Your dog is not your baby:
Owner of K-Nine Solutions
Gets real and gets results
Santa Barbara Dog Training Biz has a
10-year popularity and success record
By Tyler Hayden | Photos by Ingrid Bostrom | March 16, 2023
Read all the entries in our “Pets and Animals, 2023 Edition” coverage here.
Eric Smith tells it like it is. The K-Nine Solutions owner doesn’t pamper the dogs he trains, and he doesn’t tiptoe around their owners’ bad habits. “A lot of customers think of dogs as babies,” he said. “One of the first things I do is tell them to stop it. It sets them up for failure.
As soon as a person begins to treat their dog like an animal, not like a child, Smith explained, and once they begin to communicate with the dog on their terms, not theirs, they are engaging in a much happier and healthier relationship with his dog. pet. “That’s when things start to change,” he said.
It’s part of the philosophy and technique Smith has employed for the past decade at K-Nine Solutions, one of Santa Barbara’s most popular dog training programs that won its category in the Independentof the annual Best Of survey for seven consecutive years. Here, we pick Smith’s brains on what makes his tough-but-fair approach so effective.
How did you get into this profession? I grew up in Boston and my dad has always been a big fan of working dogs – Dobermans and German Shepherds. I joined the military when I was 22 and started working with patrol dogs. When I got out, I started working a little with the dogs. I also have one of mine. He got very aggressive towards other dogs, but I didn’t know how to handle it – I was good at creating aggression, but I didn’t know how to stop him. So I swallowed my pride and hired a trainer.
I split my time as a photographer and dog trainer, and dog training won out. Ten years later, we have an impressive 6,000 square foot facility and an incredibly talented staff. We are bigger than I ever imagined. My main focus now is on training the trainers and growing the business. The staff are really the backbone.
What makes you so successful? There are excellent trainers and people managers. We are both doing very well. We are very good at teaching what we do. We tell people who come to see us that it’s really about them. It’s not about the dog. The dog is the easy part.
I’ve been mentored by some of the best coaches in the country and watched how they interact with their clients. Many customers are at their wit’s end. They are stressed by their dogs; they are stuck in the house; their social life collapsed. We are able to relieve them almost instantly.
What are the most common challenges you encounter? Dog-to-dog aggression is important. We don’t have many dogs that bite humans. And even when it does, it’s almost never a malicious sting. It’s a defense mechanism.
The dog-to-dog problem often stems from a lack of proper socialization. People bring puppies to dog parks, but I’m not a fan of dog parks. It’s like throwing a baby to the wolves. Many older dogs bully a puppy or aggressively correct their behavior, and the puppy is in an imprinting phase. They learn to be afraid of other dogs and when they see another one they think, “I’ll catch you before you catch me.” At this point, the dog needs intervention and reconditioning. And the longer you delay, the harder it is to change.
How long does reconditioning usually take? Our programs last from two to six weeks. In six weeks we can fix just about anything. We do what is called “balanced training”. He uses positive reinforcement to teach a dog everything we want him to know. There is no punishment. Once a dog demonstrates that he understands what is expected, we perform negative reinforcement, that is, taking something away. When you’re dealing with behaviors that you want to turn off right from the start, you can’t bribe the behavior. You may not like the problem.
We don’t stick to an unwavering philosophy. Every dog is different. Just like how some people are visual learners and some people are doers. For a dog to really understand, you need to understand what motivates him – food, attention, toy.
We make people cry because they are so frustrated. They think they failed. We tell them, “No, you just got the wrong information. You have us now, and we will help you.