Rockford’s answer to the Dog Whisperer

By Denise Guzzardo

Apiana (Apple) is my third German shepherd dog. They are a fascinating breed—loyal, family-orientated companions with an overzealous willingness to please and protect. This extremely sensitive dog can be very aloof to those outside of their pack. However, they can also be a very complicated animal.

When my first German shepherd, Sage, started to show aggression toward other dogs, my heart began to sink. I had not run up against this before, owning collies for 18 years. I was training her at one of the local dog training facilities. Whispers of “She needs to put that dog to sleep” would blow past my ears as I would leave the training session in tears.

Sage was 120 pounds of love for her family and the other animals in our home. How could they say such a thing about her?

When I would approach the trainer for suggestions, it didn’t take me long to figure out they had no solutions for me. If my dog was not a golden retriever, they just didn’t know what to do with it.

At her annual exam, I asked my veterinarian, Dr. Josef Frost Jr., where to turn. Sage loved her training sessions, and this breed definitely needs a job. He told me about a man named Dave Schmidt, owner of Dave’s Doggie Den, 107 St. Louis Ave., Rockford—a trainer who had solutions for “problem dogs.”

Reluctantly, I gave Dave Schmidt a call, and he said, “Well, bring her in for an evaluation, and I’ll see what I can do.”

The day I arrived at Dave’s training facility, I was a nervous wreck. If he had told me to put Sage to sleep, I don’t know what I would have done. I knew this was not an option for me. My father raised us to find solutions for animals in trouble and to never dispose of them because they were an inconvenience. He would say, “They came into your life for a reason”—a lesson for you, a friend.

My training session with Dave turned out to be a success. He said she was not a severe problem at all. In fact, Dave was quite fond of Sage. He thought she was bright and that she had plenty of talent. This was 12 years ago.

What I love about Dave is that he loves all dogs and has the answers for each individual’s idiosyncrasies. He doesn’t “stereotype” specific breeds as bad, unfavorable or unworthy of life. I have often wondered how many animals have been euthanized as a result of an unknowledgeable trainer’s advice.

My “Apple,” for example, is another unusual case. She is a Leo, a bright and shining star, filled with animation and light. However, she suffered from the same insecurities as Sage. Her mother was diagnosed with mastitis a couple weeks after the litter was born. The breeder removed the mother from the litter, and they were receiving supplements; three of the puppies did not survive.

Now, Lyle and I drove a nine-hour round-trip to pick up our beautiful little bundle of joy. She picked me, placed her chin on my boot, and it was a done deal. The breeder warned me that she was a little dominant, and maybe she wasn’t the right one for me. I know I can appear to be soft spoken, but nothing could have been further from the truth. If this little one would have ended up in the wrong hands, it would have been a disaster for her and those around her.

She started out with severe food aggression. The family joke at dinner time was “Honey. I’m going to feed the dogs now” with two oven mitts on my hands. Lyle would laugh as I would proceed to give and take her food away from her until she could understand it was really hers, and she was not going to starve to death.

Now, let’s look at why she behaved that way. When taken from her mother too soon, Apple wanted desperately to survive. There probably wasn’t enough each time the litter was fed, and she fought her way through for her meal. She also was not given the opportunity to learn manners from her mother. Quick corrections from Mom early on teaches the young pup how to interact with their human companions later on in life.

With Dave’s help, we saw immediate improvement. He knows how to navigate through each situation without throwing his hands in the air and saying, “I don’t know, the dog is junk, put it down.” He believes there are no bad dogs, just owners who don’t understand. I can’t express enough gratitude toward Dave and his wife Kristy for creating a truly effective training environment for me and my dogs Sage (R.I.P.), Star and, my newest addition, Apiana (Apple) Guzzardo.

Dave has owned dogs his entire life. He began his venture in training back in 1987 while walking his dog in the park. Louie, who later become Dave’s best friend, saw him struggling to keep his dog under control, so he approached Dave to ask if he would like help training his dog. They became fast friends, and in 1989 Dave and Louie started their own training business in Chicago.

In 1989, Dave also joined the Chicago Transit Authority and started out on patrol with his dog, Rambo. Within three months, he became the troubleshooter for on-street training; whenever someone within the CTA had a problem with their dog, they asked Dave for help.

In 1991, Dave branched out and started his own training business in the Rockford area, and has been training dogs for the public ever since. He still occasionally assists police with training and protection work for their K-9 units.

Dave’s experience also includes judging obedience and protection competitions in the Chicago area.

Along the way, Dave decided to try grooming (since most of the work of grooming is handling the dog). So in 2000, he called upon another friend to teach him the basics of grooming.

This mixture of training and grooming resulted in the creation of a place just for dogs that would offer grooming, training and day care: Dave’s Doggie Den opened in 2005. Dave and Kristy told me that many “problem dogs” end up being “put under” at the veterinarian’s office just to be groomed. When they become older, the twilight sleep isn’t safe for them, and the dog then suffers with lack of grooming care. Because Dave is experienced with aggressive dogs, he has no problem working with a fearful or aggressive animal within their grooming salon.

Since 1988, Dave has been competing with his dogs in several dog competitions in the Chicago area, and has finished in the top three in every single competition.

Here are some of Dave’s certifications and competitions: master trainer; Walter Ward’s Street Wise Competition, 1988-2004; AKC Good Citizen Trainer, 1993-present; Iron Dog Competition, 1998-2004; Personal Protection Dog Association, 1999-2002; and certified trainer/agitator.

Dave and his wife Kristy are holding an open house Saturday, Sept. 19, with training demonstrations being held at 10 a.m. and noon. Any questions regarding your “problem pet” or “not-so-problem pet” can be addressed at that time. Dave’s Doggie Den offers training on all levels, a full-service grooming salon, as well as daily doggie day care. Stop in and check it out. This is a day for all dog lovers to unite.

From the September 16-22, 2009 issue.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!