What It's Like To Be...

A Dog Trainer

May 07, 2024 Dan Heath Season 1 Episode 18
A Dog Trainer
What It's Like To Be...
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What It's Like To Be...
A Dog Trainer
May 07, 2024 Season 1 Episode 18
Dan Heath

Reading canine body language, boarding dogs to teach them manners, and training the dogs' owners with Keely Korbel, a dog trainer. Is it a good idea to clone your dog? And what is a "marker word"?

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  1. What do people think your job is like and what is it actually like?
  2. What’s a word or phrase that only someone from your profession would be likely to know and what does it mean?
Show Notes Transcript

Reading canine body language, boarding dogs to teach them manners, and training the dogs' owners with Keely Korbel, a dog trainer. Is it a good idea to clone your dog? And what is a "marker word"?

Follow us on Instagram!

Got a comment or suggestion for us? You can reach us via email at jobs@whatitslike.com

Want to be on the show? Leave a message on our voice mailbox at (919) 213-0456. We’ll ask you to answer two questions:

  1. What do people think your job is like and what is it actually like?
  2. What’s a word or phrase that only someone from your profession would be likely to know and what does it mean?

Dan Heath: Keely Korbel is a dog trainer in Florida. One of her services, and this blew my mind, is called board and train, where she'll actually take your dog into her home and work with them for two and a half weeks. But her success depends as much on the owner as it does on the dog. Often she says...

Keely Korbel: The owner's entire life has to change because aggression and behavioral issues like reactivity, separation anxiety, extreme fearfulness, resource guarding and aggression, those aren't behaviors that with training, we fix those magically and they just go away. Your dog is always going to have that in them. And through training and making life changes, it turns into management.

Dan Heath: And obviously those kinds of management changes are really hard for people to make.

Keely Korbel: I don't blame the owners for feeling overwhelmed or not being consistent because you got a dog, so maybe they could be on the couch with you at night or you wanted the dog to sleep in the bed with you. And unfortunately, those things that you wanted are no longer going to be something that you have, and you have to let it go and you have to make the changes. Sometimes you get the dog that you don't want, but it teaches you all the things that you never knew you needed to learn.

Dan Heath: Is it harder to train dogs or to train owners?

Keely Korbel: What do you think?

Dan Heath: I'm gonna guess the latter.

Keely Korbel: Yeah, it's definitely owners.

Dan Heath: Keely says something she always tells new dog trainers is...

Keely Korbel: If you're not in this for the owners and you're one of those that are like, "Oh, I just like dogs, so, you know, that's why I'm a dog trainer," then you will not be successful in this industry. Because the biggest connection that I am trying to make and strengthen is the owner to dog relationship.

Dan Heath: Sounds like you may need a board and train program for owners.

Keely Korbel: Oh, my gosh. The biggest joke I hear from my women and wives is, do you have a board and train program for my husband or kids? And I tell 'em all the time, "Listen, I'm working on it 'cause I'd be a millionaire."

Dan Heath: I am Dan Heath, and this is, "What It's Like To Be." In every episode of the show, we walk in the shoes of someone from a different profession. A criminal defense attorney, a nurse, a forensic accountant. We want to know about the highs and lows of their job, what frustrates them, what delights them. Today we'll ask Keely Korbel what it's like to be a dog trainer. We'll talk about how she sizes a dog up when they first come to her, what she does to build a relationship with them, and why there's a big divide in approaches to dog training these days. Stay with us.

All right, so let's say I have a dog. I don't, as it turns out. But let's say I have a little dog, Little Fluffy. And Little Fluffy is such a sweetie, but he pulls on the leash when I'm trying to walk him and he jumps on people and he is always digging through the trash. What can you do for me?

Keely Korbel: Well, what I can do for you is teach you how your dog learns. So that is where I have to start with all my owners. We have such an idea of the way we learn, and we kind of like project that onto our dogs. So when I'm dealing with all the issues that you just stated, I have to break it down into simple steps of, "Hey, your dog's not a verbal learner. And if you don't understand how your dog learns timing-wise, then right there we have a lot of gray area, and that's why we're continuing to struggle."

Dan Heath: So as I mentioned earlier, Keely offers a board and train service where she takes dogs into her home for two and a half weeks and teaches them the fundamentals. How to walk on a leash, how to not jump all over people, but then the time comes the dog has to go back home.

