the chicken pen in his backyard for advanced training, in which the dog has to walk through his pack of hens without disturbing them.
“Getting used to open spaces is probably the hardest for most dogs,” he said, noting that a lot of owners don’t take their dogs to parks much these days, preferring instead to let them run in their backyards or take them on walks through the neighborhood.
Getting his dogs used to being around others who might bark or try to be aggressive is half the battle, as well as knowing how to gauge a particular stance or behavior.
For example, charging dogs with hackled fur on their backs sticking up like a mohawk are cause for alarm. Likewise, dogs who growl, bark or charge from the front are equally suspect because, as Brothers explains, most dogs don’t have the confidence to charge a person head-on. Instead, they like to sneak up on you from behind. And if two dogs are eyeballing one another, there’s likely to be a fight. His job is to be prepared for any and all of these possible scenarios and to make sure his dogs don’t respond aggressively.
Aggression and confidence issues are what he sees most, because a lot of owners lack the skills or don’t know to begin working with their dogs early to get them used to stimuli and being around people.
“People make the mistake to wait to start training puppies,” he said, “but you can start working with them at 20 days old, getting them used to stimuli.”
Every day, they learn to be less scared of everything, he added, and the trick is to broaden their horizons.
From the grass at his feet, Merda panted up at Brothers expectantly, waiting for her next command. At the tug of her chain, Merda was up and walking beside Brothers, unperturbed by the slamming of a car door and the muggy, bug-filled air.
One of the pack
It’s safe to say that Brothers was born into this life. In fact, one might argue he was raised by them, having grown up the son of the man in charge of the Gillette Police Department’s K9 division.
When Callan Brothers was born, one of Sgt. Greg Brothers’ dogs more or less adopted him; Callan Brothers was throwing dog toys back and forth before he could even walk. As a boy, he attended trainings with his dad, and continues to this day. Upon receiving certification, he hopes to continue on his own as part of his business.
Currently, Brothers is training a couple of his own working dogs, including 2-year-old Dutch shepherd-Belgian malinois mix Revo.
Brothers talked passionately about the different breeds and skills necessary for an animal to be an effective K9 or search-and-rescue dog. Some breeds, like pit bulls, get a bad rap, Brothers added, but when trained properly, they are great service dogs, because they are mothering and have a lot of strength. Likewise, he prefers the Dutch shepherd mixes to domestic German shepherds, which have been poorly bred to have lots of issues, confidence and aggression among them.
Talking like a seasoned trainer, Brothers discussed the trick to harnessing the dog’s instincts and controlling them to do things like sniff drugs and bombs and other search-and-rescue maneuvers, which not all dogs are able to do, despite their breed.
“It’s 80% what you do and 20% genetics,” he said, “and sometimes that genetics can override the 80%.”
Standing with his trademark leash around his waist, he talked about his plans for building kennels to train and breed dogs and maybe even follow his dad into the police force. Right now, he devotes a good deal of his time to training his K9s and hopes to pursue this route one day, too, when he goes through certification.
At 18, he can’t imagine doing anything else outside of this field.
“This is what I’ve wanted to do my entire life,” he said. “And I’ll continue doing it.”
So far, Brothers hasn’t met a dog who has beat him, and his phone continues to ring off the hook from interested dog owners in need of his skilled training. With about 15 dogs currently on his roster, he trains each for an hour a week, charging about $40 per session. Recently, he got a call from an interested owner in Las Vegas, who wondered how far the Cam-Plex was from their house and could he train their dog there.
“I told him it was about a 20-hour drive,” Brothers said with a laugh. He had no idea how the guy got his number or why he would call him. He shrugged, seemingly oblivious to his wide-ranging reputation.
As far as his thriving business goes, he admitted that he’s pretty good at what he does, because he thinks outside the box and caters his training to that dog’s individual needs. Quietly and calmly, Brothers works with the animals, using a mishmash of foreign cues in French, Russian and Dutch, among other languages, to instruct dogs to sit, stay and lay on their belly. These words come from his K9 training, where, contrary to rumors that police use coded words to throw off criminals, the foreign cues come from the necessity of working with animals who have been bred and partially trained in other countries.
Right now, his biggest challenge is working with a 6-year-old Labrador retriever suffering from severe social anxiety. An afternoon trip to the open Cam-Plex fields stresses the dog out to the point of rehabilitation.
But this is what he enjoys – the challenge of trying to figure out what makes the dog tick and what techniques he can employ to help them undo their anxieties and various issues.
“It’s like solving a puzzle,” he said.
Once he figures out how to solve the dog’s issues, it’s a matter of training the owner to take over from there. This is probably the hardest part of his job, he admitted, because it requires owners to break their own bad habits.
Nonetheless, it’s all part of the process as he looks forward to his next challenge.