Little did Amy Holtz know when she developed a passion for dogs at a young age that she would one day provide frustrated dog owners with hope. Through her work at a Labrador Retriever rescue she founded called Rudy’s Rescue, she discovered many owners release their dogs to shelters for behavioral issues.
“I knew there had to be a way to stop this,” said Holtz, “and provide a resource for their owners, rather than getting rid of their dog. To show them there’s a way out and there’s hope.” She did just that when she decided to become a dog whisperer.
Holtz, who is now New York’s dog whisperer for Monroe, Orleans, Ontario and Wayne Counties through America’s Dog Whisperer Inc., had to go through extensive hands-on training to earn her title. It was her job to find clients, and then train in their home with her boss, who would fly from Arizona, along with another dog whisperer from New Jersey. “You can do it through book study,” said Holtz, “but until you actually get your hands on the dogs, and on the clients, you’re only as good as turning a page in a book.”
Sometimes when people learn Holtz is a dog whisperer, they look on it with skepticism and a sense of humor. “A lot of times when you say dog whisperer, people think of “Ghost Whisperer” where I’m talking to the dead or something,” said Holtz. “They really just don’t understand what it is, but once I explain it to them, they find it very intriguing.” And many times, she actually gets a client out of it, Holtz added.
So what exactly is dog whispering? “It’s behavior; it’s not obedience,” said Holtz. “We do not teach obedience because that does not change a dog’s behavior. There are many dogs out there that know sit, stay or come, but still bark like crazy or bite people when they come in the house. So what good is that? You really need the behavior to have a dog that’s well behaved and well trained.” Holtz said there is no need for shock collars, spray bottles or other gadgets in the work she does. “It’s all behavior based on leadership.”
America’s Dog Whisperers teaches behavior based on “the four essentials,” which Holtz says helps owners become a leader of their dog. The four elements Holtz teaches both dogs and their owners are Leadership, Walks, Rules and Good Nutrition. “If you practice the four essentials, your dog will feel like you are the leader and it will feel like it’s in a stable environment.”
The four essentials are not some grandiose method for dog behavior – they’re all about getting back to basics. “A lot of us humanize our pets these days,” said Holtz. “Everybody’s dressing them up. Everybody’s putting them on buggie carriages and carrying them around, when really they are dogs. Dogs come from wolves.” Holtz said to take a look at the National Geographic Channel. “You don’t see a pack of wolves getting dressed up or playing games. So you kind of need to step it back a bit and go back to the essentials – what does a wolf need? Then what does a dog need?”
Holtz said each element of the four essentials is key to having a stable dog – and you can’t have one without the other, she said. “If you practice our four things, the behavior of your dog will be stable, no questions asked.”
Holtz explained the significance of each essential, and how it relates to both wolves and our pets. “With leadership, any pack member knows to follow the leader,” Holtz said. “Walks are important in a dog’s life because, going back to when they were wolves, they weren’t handed food. You take a dog out on a hunt, if you will, to hunt for their food.” Holtz said with wolves, it wasn’t like they sat in a cave and a bunny dropped from the sky. They had to work for food, and that’s what a dog should think he’s doing. “You bring them back after a walk and you feed them.”
As far as rules go, Holtz said in a pack of wolves, there are rules. “If a dog or a wolf misbehaves, the pack leader is going to correct them,” she said. Finally, good nutrition provides a “solid foundation to have all those things fall in place.” Holtz said many times owners buy dog food because the bag looks petty or they’ve seen a lot of advertisements, when in reality, the ingredients on the label prove to be bad for their pets. “A lot of dog foods out there have wheat and corn in it which is not good for dogs,” she said. “We ask the owners to go to their cupboards and bring out their bags of treats and food and we’ll look though the ingredient list with them and say ‘this is good,’ ‘this is bad.’”
Although Holtz doesn’t recommend any brand of dog food in particular, she gives the owner a list of what to look for when shopping. “If you look at the label, you’re not feeling your dog what it really needs, which is protein, vegetables, and fruits,” she said. Holtz equated a dog’s good nutrition to children doing well in school. “If you’re feeding kids Kool-Aid and junk, they’re going to misbehave, but if you give them good foods so they have a stable foundation, they’re going to have a better chance at being successful in school,” she said.
In addition to going over nutrition, Holtz has the owner involved in every aspect of the session. “We can’t do it without the owner,” said Holtz. Even though she offers a board and training program at her home, she pushes the in-home sessions because that’s where the problems occur. “The owner gets involved right from the beginning,” said Holtz. “It’s all hands-on. I show them how to do it, they do it, and I don’t leave their home until they’ve demonstrated they can do what I do with their dog.”
And that can take a while. “We tell people the average is four hours for the initial session,” said Holtz. “With some people, I’m in and out within three hours, and with others, I’m there for five.” Holtz said as far as payment goes, there’s no set charge for this dog or that dog. When Holtz is contacted by an owner, she sends out a client profile which the owner fills out, explaining the problem and listing the names and number of dogs. “We quote everybody based on their individual circumstance.”
When Holtz gets asked if she does the same work as Cesar Millan on National Geographic’s “Dog Whisperer,” she likes to joke that, “Yes, but we’re a lot less expensive, and we’re taller.” Holtz said Millan makes millions of dollars for each show, whereas America’s Dog Whisperers is a lot more realistic for the average person in Geneva or Canandaigua. The other difference is “Cesar will correct and stare at a dog, where we teach stare and ignore,” Holtz said. She said Millan gets dogs a little pumped up for the show, but also a lot of footage never winds up on TV. “When we see a client, we’re there for hours,” Holtz said, “but when you see his show and cut out all the commercials, you’re lucky if that’s 40 minutes.”
Even though the process may take longer than an episode of “Dog Whisperer,” Holtz promises each client that within ten minutes of her coming into their home, they will see a change in their dog. “Usually it’s nothing—it’s just my presence and my energy,” said Holtz. “There’s a certain energy required of a dog whisperer to be a pack leader with dogs. It’s the simple things I do and what I put in place that makes the dog stop – it makes them feel more comfortable.”
Holtz said there has never been a single failed session. “As long as the owner follows what we do, it always works,” she said. “I tell the owner ‘You have to do this, this and this, and if you do for seven days, I promise you, you will have a better dog.’” Holtz said it’s hard for clients to stick to the plan and trust that it’s going to work. “But when they get through those seven days,” Holtz said, “they call you and say, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you. I know I called you every day and bugged you, but it worked. Everyone says my dog is completely different. My jaw is still hanging open.’”
For more information about Amy Holtz or America’s Dog Whisperers Inc. visit www.americasdogwhispererinc.com or www.hope4yourcanine.com. E-mail Holtz at firstname.lastname@example.org. She can be reached by phone at 585-261-1088.
by Kimberly Price