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Old Dog, New Tricks


It’s a new year, and a time to start fresh, learn something new, or just jump into a project you’ve been putting off for a long time. You can always learn new skills, and sometimes a fun hobby can make it easier to get through a tough day, and who knows - someday that hobby might lead to an interesting new career.

Twelve years ago, I rescued a puppy named Reggie, who was born with a luxated patella - his kneecap was in the wrong place, and he needed surgery. The problem was, he couldn’t have the surgery done until his growth plates had developed, so he spent his first 10 months without a lot of training or socialization with other dogs. He was basically a 90-pound cute, lovable, reactive wild child.

After the surgery, I was taking him to The Academy of Dog Training to swim and build up the muscles around his knee. One day after his swim, I was drying him off and he got away from me. He ran across the room and knocked some old lady down, and pinned her German Shepherd to the floor. I realized then, that I was going to have to get this dog trained, or I was going to lose him. So I enrolled him in a class at The Academy, and he did really well. I enrolled him in another class - he was REALLY smart! Then I started helping teach some of the classes, and I liked working with the dogs and people so much that I decided to go to dog trainer school. Carrie Eicher from The Academy suggested that I read Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor, and that solidified my decision to choose The Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior.

I applied, and got in, with Reggie as my dog partner in the course! It was not easy, but it was fascinating and exciting to study how dogs think and learn, and how to help them. Reggie and I worked every day to learn the skills to use different techniques of training. We did very well, and we passed the course with flying colors. So as a middle-aged guy, I started a new hobby - teaching classes and doing private lessons at The Academy of Dog Training here in Newark. It was a fun side gig - I loved it and was good at it.

Ten years later Covid hit… and shut down almost everything. My regular job as an entertainer came to a crashing halt. The venues were suddenly closed, and all of the shows in the present and future were canceled. Everyone was staying home… and adopting rescue dogs - many with issues such as separation anxiety, reactivity, and resource guarding.

So I had a choice. I could sit at home, collect unemployment and feel sorry for myself, or I could reinvent myself. So I started a new business - doing private in-home dog training sessions for people who have dogs with issues. I called the new business The Clever Dog. My nephew Will Muzzi designed a logo for me, I got a business license, and this “old dog” jumped in with both feet.

My goal was to help solve dog problems - not by punishing the behaviors the owners thought were “bad,” but rather finding the cause of the behavior and changing the dog’s emotional reaction to the stimulus. It was a new and very successful way to solve dog problems. And so, as a middle-aged guy, I became a therapist for dogs - and business is booming!

So make THIS the year you try something new - something you’ve always wanted to do. Take a chance, start a new hobby, and make a refreshing change. It’s never too late, and you’re never too old to learn new tricks. Take a deep breath, and jump in with both feet.

Reggie and I agree that you’ll be glad you did. Happy New Year!

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