Volume 13, Number 6
Updated: June 6, 2007
“We founded DOGWISH because the need is great…for these special animals.”—Renowned dog trainer Bob Taylor - “Our Humanitarian for 2007”
by John Hahn, D.P.M., N.D.
The seemingly well considered, carefully determined choices made by adults are often heavily influenced, subconsciously, by childhood experience. For example, Bob Taylor, of Phelan, California, may be one of the most respected dog trainers in the nation today simply because his father gave away the family dog when Bob was just five years old. And if that wasn’t traumatic enough, his second dog—a stray Labrador mix who “adopted” Bob one year later, meeting him after school and following him home—was also brought to the pound. “It broke my heart,” recalls the world-renowned trainer. “Those two dogs were the only friends I had as a child.”
Today, Bob Taylor has all the dogs he wants: 45, at last count, in his famous kennels, plus several more that live in the house with his family. “My father wasn’t mean, just very strict,” Bob explains. “I guess he tried to make it up to me by giving me the complete set of Tarzan books for my eighth birthday.”
Edgar Rice Burroughs never had a more enthusiastic fan. Prohibited from playing with the neighborhood kids as a little boy, Bob immersed himself in the imaginary jungle world in which Tarzan the ape-man rode the backs of elephants and earned the loyalty of lions, panthers, and gorillas. “I guess I kind of identified with Tarzan,” theorizes Bob, “because he had no human friends. So he turned to the animals. He called them by name, communicated with them; they were his companions on happy days, and his allies in times of danger.”
Considering the influence Burroughs and his nimble main character had on Bob, it may come as no surprise that Bob later excelled at gymnastics in high school, especially on the rings, high bar, and rope, eventually becoming a California state champion. But it would be a few years before Bob would have cause to once again draw on his childhood memories of Tarzan—in a frighteningly literal sense.
It’s a Jungle out There
At age 26, Bob took a job with the Long Beach Animal Control Shelter. Needless to say, he did not expect to encounter a rampaging chimpanzee in his first few weeks on the job, but that’s exactly what happened. “I can laugh at it now,” says Bob with a smile, “but it was a serious situation. Full-grown chimps are not to be taken lightly; they’re as strong as gorillas and can be extremely dangerous.”
Bob had been called to the scene to corral a large adult chimpanzee that was on the loose. Frightened and enraged, it was storming and shrieking at the windows of the stores and coffee shops along a beachfront retail community. The moment Bob jumped out of his truck, he became the object of the furious chimp’s attention. “He ran towards me, so I did the prudent thing and ran in the other direction, finally ducking into a Laundromat,” recalls Bob. “The chimp followed me in, as the screaming customers ran for their lives. I was suddenly alone in the room with, at that moment, a wild animal. We faced each other, and I began to talk and make slow, careful hand gestures. Somehow I was able to calm him down, and to get him to focus. After a while, I took him by the hand and led him to the truck.”
Listening to the Heart
You wouldn’t think such an experience could happen twice in the young man’s short career with the city, but not a year later, an enormous female gorilla escaped from its private owner and caused a panic in the neighborhood. Responding to the emergency call, Bob once again found himself face to face with a potentially dangerous animal, like something right out of his Tarzan books. “I remember everything happening in slow motion,” Bob says. “The ape lumbered forward, then leapt at me, arms outstretched. Suddenly she was hugging me in her arms and telling me about how upset she was.” Something of a captive audience, Bob “listened” to the distraught gorilla, soothed her, and eventually got her not only to release him, but to follow him to his truck as well.
Taming the Beast
Because of his unique ability to deal with out-of-control animals, Bob was promoted to the dangerous dogs department of the shelter (some promotion!). One bright morning, he was summoned by the owner of a gigantic St. Bernard after the dog had attacked a neighbor. Bob hopped the backyard fence armed with his “come-along,” a long steel pole with a cable lasso at the end. “This St. Bernard was bigger than ‘Cujo,’” laughs Bob. “He bit my steel pole in half, popped the cable, and took out after me. I leapt over the fence, and he followed. I dove into the front seat of my truck, and he followed me there too. I slipped out and slammed the door behind me, shutting him in.”
