Teaching Dogs Who Can Kill to Not Kill
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because good dogs are great, but bad dogs can kill you.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Stocky, tattooed and soft-spoken, Mike Jones seems both like a dog trainer and completely not like a dog trainer. Stocky and tattooed might fit a central casting call for someone who chooses to spend his time with beasts, but soft-spoken may not be what you expect for someone who communicates with animals who probably don’t speak Human.
But part of what the 32-year-old Jones, CEO and founder of Primal Canine Dog Training, does, he doesn’t do for the dogs: He does it to keep his own head straight. “My past — bad neighborhoods, bad situations, fights, drugs, jail — had me going from being an angry kid to being an angry adult,” says Jones, who grew up in the rough-and-tumble East Side neighborhood of San Jose, California. “When I started doing dog rescue it probably saved me just as much as the dogs.”
It’s sort of like MMA training for dogs.
And the dogs he was rescuing? Mostly ones that people had given up on, and mostly pit bulls pulled out of situations where they were prone to be anything but good dogs. Although Jones grew up with a grandfather who wouldn’t let him have a dog, he started framing an approach that has changed how anyone with sense starts training dogs after he dashed into the street one day, at 13 years old, to keep two puppies from being run over.
“Some people would teach me what they knew and did until I figured out that how you communicated with your dogs showed who you were,” Jones says. And with few exceptions what he found was a rigidity in styles that didn’t serve the dogs, the owners or even the trainers. Working with a former horse trainer and, later, with Terry Macias from a German shepherd club, Jones created a quasi-zen style of training that developed a dog who would both work with an owner who needed protection and pay attention to that owner.
Now, with six Primal Canine Dog Training academies across the country, all staffed with friends or family steeped in how Jones does what he does, he flies from location to location. Jones’ training method is an adaptive process that largely starts with building up the dogs’ confidence, avoiding overcorrecting or fear-based training and tying in to what and how dogs do what they do when humans are not around.
“Dogs are pack animals,” says Chris Hoffman, former owner of the now-defunct Doggieville training center. “But they’re also mammals, so their personalities vary wildly.” A fact that informs Jones’ techniques, techniques that start with a feeling-out period so he can figure out what the dog needs and what that dog’s owner needs. Jones and his employees work through capturing the dog’s drives in a way that makes your “best friend” a real helpmate. Sort of like MMA training for dogs. Which isn’t such a stretch for Jones, who spent years boxing and doing Brazilian jujitsu.
With a client base that includes corporate CEOs, sports celebrities and plain ol’ family folks, Jones is focused on making dogs better, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Dogs don’t spend a lot of time lying to you,” Jones says, laughing. “And you can always count on them to do what you’ve trained them to do.”