Keely Korbel: I always am gonna be so honest. Yes, I am making such a transformation and change with your dog, but I'm not handing you back a robot. I think that's what's so cool about dogs. They have their own way of thinking and they have their own instincts that they have to follow. So I always kind of compare dog training and dogs back to us in our personal lives. I don't have perfect days, it's just I wish life would be a lot easier. But our dogs don't have perfect days either. And so what I just want my owners to know is, yes, through your board and train program, your dog absolutely has been trained and knows how to do all the basic things. And then what I just need my owners to understand is as long as you reinforce those commands coming home, that relationship that we're trying to build for you and your dog is going to continue to be a great one.

Dan Heath: I'm curious about like those first couple of hours when, you know, after I wave farewell a Little Fluffy, and then you're taking the reins. Like, what are the first things that you have to train a dog on? Like, is there a kind of a hierarchy of things that a dog needs to learn in a certain sequence?

Keely Korbel: So when owners drop their dogs off, obviously, you know, the dog is about to experience some type of change. It's a new environment, they don't have a relationship with me. Where we need to start with our dogs is a proper relationship. And so I'm doing that through consistency, giving their dog structure, and reinforcing these new rules and boundaries. And that is then when dogs start to relax and get comfortable and lean into my leadership and trusting the things that I'm asking them to do or trying to teach them. And so the first couple hours when dogs are getting dropped off to me, I'm putting the leash on. So everything I do starts with a leash because I'm not gonna be chasing your dog around, you know, yelling commands. That leash is going to be what's gonna tether us together and start building that bond. And again, I'm trying to create engagement. So things that I'm checking out is, "Hey, what does your dog know?" I'm asking them sit, down, place, come, heel, name recognition. Most of them are coming in knowing nothing, so they're just all over the place. It's like a little mini tornado on a leash just trying to, you know, sniff the ground and go over here and do all these other things than engage with me because they don't have that relationship with humans. That, you know, they're looking towards them for, "Hey, what do you want me to do?" Most dogs are doing what they want on their time. And so I'm really trying to change the way my owners' dogs are viewing the relationship.

Dan Heath: And what do you think is, from the dog's perspective, like, what's the first sign that their world has changed interacting with you versus their owner?

Keely Korbel: Yeah, it's the leash. I know that sounds crazy because probably when you hear me say leash, you think of like taking the dog for a walk. But your leash is the biggest thing that helps you communicate with the dog the way they learn best. So dogs are not verbal learners, they are physical touch learners and they're visual learners. So when I put that leash on, it's allowing me to have control over the chaos that they're creating for themselves, 'cause again, I'm dealing with a lot of dogs that are overly stimulated, high energy, drivey. And so they're jumping on my couch, they're jumping on my counters, they're trying to jump on me. And so that leash is gonna allow me to be very clear and direct on, "Nope, please don't go on my couch." "Nope, your paws cannot go on that counter, and I absolutely don't want your paws on me." So I'm able to give direct guidance and clarity in the behaviors that I do not want and to stop any unwanted behavior. So right there and then, the dogs kind of will gimme a look like, "Whoa, she's, you know, being serious, she's being consistent." And again, I'm being fair. By no means, when I talk about using a leash to stop a behavior, am I like, you know, whipping dogs around. It's just simple leash guidance. And the dogs are really looking at me and going, "Wow, she understands how I learn, so I'm actually understanding the things that she's putting down and I'm picking them up."

Dan Heath: Keely says, just like people, dogs pick things up at different speeds. And so she's constantly monitoring the dogs to see where they're at and what they need.

Keely Korbel: I'm a big energy person, which is like such a hippie thing to say. But to me as a trainer, if you can't feel and read dog's energy, then that's such a issue because I'm really reading the dogs in every moment I'm spending with them. And I'm maybe going into a session with the dog and I'm like, "You know what? We're gonna work on door manners, and I don't want you running out the door." But then I start working on door manners with the dog, and then I quickly, after two minutes, I'm like, "What am I even doing with this? I have to work on eye contact because this dog is not even engaging with me or looking at me." And kind think about it, if you're talking to an audience, right? You don't have your back to them, you're not sideways to them, you're speaking directly to them. And so when I have dogs that are just like blowing me off and not even giving me eye contact, well, then what are you learning from me and what are you even picking up that I'm saying? So maybe then I gotta say, Hey, I'm not gonna work on door manners right now. I'm actually gonna do some eye contact drills 'cause I wanna start teaching this dog that looking at me is going to be, you know, your rewarding process or whatever that might look like.

