On November 15, 2011 Kirk Fornoff from Berkeley, CA wrote:
HOLY CRAP, what have we done! Well, in March 2002 a precocious seven week old American Pit Bull Terrier entered our domain. Err, make that HIS domain. That, until Mr. John O'Connor enters the picture at sixteen weeks and sets us straight. OUR domain.
Marley (named after, and in honor of Bob Marley) , from day one oozed personality in spades; big, bold, over-the-top-in-your-face personality he possessed. Boundless energy; endless curiosity. An interloper extraordinaire too, conveniently inserting himself into any group. All this, coupled with our excessive permissiveness, inexperience, and a breed of dog that is incredibly tenacious - along with an undeserved media driven axiom that Pit Bulls are inherently vicious animals - was a surefire recipe for a potentially toxic brew. Now don't misunderstand me, APBTs are a-lotta dog, they're not for everyone. But, they are, as a breed, the polar antithesis of vicious man-eaters. Marley embodied all of the qualities of what an APBT should be - paramountly human friendly, intelligent, loyal - dispelling the myths and acting as the supreme breed ambassador. I digress.
We began our dog training adventure at the SFSPCA. A nice environment to help socialize a pup in a "kinder, gentler" way. But - to paraphrase Cesar Millan - not effectively setting proper rules, boundaries and limitations, for, well, a- lotta dog. There were no true repercussions for errant behavior.
Circuitous aptly describes our initiation with John. While strolling the shopping district in Berkeley with cute-as-can-be Marley, a woman struck up a conversation. She commented on Marley's handsome appearance and asked if we knew of the Pit Bull rescue organization BADRAP. We did not. Later, perusing the BADRAP Website, we saw John listed. Already fully immersed in training and hyper-socializing Mar, we weren't actively pursuing another trainer. But, we thought if he's listed as a recommended trainer by BADRAP he must be good. And, casting our training net wider certainly couldn't hurt. We made the call.
After our initial two- plus hour consult, we were presented with various options to accomplish our goals. We were all in.
John trains humans to more effectively shape a dog's behavior so a copacetic relationship can flourish. The takeaway message is actually quite simple: patience, persistence, consistency, coupled with appropriate and aptly timed discipline; this is how one must live with their canine companion. It's not a few classes and the dog is "trained." It's a lifestyle. It is how one lives with their dog every single day, with the aforementioned proper rules, boundaries and limitations. And the accompanying repercussions for errant behavior.
Even tempered in nature, John is commanding, albeit laconic, when handling dogs; his energy speaks volumes. He is kind of a 'Dog Whisperer' on steroids; bringing to the job , tools far exceeding basic dog behavior ID skills. Via decades of real, hands-on experience, John has developed a methodic protocol which he tailors and tweaks to the individual and the temperament of their dog. Never escalating without warrant. Corrections stemming from frustration, anger or spite are not welcome, nor is over-correction. John, while polite, is not shy about letting the human component of the equation know when, in his experienced opinion, they need to tighten things up, be more commanding; relaxed yet authoritative.
John is exceedingly generous with his time. Issues arising outside of class are encouraged to be communicated via phone calls or email. This, even after the course of training has been completed. Highly recommended, John's book, "A Down to Earth Approach To Basic Dog Handling and Understanding and Dealing with Dog Aggression" is a wonderful companion to his training sessions.
We spent the better part of two years working with John. Innately, Marley was an extraordinary canine companion to be sure. John's counseling brought to surface, everything Mar was capable of .
In January 2007, what we thought to be muscular hamstrings turned out to be swollen external lymph nodes, which turned out to be stage V high-grade B-cell lymphoma - cancer - which turned into a sixteen month battle consisting of twenty, multi-drug chemotherapy treatments and two half-body radiation treatments. And then he was gone, our ONCE IN A LIFETIME dog…… I miss Marley every single day, in every single way you can possibly miss a canine companion. I’m pretty sure that’ll never change.
But, life goes on with or without you, like it or not. In March of 2009 we adopted Woody, an APBT from BACS, the Berkeley city animal shelter that John's wife, Kate heads.
Sharing the commonality of dog, breed (APBT) and 'doppelganger' is where their similarities begin and end. Being a rescue (with the accompanying uncertainty of his background) and much older than Marley (Woody was about eight months old) he presents a completely different set of challenges. John, once again was our number one, go to guy. And, once again he did not disappoint. Woody has matured into a much more confident, controllable dog.
I cannot sing John's praises loud enough. If you're serious about learning how to handle your dog properly and responsibly, you seriously need to seek John's tutelage.