With half the battle won, Bob momentarily contemplated the barking, slobbering giant as it continued to bang against the interior of the vehicle. Fearing that the dog would soon injure itself, he picked up a lid from a trash can, took a deep breath, and reentered the truck, jamming the lid between himself and the infuriated dog. “He went nuts as I drove to the shelter, and tried to jump out of the truck. But he was so big, his head could barely fit through the window.” Once again, Bob started talking to a frightened and enraged animal. Amazingly, by the time they arrived at the shelter, he was able to walk “Cujo” inside without a leash.
In 1987 as The Orange County Behaviorist, and the California Superior Court K9 Expert, Bob sat as Chairman of the Board the helped create the “Dangerous Dog Laws” for the State of California. Bob, who also serves as a Consultant for the Southern California Animal Control Officer’s Association, has worked as a K9 Expert for some 30 years now, handled over 50 Superior Court Cases, and trained over 1,000 dangerous dogs.
His Own Boss
Bob’s experiences at the animal control shelter, combined with his strong independent streak, convinced him that his talents lay in working with animals, but on his own terms. He left his steady job with the City of Long Beach and opened his own dog training facility. Today, nearly 30 years later, his training school has produced some of the best police, search and rescue, Department of Homeland Security, and Service Dogs for the Developmentally and Neurologically Disabled and Disordered in the country. In addition, he has worked with hundreds of “problem” dogs brought to him by guardians at their wits’ end.
“More often than not, it’s an owner problem,” confides Bob with a grin. “But we’ll take their dogs, work with them, and return them as model citizens.” In almost every case Bob has been successful.
Dog Sports Competitor
In 1985 Bob decided to get involved in the dog sport of Schutzhund (the sport used to train Police K9s since 2002) with his German Shepherd Dogs. His second year in the sport he placed 3rd and 4th in National Competition, and qualified for the World Championship Team with the German Shepherd Dog Club of America-Working Dog Association, (GWDCA_WDA). Bob and his wife both made the team 7 years in a row, and besides taking the National Schutzhund 3 and National Master Tracking Dog Championships numerous times, also qualified to complete at the World Championships, representing the GSDCA-WDA. In 1988 Bob stopped the World Championships and were asked to re-do their dogs protection routine because it was so dynamic. In 1991 His dog Assa earned high scoring female. It is no wonder Bob was awarded the “MERIT OF HONOR” by the GSDCA for “Outstanding Contribution to the German Shepherd Dog Breed in America”. Because of his honorable career as one of the most outstanding trainers of competition dogs at the World Championships, Bob has been retained by several international Corporations, like Sam Sung Electronics in Seoul South Korea, and others around the globe.
Nothing Short of Magical
He can whisper a command to a dog a quarter of a mile away and get an attentive response. With a simple hand gesture, he can send a complex set of instructions. A whistle under his breath, a turn of his head, and sometimes simply a look in his eye can result in a dog eagerly demonstrating its understanding. He has trained them all—German shepherds and Labradors, to be sure, but also every other kind of dog, from pit bulls to a family Pekingese named Mr. Bean. His approach to each dog is at once intuitive and scientific.
“It’s critical to understand a dog from its’ point of view,” Bob explains. “Dogs see through their nose, and their nose tells them a lot about you. Dogs are also more stimulated by movement than voice, so we use hand signals and body language. I’ll wave my hand over a dog’s head and he can sense my personality, my relaxation.”
Often, the so-called “problem” dogs are unrecognizable to their guardians on pick-up day. Formerly irritable and tense, they appear relaxed and focused. “Very often, an owner will cry when they see their dog’s ‘new’ behaviors,” Bob says.
For his dogs, Bob believes that nutrition is just as important as training. He feeds his extended family of canines only the most healthful and fortifying foods on the market, as well as nutritional supplements to support overall wellness. He applies this same foundational approach to his own health—particularly now that he has to monitor his blood sugar. “I’ve got to watch what I eat,” says the husky 56-year-old. “And I take dietary supplements that have been formulated specifically to support glucose metabolism. Of course,” he grins, “getting enough exercise is not a problem with 45 dogs to train.”