Dan Heath: So have you ever had a client bring you a dog with like some weird specialized request, like, they want their dog to get him a beer out of the fridge or something like that?

Keely Korbel: Yeah, so unfortunately, I don't have the time in a two and a half to three week board and train when we're working on all these other things. Because what our clients are really coming to us for is we are really trying to work on creating a go anywhere, do anything dog that knows how to behave in public around distractions. What I have taught in the past that definitely fills my cup is deep pressure therapy. So I did this for a mother whose child has Tourettes and he would shake. And she invested in a service dog for him, came from wonderful breeding. We came up with a game plan, you know, because if you do want a real service dog, it is a different type of lifestyle back at home because again, this dog needs to do its job whenever you need it to be. And so we actually taught this dog deep pressure therapy. So when the son was having a hard time, we would send the dog over and it would lay over his stomach. So apply some pressure.

Dan Heath: Oh, wow.

Keely Korbel: Yeah, and then stay there until, you know, we gave the release word, or ultimately the son would give the release word. And those are the things that I really love to train because it's just so beautiful and cool to watch and to see where dogs can truly help us in very difficult situations.

Dan Heath: So, tell me more about that. With a behavior like that, that's really important, but certainly not instinctive for a dog. Like, in your mind, conceptually, what are the steps that you have to lay out to get the dog from ground zero to doing that behavior successfully?

Keely Korbel: So just talking about doing the behavior, what we're gonna teach is a luring technique. And when I explain a luring technique, it is where you're holding food in your hand. You're covering with your thumb. This way, the dog can smell the food and lick it if it wants to. And you're bringing that food to the dog's nose. And so we're gonna teach the dog that you keep following that food no matter what position I'm positioning you in, whether it's a sit, a down, or luring you into me, and then we use marker words. And all what marker words are is, we are queuing a behavior that we want. And so when I mark the word yes, the dog knows that I'm gonna remove my thumb and they're gonna get paid. So whatever behavior they were doing in that moment was the behavior that was rewarded with that food. So to simply put it, we then lure the dog. Once they know that technique very well, we'll start luring the dog onto us and then into a down, and then we'll mark yes and reward. Then we're gonna work on taking away the food, because again, we're not gonna have food in our hand every time we do this. And then once the dog is doing that just on like a hand cue, then we're gonna put it on a verbal cue, which you guys will laugh at this, but the child wanted to call this command fluff. So we would tell the dog fluff, and then we'd want the dog to complete the command, and then we would reward. So again, still rewarding in that beginning phase, and then we're adding distance, distraction, and duration. So we're gonna need the duration part for the dog to keep holding that command until we sell them otherwise. We're gonna need to add in distraction because no matter what is going on, that dog is going to need to leave whatever it's doing and go over to the child and do that command. And then the distance part is, of course, like, no matter how far we are, you're gonna need to do it. So, it's all those factors that we kind of build off of another to get to the final product.

Dan Heath: Hey, folks, Dan here. If you're a fan of this show, we wanna hear from you. So we've set up a survey. Our goals are to learn more about you and what you like about the show, and also how to find more people like you. If you're willing to help us out with that, we will send you a coveted stainless steel "What It's Like To Be" travel mug while supplies last or until May 31st, whichever comes first. So don't dilly-dally. The survey link is whatitslike.com/survey. One more time, whatitslike.com/survey. If you forget, by the way, it's in the show notes. We would be super grateful for your help and your input. Now let's get back to the show.

I remember reading something a while back about exotic animal trainers, and what stuck with me was they talked about approximations, which sounds like exactly the same thing as you're describing. Like, if you want a monkey to ride a skateboard, you know, first, you reward the monkey for not freaking out when the skateboard is put nearby, and then you reward the monkey for touching the skateboard, and then you reward the monkey for sitting on the skateboard. You know, it's like a thousand rewards later. You know, maybe your monkey is skating a half-pipe or something. But is that the same idea that you're describing?

