About Naked Dog Training
John Whittaker (owner) Naked Dog Training
Naked Dog Training is a unique understanding of dogs, their training, and our interactions with them as owners and trainers. It’s most definitely a unique set of outcomes which includes far more than just impeccable manners and complete off-leash control. This uniqueness is the result of my spending a lifetime of traveling the world, working with and learning from brilliant masters who have come before me then adding my own unique contribution to their life’s work. My name is John Whittaker, and this system of training which has come to be known as Naked Dog Training is my creation.
The creation of Naked Dog Training was an accident. The training process was quite deliberate, took years of tremendous effort and sacrifice, a lot of travel (at times to exotic locals and at other times quite dangerous locations) and some interesting people along the way.
To really appreciate Naked Dog Training is to understand what has gone into it, and in turn what it can mean to your dog. That will take some reading. For the condensed version, I offer the following:
“Once I committed to a career in dog training at 16 years of age, my single-minded pursuit was reliability. What a dog learned was immaterial if their performance couldn’t be relied upon in everyday life. I traveled extensively throughout the United States and Europe in this search. What I found was reliability was scarce (and still is) and the few trainers that produced reliability did so at the expense of the dog’s motivation and personality. I came to appreciate a dog’s experience of freedom as being central to any and every pursuit of training. That spirit of freedom must be brought into performance whether teaching the sit, down, heel or recall. Lastly, while I believe some form of negative motivation must be involved in training for it to be reliable, if we are not teaching dogs to thoroughly enjoy training and love obeying then something is radically wrong. Dogs can know they have to obey AND thoroughly enjoy it. It’s been my life’s work. If you question the two working synergistically, watch our videos or better yet, come and see!”
For those few people who will care to understand more, I offer some of my background. It may give those owners who want to understand as much as possible an appreciation for what they have stumbled upon. This includes my first creation, Canine Protection International (CPI), which quickly became the world leader in both size and innovation when it comes to the training and sale of dogs for executive protection.
We share the experiences of two long term client's of John's, the actor Steven Seagal (Under Siege: Above the Law) and author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook). They share their experience of other training centers, then of John and the difference he made with their dogs.
Falling in love: My beginning
My background with dog training started with falling in love with the Rottweiler breed in the early eighties as a result of a neighbor worked with at a local dog-training center. I started begging and pleading with the owner for a job (I was 14 years old at the time). Finally after a year of coercing him he hired me. I later learned that he thought it was the only way to get rid of me! That job led to a life-long obsession with dogs, and dog training.
The Dilemma: to be a priest, a monk or a dog trainer
As a teenager I wanted to be a priest, a monk or a dog trainer. I was sincere at wanting each of them for my future. I think most clergy would say if becoming a dog trainer was an option, I was probably not called to the priesthood or monasticism but I gave each careful thought. After attending a national Schutzhund championship (a championship for a European dog sport) at 16 years old, the world of dogs, and training, won out.
In an interesting course of events a decade or so later I was contacted by the Monks of New Skete (authors of popular books on dog training) to import German Shepherds for their breeding program. When I visited, several monks were quick to point out it was still possible to be all three (priest, monk and dog trainer). My fiancé, who was with me at New Skete, was quick to inform them that I would not become a monk if she had any say in it. She won, but it sure was an interesting offer. Also interesting was we later we became Orthodox Christians like the monks of New Skete, yet through unrelated circumstances.
Apprenticing - United States
By the time I was 18 years old I began apprenticing under what was considered to be the top trainers in the United States. What most of them had in common is that they all had apprenticed under top European trainers (France, Holland and Germany). The training was centered around the European dog sports of Schutzhund, French Ring, Belgian Ring and KNPV. What these dog sports had in common is they involved obedience and protection with working breeds like the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds. At the time I was the odd duck out as I enjoyed the Rottweiler, Boxer and Giant Schnauzer.
It was hard to argue that these dog sports represented the highest level of training at the time. They also had the most insightful understanding of dog behavior, training principles and training technique. This included their understanding that dog behavior must determine training principles, and correct training principles must determine training technique. Something that is lost in most of dog training today.
This led to my apprenticing directly under a well-respected German trainer who was the chief judge for the sport of Schutzhund in the United States. He happened to also be a Rottweiler enthusiast as well as specialized in training police dogs as a business. This was followed by training with top placing national Schutzhund competitors, and others who were on the cutting edge of European police dog training in the United States.
