A classic New Yorker magazine cartoon depicts a man laying down on a couch in his shrink's office. The man says, "Doctor, I think I'm a dog." The psychiatrist replies, "Then get off the couch." In many respects, a dog trainer is like a shrink, but the dog is blessed with fewer psychological hangups than its human counterpart. You can immediately achieve positive results by knowing how to properly train a problem pooch.
Dan Gentile, a top dog trainer, author, and handler in the United States, has spent a lifetime coaching canines to know the difference between heel, come, roll over, no, stay. Thousands of dogs have been treated by the 63-year-old New Jersey resident, whose behaviorial modification magic with man's best friend have led to his services being requested by police departments, kennels, humane societies and celebrities, such as Bruce Springsteen, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Goldie Hawn, Pat Morita, Redd Foxx, and Marlo Thomas.
Gentile may love his canine students, but he is equally as passionate about his RailRiders duds. He owns seven pairs of Weatherpants and several shirts and Rampage Shorts. "With dogs jumping up on me all day long, the Weatherpants never rip or tear. They may get dirty, but they never wear out." Here then, is a walk on the wild side with this Top Dog Trainer:
Q. How many dogs have you trained in your entire career?
DG. I don't know - thousands. I can't even count. I've been doing this since I was 12. I'm 63 and I'm still trying to figure it out.
Q. So, you're old dog who can be taught new tricks?
DG. I go to any seminars that come out. I buy any new books that come out. Maybe I can pick up something.
Q. What is the smartest dog you've ever trained?
DG. One time I was in Albuquerque for the Southwestern Police Dog and Obedience Trials to see all these top trainers from California, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. The night before I purchased this three-year-old red Doberman Pinscher female. She was a really nice dog, but she was really tough. The morning of the competition, I trained her for about 45 minutes in the back of the parking lot. She ater came in second place and everybody in the bleachers and everywhere stood up and started clapping and screaming.
Q. What happened to this Doberman afterwards?
DG. Oh, I trained her some more and then I sold her.
Q. How many dogs do you own yourself now?
DG. I don't have a dog, though the Australian shepherd in the photo with me - he's Sparky - hangs out here at the kennel. I guess you can say he's my dog, but I don't train him. Sparky only knows two things: "no" and "come." Right now, for example, he's running around outside somewhere - there's 12 acres out here - he just runs around and I'll call him and he comes flying back in, but that's the extent of it. I prefer cats. They're no trouble at all.
Q. You don't own any dogs!
DG. I got three cats. My wife has a dog, okay? It's a Samoyed. I call this dog Snowball from Hell. And what happens here is that I get dogs here from all over the world. I never get a dog from my town. I live in this little town in rural New Jersey that's about one mile square. If anybody sees my wife chasing her dog up the street, they gotta think, "Well, what kind of dog trainer is this guy." But I refuse to train her dog. He's crazy.
Q: So you said you train dogs from all over the world?
DG. Yeah. Russia, Poland, England, Germany, Italy, all over the U.S.
Q. If you're training a dog from Russia, do they ship the dogs over to you?
DG. I'm only about an hour from New York City. Let's say the owner is going to New York City on vacation, I presume. They'll ship me the dog then. What they'll do is tell me the words in their own language, say for "heel, sit, down, stay, come and no" and I use those words when I'm training the dog.
Q. In the book "How Speak Dog," it says that dogs can master up to 200 to 300 words, which is equivalent to a two-year-old human's vocabulary.
DG. That's kind of tough to say - I tell people all the time, "Do you understand Chinese?" And they'll say, "No." I say, "Well, don't think your dog understands English." My wife will say to her Samoyed, "Oh, when I come home, I'm going to take you out for a long walk!" I'm saying, "What the hell is she talking about?"
Q. What are your facilities like where you train your dog?
DG. I only take in 22 dogs at a time. They have indoor/outdoor runs, where they can go in or out whenever they want.
Q. What is the optimum time to start training a dog?
DG. I try to start them as early as I can. If I take them in for training, I usually try to get it about three-and-a-half months of age. But you can actually start training them as soon as you get them home - housebreaking, barking, chewing, things like that.
Q. There's a saying that a smart dog knows when to obey, but a clever dog knows when not to!
DG. Just remember that the animal takes on the owner's personality.
Q. Always the case?
DG. Yeah, most of them. And tug-of-war and roughhousing makes a dog aggressive. So, I always tell people not to do that.
Q: What was it like to work with Frank Sinatra and his dog?
DG: I actually worked with his wife. She had a Yorkie.
Q. What's the number one police dog - the German Shepherd?
DG. Yes. Usually. But what they're doing is they find these dogs usually out of Europe, because they have that tough temperament. The thing I find is Germany is not sending over their top dogs.
Q. But the dogs that are made to sniff out drugs, are they usually beagles or bassett hounds?
DG. It just depends. I mean, what I like is a dog that likes to retrieve or play ball. Plus, it's how we train them. In other words, if we put drugs inside a tennis ball - it's a long process but as we go along, every time he sees a ball, he'll go retrieve it. Remember when you were a kid and you would tell your dog, "Where's the ball? Where's the ball?" and he would go and find the ball? Well, the same thing happens with the drugs. Every time the dog smells the particular drug it's trained on, it thinks it's going to play ball. The training is by association. And the dog must be a fanatic.
Q. If you were stranded on a desert island with one kind of dog, what would it be?
DG. One of those Newfoundlands because they're the best swimmers. Maybe if I held onto him, he'd get me off that island!
To contact Dan Gentile, visit www.njdog.com