Keely Korbel: Yeah, so when it comes to like the way we train, I'm considered a balanced trainer. It's like a new term that has been thrown around these last few years, but I definitely fall into that category. And so what that means is, I do use purely positive reinforcement. So exactly what you just mentioned. Hey, you're afraid of something and you have food motivation? We're gonna make this a positive by using that food. And then again, building from that phase to the next phase. And where I'm a little different is that's the foundation training to me. So, I'm gonna use purely positive reinforcement, which is again, food, to reinforce behaviors that you don't know. If you don't know how to sit, down, place, come or heel, I'm gonna use that purely positive method to teach you those things. Once you know those things, I do move on to our next phase of training, which I am a trainer, and I am proud of this, that uses training callers. Because I've worked and been in this industry long enough where owners are not trainers and so they overuse food, and then the dogs will ignore them if they don't have the food, and then they're getting frustrated. And so these training callers help me be able to give my owners a tool that empowers them.

Dan Heath: So, just to jump in here for a sec, as Keely said, she's a balanced trainer, which means that she uses both positive and negative reinforcement with dogs. It's kind of like parenting in that sense, rewards and corrections. And for the corrections, Keely uses e-collars, which give the trainer or owner the ability to deliver a low level shock if the dog is doing something wrong. So, there are a lot of balanced trainers out there, so this is not unusual, but I just wanna acknowledge that this is a very controversial topic in dog training circles. Some trainers believe that only positive reinforcement is legitimate. So to get back to Keely, she explained to me why she finds e-collars to be helpful in situations where positive reinforcement alone just may not work.

Keely Korbel: So, a lot of reasons we use these e-collars is, people want their dogs off leash, right? And I've worked with dogs super, super long, and I can do recall a million times with long line. And I can put my dog in situations where you see dogs, you see cats, people, and I tell you to come. And if you don't come, I use that long line to help reinforce you coming when called, and you know it. You know, if I say come, I need you to come, right? But the reality and the truth is, if we take our dog off leash in certain situations, it is an unpredictable environment, right? And you can't predict the unpredictable, and dogs are instinctual animals. So what happens if you're not really paying attention to your dog, and all of a sudden like a cat runs bolting out from underneath the car or a squirrel comes running in front of you and your dog goes, "Eh, you know what? That long line's not on me. You don't really have a way to reinforce, and I kind of feel like taking my chances and going after, you know, that cat or squirrel, right? 'Cause it does happen. And you're yelling. You're like, "Come, come, come." And your dog is just gone out of there, right? That's my thing about the e-collars, is you're gonna teach it to become an invisible leash. And so that is to me what e-collars training is. It's not to be used forever and ever in your house to reinforce basic commands, but it is something that can be super helpful. If you have an active lifestyle and you wanna take your dog off leash, you wanna go hiking, you wanna go to the beach, and you wanna be able to have a form of communication with your dog at all times. So your dog takes off after something, you say, "Come." They don't respond, you tap your e-collar. All of a sudden, they go, "Oh, I know what that is," interrupts their thought and they come right back to you. But those things have to be taught. And if you're not teaching those things and you're one of those people that are, "Oh, this didn't work for me," well, if you didn't do it right then it wouldn't work for you.

Dan Heath: So I know you have your own dog. I'm curious, how does your dog respond to having a kind of rotating crew of other dogs around?

Keely Korbel: So my dog's now 11. He actually, I got my dog from when I graduated from this school that was called StarMark Academy. Back in 2013, they, like. collected, what was it? Rescue dogs, and then they brought him to us students, and then we had to train them. And if you ever see my dog, he is the most handsome guy ever. And I was in love. And I was like, "He's my dog," and I adopted him. Well, he turned out to be aggressive. And so I had to really work through that. And, Dan, when I tell you I would cry over this dog in the beginning phases of my career and I'm would just literally think to myself, "Oh, if I can't train this dog, how can I train other people's dogs?" And it's funny, you get the dog you don't expect, and it's exactly what you need. And this career that I have has helped transform his aggression. I remember he's still aggressive. I didn't take that or fix it. But because I've had so many opportunities of being able to have different types of dogs around and train him and work him, I mean, if you were to meet him, you would never even think for a second that my dog was aggressive. He's around all the dogs. He does great. Now, what I mean is, I'm there though. You know what I mean? I'm not leaving him alone for three hours with a pack of dogs and I'm not there. So it has allowed my dog to gain so much confidence around other dogs that's helped his aggression issues and it's helped our relationship the most because it's given me opportunities to teach him. "Hey, dude, remember that behavior is not acceptable in front of me, and you don't need to do it." I'm gonna advocate for your space. I'm gonna make sure this dog doesn't do A, B or C. And then from that type of management, it's allowed my dog to trust me and be patient to where his first reaction is in this. Like, "Hey, I wanna bite you."