Searching for Functionality
I loved the precision and motivation that was found in the sport of Schutzhund. I also loved the advanced level of control found in the French Ring sport. The one down fall to European training for dog sports, both then and now, is that it’s not functional. It prepares a dog to perform for sport, and is heavily dependent on the handler’s (owner’s) specific tones and physiology.
Apprenticing - Europe
At the time the best trainers in every field also sold dogs. The sale of dogs would mean extensive contact and training with masters in their field of training. I began importing adult German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois’ for breeders, dog sport enthusiasts, K9 law enforcement and the emerging protection dog market. By my early 20s I began traveling to Europe regularly for three-weeks at a time, three to four times a year.
In my search for functionality I turned to European K9 law enforcement, elite K9 assault teams and innovative training and innovative training in Industrial K9 Security exclusive to the BMW and Mercedes Benz manufacturing facilities.
The one disadvantage I had was I was not a German Shepherd enthusiast. German Shepherds, as I knew them, were just too blah looking for my tastes. That was until I saw my first East-German, German Shepherd. He was spectacular in size, bone and striking color (black sable).
This was V-rated Neuman's Janko SchH III, IPO III, Kkl I. The picture was taken in 1987 two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Janko was John's personal dog and part of the first group of dogs he brought out of East Germany.
German Shepherds: East Germany (at the time part of the Soviet Union)
At the age of twenty-one, and already importing dogs, I decided to approach the communist East German government about buying dogs. As a young go-getter from a low middle-class family in rural Rhode Island, negotiating with the East German Consulate in New York and their embassy in D.C. was quite out of the ordinary.
It wasn’t long before I had negotiated an exclusive contract with the East German government to buy dogs. Even more interesting was the opportunity to sell East German dogs to some of the West German trainers who had previously been my source for dogs. These dogs were highly desirable but few people wanted to cross the border given the risk involved. In today’s world it would be equivalent to traveling to North Korea because of a love of their dogs.
I began traveling regularly to East Berlin to purchase dogs. In time, my government appointed handlers began allowing me to stay two hours north of East Berlin, where many of the breeders lived. I would spend my days evaluating dogs about a mile from a Soviet military installation. It was then commonplace for Russian helicopters to be flying just above the tree line as we tested or trained dogs. Quite an adrenaline rush for an American. As many East Germans would not have been comfortable with selling their dogs to an American I would be dressed up as an East German and introduced as very shy (to cover the fact that I didn’t speak German).
It was an exciting time with really extraordinary dogs, for that period of time. It was not without its risks. Every dog purchased was done so through an East German government organization called Zoologica. There were 5 required signatures for approval for the sale of any dog. This included the head show judge, head breeder, President of the German Shepherd Registry, head veterinarian and Managing Director of Zoologica. I would buy the dogs from the government in U.S. Dollars and they in turn would pay the owners in East German Marks (extremely profitable for the government). What I soon learned is that 4 of the 5 people who approved the sale of a dog also required being paid under-the-table in U.S. dollars. That payment was on top of what I had already paid the government. A risky proposition to say the least.
In time I became accustomed to being searched at the border, along with my car and luggage. Once I had everything put back in place I would be motioned to drive forward as they raised the barricade. I would drive maybe 20 feet only to start the process all over again. When I say search the car, it included removing seat cushions, checking the engine, trunk and undercarriage just in case I was trying to smuggle East Germans out.
As time went on it became more and more difficult to move through these check-points. As a young American traveling regularly to East Germany to buy dogs seemed suspicious to border security. I began being questioned more and more including a high point one evening where I was in a small room surrounded with border guards while they interrogated me for hours. Accounting for every hour I had spent over a 10-day period and having it cross checked over and over and over again. I was undeterred. Still I returned the next day to pick up my 12 dogs from East Berlin and transport them to Berlin-Tegal Airport in West Berlin for shipping back to Boston.
Dog Food – Then and Now
On an interesting note, East Germany did not have commercial dog food, at least not used by German Shepherd breeders. Breeders and owners would go to the butcher to buy green tribe (uncleaned), pig legs, and pig sculls cut in half. Dogs were given the green tripe raw with the stomach ground up, and some oatmeal and vitamins sprinkled on top. As a result an 8 year old East German Dog would look the same as a 4 year old West German dog who was fed commercial dog food. Even at 12 years old they would still look about 4 years younger. And acted like dog’s half their age. The diet increased their longevity, vitality and immune systems. Today we have the same diet available for our dogs by feeding raw diets like Steve’s Real Dog Food, Primal and Tuckers.