While Bob enjoys all aspects of training, he finds providing dogs for the disabled to be especially rewarding. The training challenges, however, are considerable and extremely time-intensive. That’s why service assistance dogs can cost as much as $50,000 or more. Many times—too many for his own economic good—Bob has given these incredible animals to families unable to purchase one. His normal costs range from $5 to $20 thousand dollars, usually better his competition. Bob has trained over 150 Service Dogs to date, working in homes across the continent.
Special Dog for a Special Person
A case in point involves a young man named Randy, who suffers from multiple disabilities, including epilepsy. “Randy and his twin brother, John, have serious challenges,” explains Bob, “but Randy had the greatest need for a dog that could detect an oncoming seizure before it happened. So I trained a beautiful shepherd named Jasmine to smell his bodily chemical changes. During one training session, she suddenly started barking. ‘Why is she barking?’ wondered Randy—moments before he collapsed into a grand mal seizure.”
Bob donated Jasmine to Randy, although he had serious doubts about the stability of Randy’s living situation. It did not take long before the trained shepherd proved her worth. “I got a call from the mother soon after,” recalls Bob. “Randy had walked out of the house, leaving Jasmine for the moment in the living room. Jasmine kept barking and hitting the door to come out, and Randy thought she was just having anxiety. Suddenly, he had a seizure and fell, unconscious, into a full water trough. His mother told me Jasmine dove through the plate glass window, pulled Randy out of the water, then lay on top of him, licking his face, until he returned to consciousness.”
It soon became apparent to Bob that Randy required more than Jasmine: he needed a structured home life. After discussing the issue with his wife, Marla, they offered to take Randy and John into their home. Today, both young men live in their own trailer on Bob’s property and help out where they can, with faithful Jasmine watching their every step.
In 2001, because of the overwhelming need for specially trained dogs and the lack of federal and state funding to support this humanitarian effort, Bob created the DOGWISH (www.dogwish.org). The board of directors for this not-for-profit organization includes a regional director of FEMA, a prominent health practitioner, a distinguished business executive, The Founder and Chief Executive of the National Seizure Disorder Foundation, the Vic Chairman of the California Counsel for Developmental Disabilities, and his wife Karen, the California State Employee of the Year for 2005, “I founded DOGWISH,” Bob explains, “because the need is great and the resources, nationwide, are woefully insufficient to promote the training for these special animals.”
Bob is training one of these special dogs now for a case that has been brought to his attention. An elderly lady in Los Angeles, confined to a wheelchair but determined to get about, has been robbed on the street four times and—unbelievably—beaten twice by neighborhood toughs. “Somebody has to help this woman,” says Bob. “She needs a dog to protect her. But it’s not quite as simple as that, because she doesn’t have the physical ability to control a dog. The shepherd I’m giving her will have the ability to be, in effect, its own handler, and to recognize when protection is necessary and when it’s not.” The dog is trained to be passive protective, and obey the laws regarding proper personal defensiveness. (After 3 years this dog has done it job, never hurt anyone, and is going strong.)
Whether a dog is needed to accompany an autistic child, or to perform any number of special duties, Bob fulfills as many requests as he can, often out of his own pocket. The DOGWISH Foundation does its part to make more of these wonderful creatures available to those in need. This year Dog Wish has accepted the challenge to train Service Dogs for Public School Special Needs Teachers throughout the State of California. They need and deserve your support and help!
You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks!
Does this master trainer have any advice for those of us who simply want to teach Fido to sit?
“Dog training is an ongoing process,” Bob says. “My advice is to let it happen, step by step. Use your dog’s mistakes to teach, not to punish. Realize that you are just a tool in the process and that God is working through you to enrich and bless the life of your dog. As you reach out, do so in a loving, controlled, concerned manner, and let God reach out through you. You’ll be amazed at what can happen.” “The closer you get to your dog, the more you touch the heart of God.”
Legacy of Love
Many pet owners believe in a place called Rainbow Bridge, where humans are reunited with their departed pets on their transition into the afterlife. It is said that there, at the base of the bridge, we will find our long-lost pets as they once were, full of life, welcoming us. If there is such a place as Rainbow Bridge, we can be sure that Bob Taylor, when his time comes many, many years from now, will find himself mobbed by wagging tails, licking tongues, and welcoming eyes alert with gratitude and good tidings.