Dan Heath: You've talked a couple of times about reading dogs and how experience makes you better at that. Do you think you could articulate more about what is you're reading? Like when you glance at a dog, like what are the signs that you're seeing that maybe someone without your experience would miss?

Keely Korbel: Yeah, so if you ever see a dog out in public, right? And I see this a lot where we live. It's Fort Lauderdale. So people wanna bring their dogs to the bars, so I'm gonna speak directly about dogs at bars. And when I look at those dogs, their owners are living the life and they're thinking that, "Hey, my dog's with me, and this is great." And don't get me wrong, some dogs are cool and calm and they are enjoying their time. But what I see is an anxious dog. I see a dog that's panting, pacing, dodging people. The noise is loud and it's a dog that's telling and showing me that they don't wanna be there. And the owners think their dogs are loving life. And what I'm seeing is a dog that is high anxiety, anxious, and probably wants to be home in a quieter setting. And again, dogs are energy animals. So imagine people being drunk or just loudness all around, you know, they're feeling all that coming from every angle. So that's an easy one that I think of because I see it so often. And again, I'm never gonna go up to somebody and be like, "Hey, your dog has anxiety."

Dan Heath: Your dog wants to leave.

Keely Korbel: Yeah. That's not ever gonna be me. If you aren't asking me for my opinion, I promise you I will not give it to you. And then other things that I see is when owners are dropping dogs off, they will say that their dog is extremely hyper. And going back, 'cause we just see a lot of these behaviors, especially since COVID, I'm seeing an anxious dog. I'm seeing a dog that just has no idea how to handle a situation. And so what they think is hyper because it's jumping on them or pulling or trying to do all these things, what I'm seeing is a dog crying for help. They're jumping on you because they're like, "Hey, I'm uncomfortable." They're pulling because they wanna get away. And so that's kind of what I mean, is being able to read a dog and say, "Hey, are you fearful? Are you stressed? Are you anxious? Is this anxiety? Are you aggressive? Are you just a stubborn dog? Are you dominant?" You know, all those things are body language things that you have to just, again, you can read and you can see videos and pictures. But until you're really handling the dog, you're just not gonna know what it is.

Dan Heath: Those are great examples. And now I'm thinking like, I've probably missed some of those signals myself, you know?

Keely Korbel: Yeah.

Dan Heath: Can I just do like a quick concept association test? Like, I'll just throw some things out and you give me your take.

Keely Korbel: Let's do it.

Dan Heath: Let's start with the Dog Whisperer. Fan or not a fan?

Keely Korbel: Caesar Millan? I for sure am. I just don't know how... I mean, I do. A lot of people just have opinions, but, yes, big Caesar Millan fan. I can't hate on the guy. To me, he is the OG of dog training. He's what made it look cool. I mean, I'm like, I'm not gonna... That's like my dad used to drag me to his seminars and we used to go there even before.

Dan Heath: He had seminars?

Keely Korbel: He did. Oh, my gosh he's a riot. He's very funny, he's informational, and he creates change. So I just don't understand when people wanna hoot and holler about him and act like he's, you know, bad guy. I am like, "You guys are crazy. I don't know what you're watching, but I'm watching something different.

Dan Heath: What about cloning dogs? Any hot take on that?

Keely Korbel: You can clone whatever you want. It's never gonna be your first dog. It's just... It's never gonna be your dog. I don't know what to tell you. I mean, just get your dogs stuffed and put 'em on the couch. Too far? Too far, Dan.

Dan Heath: Oh, I love it. I love it. I asked for a hot take. You delivered.

Keely Korbel: Yeah.

Dan Heath: So I saw this study that actually dogs don't like it when you hug them. And I feel like a billion dog owners around the world just rolled their eyes at the same time.