John doing follow up in Los Angeles with a dog he trained in CPI's Elite Family & Estate Protection Dog program.
Canine Protection International www.protectiondogs.com
When the Berlin wall fell in 1989 I needed to reinvent my business. The protection dog market was growing, with everyone marketing dogs imported from Europe. The problem I saw, and still see today, is that these dogs are sold with just their European training for dog sports. European dog sports are great but they prepare a dog for just that, dog sports. For everyday functionality, and viable protection should the need arise, more was defiantly needed.
In time, we weren’t alone in our belief. In a few short years we became the world leader in the sale of protection dogs.
Hollywood Celebrities, Professional Athletes and Clients from Every Walk of Life
In creating CPI it opened doors that would have been hard to imagine when I set out to become a dog trainer. This has included celebrities like Steven Seagal (Above the Law, Under Siege), novelists like Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook), professional athletes like Shaquelle O’Neil, high profile people such as Jesse Ventura (former Navy Seal, wrestler, actor, governor), Arab royalty, world renown doctors and surgeons across the field of medicine and some of the most successful business men and woman globally.
These clients have meant traveling extensively through all of Europe (exception of Slovenia), Egypt, Africa, Russia and most of the Middle East. It has led to lifelong friendships, and opportunities to spend time with some of the most interesting people. It has been a distinct privilege.
As I remarried in 2018, and my wife Ruth and I had a baby a year later, weekly travel became too much. It was with both remorse and gladness that in June of 2022 we sold Canine Protection International (CPI) to our lead delivery trainer Alex Bois. He in turn moved CPI to Dallas in January of 2023.
Our client who returned to live in India. You had a greater effect than you ever intended. Thank you!
Compassion to All Sentient Beings
While our training was unique from its inception we have also continually developed it. It has had many influences including our client’s needs and sometimes dogs themselves. A very pivotal point happened once we were already well established. A client that came to us who happened to be a world renown author, retreat leader and a Buddhist guru.
This guru was thrilled with our training, but would often gently question me given my love of dogs yet willingness to eat meat. He explained that each animal is a sentient being who has an individual and unique experience of life. As such, they are all deserving of compassion.
One day this client posed a question. He asked me to imagine being at a weekend home in northern Maine a hundred miles from the nearest neighbor, and my vehicle won’t start. Then to imagine there is no sign of anyone coming to help with fixing the vehicle for weeks. He continued, “imagine you have a garden with every imaginable vegetable, grains in the cupboards and a cow in the pasture. What would you do? Would you eat the vegetables and grains or kill the cow?” Now I have always hated vegetables so it should have been an easy answer. The problem is I grew up with a few cows down the street from where I lived. They were such peaceful animals. I didn’t mind eating meat. I imagined this peaceful cow crazing in my pasture. I realized there was no way I would end the life of this cow. I would make due with vegetables and grains.
I was then asked what if I could eat breakfast, go back to bed and by lunch the fridge and freezer would be full of steaks and I didn’t have to do anything. The only thing is when I went outside clearly the cow is no longer with us. Would I choose to eat meat? I thought long and hard and found that there was still no way I would be the one responsible, even if indirectly, in ending this cow’s enjoyment of sunshine, grazing and interaction with people. At least not as long as I had an alternative. I meant it sincerely. Of course my client asked how is it any different when buying meat in a market simply because it’s in a nice package and I never met the animal. That convinced me to become a vegetarian.
Before anyone thinks I should be the equivalent of a Buddhist saint, or be given some vegetarian award, I would hold off. What would happen is I would return home and eat a vegetarian diet. For a while. Then I would eat meat. I would then see my client again, we would chat, and again I would become a vegetarian.
What did happen one day, on the drive back from working with this client in western Massachusetts, I realized that dogs too are sentient beings. They have individual experiences of life as well. So a free spirit, impeccable manners and complete off-leash control is not the only important criteria. How a dog experiences learning and experiences us, as well as their owners, is just as important, if not more so, than the outcomes we produce. This was a huge catalyst to reinvent our training, which already placed a great emphasis on freedom and motivation.
Naked Dog Training: The Beginning
We began Naked Dog Training at least 10 years before we ever acknowledged it. We would deliver fully trained German Shepherds with impeccable manners and complete off-leash control to our clients. By the end of our three-day handling program it became more and more common place to be asked to take back their Labrador Retriever or Shih Tzu back with us to do the same obedience.
