This blog shares the philosophy and ethos which defines our interactions with animals. The rest of this entry will tell you who we are, what we intend to blog about, and why, but all of that is information in support of the fundamental truth of how we share our lives with animals and how we train them and nurture their bodies, minds, and spirits, and ultimately that is what we hope to share…
“We” are Talented Animals a company that provides animals to the entertainment industry, specializing in projects where complex training is required and working with just about every species of animal. The human members of our team come from diverse backgrounds, and were all world-class animal trainers before they started training for Hollywood. This blog will primarily be written by Roland and Lauren, although some of our other trainers will occasionally write on particular topics of their expertise, so I will share a little biographical information about us:
As a child, I, Roland, was one of “those” animal people who brought home every stray dog, cat, toad, snake, and bird and trained it. I would climb over fences to play with junkyard dogs, run away from home and be found at Casa de Pets, get in trouble for trying to beat up the school gardener who was killing gophers, etc. From age ten I wanted a dog more than anything in the world but could NOT have one at boarding school or in college dorms. Every year I wrote a lengthy letter to the headmaster explaining why they should make an exception, and secretly wished I could go blind so I could get a seeing eye dog… For many years, this desperate desire for a dog was repressed, and my only outlet was to read every book or magazine I could find and dream about the dog I would someday own. I wore out the bindings on MANY books!! Everywhere I went I would visit the breeders or kennels. When I went to Italy I wanted to meet a real Spinone, and in France I wanted to meet a working Newfie, Canada was Tollers, Israel was Canaans, etc. As soon as I was old enough, I worked at vets, cleaned kennels, stewarded at obedience, helped with classes, volunteered at wildlife rehabs, interned at zoos, etc.
When I could drive and fly, I attended every animal related seminar I could find–Turner, Bailey, McConnell, Arnold, Bryson, Balabanov, Nelson, Dunbar, Reid, Pryor, White, Sternberg, Dufford, etc. I started finding the people who were the best in their fields and offering to help them out in exchange for education. Marine trainers, dog obedience, conformation, graduate genetics, psychology, falconry, SAR, tracking, big cat rescue, anything so I could learn! As soon as I could afford a small apartment, I worked out a deal with the local humane society, and with the local bird store, where I would take animals home for a few weeks, train them a bunch of tricks and bring them back. This helped them place animals, taught me tons about training different tempered animals, and increased my knowledge of different breeds. And I listened very carefully and critically to everyone and everything, and tried to get as much data as possible and constantly integrate the information into my own growing sense of the animal world. (In between training animals I also got a classical philosophy and physics degree from St. John’s College in New Mexico)
By 1992 this path had led me to Oregon State University where I was pursuing a Masters in zoology, planning to go to vet school, and instructing dog obedience at a local school. Here I met Lauren who was also a pre-vet graduate student (canine nutrition and immunology), and we quickly discovered that we had spent our childhoods doing the same exact things. (In fact the paragraphs above are something of an amalgam of our childhoods) Lauren had more veterinary and scientific knowledge while I had more philosophy and psychology, but we both loved training and behavior, both fed raw, both lived in the boonies so our animals would have land, and most importantly had very similar views of where animals fit into our lives and how best to train and care for them. So we joined forces and began a lifetime of working together to advance the arts and sciences involved in caring for animals…
We pursued every imaginable animal activity: tracking, SAR, agility, conformation, field trials, schutzhund, ringsport, therapy, water rescue, herding, flyball, carting, frisbee, obedience, freestyle, lure coursing, sledding, skijoring… We attended countless seminars. We raised litters of puppies for friends so we could push the envelope of socialization techniques. We have raised and trained just about every animal from anteaters to zebras. Many dog people focus on one or two activities, we found that our animals are much happier doing lots of different activities. We train in everything. While we do compete in several of these activities, competition is not our real love and we are rather ambivalent about competing with our animals. In most competitive venues the animal’s happiness becomes secondary to the human’s ego, and that can lead to decisions that are not best for the animals.
Of course we have other interests and passions in life, but animals are our main hobby, passion, and vocation. We have taught many classes and presented seminars, lectures, and demos, and try to be available for behavioral consultation. We have publishers eagerly awaiting several book manuscripts and are most of the way through a couple of videos.
In 1995, a friend asked us to provide a dog for a movie, and we soon found ourselves working animals on a movie set, and quickly discovered that this was our life’s calling. If you are born to work animals in Hollywood, you know it the moment you try it. Long hours and impossible tasks send adrenalin surging as you and your animal dig deep to find ways to make every shot perfect. It is draining and miserable, and more fun than anything! It is unlike other animal activities, because anything goes. There are no artificial external limits on your creativity. You do anything you can think of to help your animal understand what is being asked. You and your animal develop a bond of trust and you are constantly challenged to get the best possible results.
Why we are writing this blog is simple. We live and work full time everyday with a huge variety of animals, and over the years we have amassed a considerable body of knowledge. In an average month we may each spend 300 hours working with animals, so the quantity and range of experience we have accumulated is extensive. For a long time we have shared that knowledge on various email lists and through published articles, and are constantly being asked to share our thoughts with a wider audience.
While there are some excellent trainers out there, our philosophies are very different from most other “popular” animal trainers, and we believe many people would benefit from hearing our perspective. Most notably, we have a strongly non-adversarial relationship with our animals which is markedly different from the domineering techniques often employed. We believe in strong clear leadership based on respect and affection rather than authority and intimidation.
There are undoubtedly many topics I have not yet considered and will come to over time, but here at the outset my intention is to share our thoughts on training philosophies, animal care, specific training issues, behavior and psychology, animal related politics, etc. We will periodically post videos of training, exercising, or playing or fun pictures of our animals. Of course you are also always welcome to go look around our website where we have many such images at www.talentedanimals.com Also, time permitting we would love to answer specific questions anyone might have, so feel free to ask questions in the comments section or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In a nutshell, that is the who, the what, and the why of this blog. For actual content of value please check back soon…