Keely Korbel: For sure.

Dan Heath: Do you believe that study or no?

Keely Korbel: Every dog is different. So, if I'm looking at a dog and I do see the signs that they're not enjoying it, then I do tell owners, "Hey, your dog's not really loving that." And I have to be honest, I don't love being put in that position and having to say it because... You know what I mean? Like, I don't want it stinks. Like, you got a dog so, you can love on them and hug them, but they do have their own personalities. And so, yeah, there are dogs that don't wanna be, you know, hung on. Like, Shiba Inus are like the cats of the dogs. They literally act like cats. Is people hanging on cats and dragging them around? Absolutely not.

Dan Heath: Keely, we always end the episodes with a quick lightning round of questions. Let me fire away here. What is a word or phrase that only someone from your profession would be likely to know? And what does it mean?

Keely Korbel: So I guess if I was to say like a word or phrase, I can't think of a phrase, but word would be like marker words. If I said marker words, people would be like, what is that? Like, you're marking, you know, a word or something. I don't even know what people would think if they heard that. But you heard me talk about it earlier. Marker words are very, very important in the industry of dog training. And that is where you're using, you know, yes or good. It honestly could be any word, but that's the words that I'm using. And you're using those words in the same form every time, and your timing is good with it, and it is marking the wanted behavior. So this helps recreate the dog to, you know, keep giving that behavior that you're teaching, whether it's a command or just, you know, an overall good dog behavior.

Dan Heath: And the significance is, like, maybe the dog is hearing the word even before they got a treat, for instance. So it's just like kind of instant feedback.

Keely Korbel: So it's funny you say that. So, you know, one of the biggest things why people struggle with using treats is, if you think about this, they either have the treat in their hand, so they almost look like they're bribing their dog, right? It's like, "Hey, here it is, do what I'm asking you to do." Or they may have their hand like in their treat bag. So then like the treat's making that noise and the dog's just staring at their hand and the treat bag. So 100% what marker words are gonna help us with is, no treat, no hand in food bad. And you're gonna say the word. So if I told the dog down, the second they down, and this helps with our owner's timing of how to communicate with dogs, most importantly, is if that dog downs, I'm gonna mark yes. So communicating to the dog, "yes, that's the behavior that I wanted." And then what they learn is when they hear that, they're getting paid. So now after I say yes, I now go into my treat bag and reward the dog. So this helps with having a dog pay attention to us and listen to what we're saying instead of focusing on food or your hand being in the treat bag.

Dan Heath: What's the most insulting thing you could say about a dog trainer's work?

Keely Korbel: Oh, you calling me a dog walker? I think that's my favorite thing. It's like, I'm-

Dan Heath: People say that?

Keely Korbel: Oh, they're like, "Oh, are you a dog walker?" And I'm like, "What right now makes you think... What am I doing that looks like I'm a dog walker?" And I'll be like struggling with the dog too, you know, where I'm like, out in public really trying to work on a dog's reactivity, and they're like, "Oh, do you walk dogs? I need a dog walker." And I'm like, "No, I'm a trainer, but thank you so much."

Dan Heath: Keely Korbel is a dog trainer and owner of Ruff Rules in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. What I keep thinking about after talking to Keeley was that story she told about the boy with Tourette's and his service dog, that story just blew my mind. I guess on one level, it was a reminder of the extraordinary things that animals are capable of. You know, we always hear in the news about dogs who can sniff out explosives or dogs who can warn people when they're about to have a seizure. It's this almost magical gift that they have. But more than that, it was also a reminder of the extraordinary things that people are capable of. 'Cause think about that moment when you're looking at a dog just sitting there looking cute, and you make the decision, "Hey, I want that dog right there" on a signal to immediately go lay down carefully on a young boy and not move until it's time to get up. How in the world do you make that happen? Well, Keely knows how to do that. She sees the big picture. She understands how to map the 1,000 intermediate steps between here and there, and then she has the patience to take those steps one at a time, always judging what the dog can handle next, breaking up a big mission into its component behaviors, and then having the discipline to nudge the work forward one moment and marker word at a time. Folks, that's what it's like to be a dog trainer. This episode was produced by Matt Purdy. I'm Dan Heath. Thanks for listening.