We would try to explain it’s not what we do. While the obedience could be taught to any dog our specialty was training dogs for executive protection. With clients spending $35,000 to $65,000 for their executive protection dog from us we would feel obligated to help them. Off we would go flying back from Los Angeles to Boston with their beloved family pet. When we returned with their dog a month later it wouldn’t be uncommon for a client’s neighbor or relative to want us to take their Dalmation or Yorkie back with us to Boston.
It wasn’t long before people began flying in with their dogs from all over the U.S. and abroad. It was when client’s began driving in from Pheonix, Omaha and Saint Louis, and shipping us dogs from Europe and the Middle East that we decided we had already been in the obedience business for quite sometime without knowing it, perhaps we should make it official and give it a name.
Naked Dog Training: Everyday Differences
I understand if the notion of dogs being sentient beings is too philosophical, or abstract. While I’m philosophical I’m also very pragmatic.
Pragmatically speaking, when it comes to dog training freedom is a must. Impeccable manners and complete off-leash control is a given. The process of achieving this has to be done so with caring and compassion. Does the difference end there? Far from it. Especially where your everyday life after your dog has been trained comes into play. Let’s look at just a few areas of our approach which may influence you in your everyday life.
No Need for Harsh tones
In just about any training center you would be told to “command, don’t request” which equates to speaking authoritatively (aka harsh and unpleasant). Our approach is to use pleasant matter-of-fact tones. They never change. Dogs, like people, enjoy pleasant tones. It’s just that pleasant tones in and of themselves do not create respect. That’s the job of training, to take commands said in pleasant tones and develop them into something that’s both enjoyable, respected and obeyed the first time.
No Need to Act as the “Alpha”
Most trainers speak about the need to be the “alpha”. It’s almost like gravity, natural law. In doing so never allow your dog to walk through doorways ahead of you, or be on the same level as you, much less get on top of you. I would, and do, challenge that notion as being a must when it comes to dogs.
I am quite sure if your dog can be chasing a ball, or even a squirrel, and you can say “Lie down” or “Here” once, in a matter-of-fact tone and he or she spins around on a dime and comes, your dog knows who is in charge.
Don’t get us wrong. In the world of dogs the alpha relationship does exist. It’s a valid approach to dog training. Valid, but primitive and totally unnecessary. It’s relating to a dog, like a dog. If your thing is acting like a dog then more power to you. For most of us, we think of our dogs as family. Why would you want to act like that with family?
I am often asked “What if in allowing my dog to get away with walking ahead of me through doorways and lying on top of me he does think he’s the alpha? First, sometimes a dog on top of you licking your face is just that: a dog on top of you licking your face. Second, even if your dog is on top of you thinking, “I’m now in charge”! Does it even matter? When you give the command “off” he or she gets off. When you say “heel” and your dog heels, and the same with any other command it becomes a moot point. If he or she has impeccable manners and you enjoy complete off-leash control what would it matter what your dog thinks while on top of you? Plus, having your dog lay on top of you while licking your face can be a pure pleasure after a long day.
No Need to Exhaust your Dog
A lot of trainers promote exercise as the key to achieving balance with your dog. Owners can often be consumed with exhausting their dogs on a daily basis, or feeling guilty for not doing so. You don’t need to exhaust your dog into behaving. That’s the entire point of effective training. Exercise your dog when you wish to out of desire, but no need to do so out of necessity or obligation.
Naked Dog Training: Past, Present and Future
I am often asked how did I learn training. My answer has always been “on the shoulders of masters”. The reality is over the years I have learned to learn from everyone. As a matter-of-fact many apprentice trainers working for me have had insights that we still use to this day.
Then there are those innovative individuals, scattered around the world, who have stood on the shoulders of their masters, and are now pioneering their own unique understanding and approaches to dog training. Some of this training would have been inconceivable just 5 short years ago. It is truly an exciting time.
For me, the key has always been and continues to be maintain what the Buddhists refer to as “beginner’s mind”. This means to have a mind completely open and eager to learn. As a student of training, innovative training can be fascinating. That said, not all innovative training is necessarily functional. Even innovative training that is functional can have limitations. All training relies upon specific principles which create a dog’s “worldview” or frame of mind. These worldviews are not always compatible. When learning with “beginner’s mind” we must later decide what is useful when it comes to Naked Dog Training. After all, our entire focus is how to train your dog to have impeccable manners and complete off-leash control. Then to raise that standard, either in training or outcomes as often as possible.