Author, dog trick trainer, movie maker, influencer (with more than two million pet-loving followers on Facebook), and dog-dad to Australian cattle dog, Spider—Larry Kay is a busy man. Though, no matter how busy he gets, his focus remains firmly on dog (and recently cat) rescue projects.
I sat down with Larry recently and asked him about his love of pets, how he got his start, and what’s next on the agenda.
Q:How did you get your start in the film industry and with dogs?
A:I’d been a writer and producer of all types of media throughout my career. I got involved with pets when I had the opportunity to create a dog safety DVD for children called, “Animal Wow.” It was originally a one-off project but I got bitten by the dog bug.
My first inspiration was my rescue dog, Higgins, a Golden Retriever. Higgins was the first dog I owned, as an adult, and I don’t think I would have gotten as deeply entrenched in dog projects if not for my experience with him. I know many people ask, “who rescued whom,” but Higgins really did rescue me. He changed my life.
Q:When did you get the idea to start Positively Woof?
A:After Higgins passed, I had a void in my life. I started to volunteer at Pet Orphans of Southern California, making films to train dogs to get them ready to be adopted. While volunteering, I started thinking of how so many people think shelter dogs are somehow less than. It got me thinking about how to show people that shelter dogs are more than…much more than.
I love to take a problem and solve it by turning it inside out: What if the worst thing in the world is somehow the best thing? Seventy-five percent of all movie dogs were once shelter dogs. I thought, “What if inside every shelter dog is a movie dog waiting to be released?” If they were trained, they might be more adoptable.
We made more than one hundred short films with the shelter-dogs-turned-movie-dogs and that coincided with kicking off the Positively Woof website. These successes gave me the credibility to team up with the late Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz. Dawn had been the dog trainer for President Obama’s dogs and together we wrote, Training The Best Dog Ever: A 5-Week Program Using The Power Of Positive Reinforcement.
Q:Why did you pursue the book project?
A: It all came about because I had interviewed Dawn about her work with President Obama’s dogs. The interview went so well, she asked if I’d be her co-author on the book. Through our mutual contacts, we got the book into the hands of an agent who put us in front of our publisher. The book has consistently been in the top five best-selling dog books on Amazon.
This was an important project—writing a dog training book—because so many dogs are relinquished, abandoned, and/or euthanized because of a lack of training. The two most common reason dogs are surrendered are: house soiling and chewing. And both of these issues can be remedied through positive training methods.
Q: What exactly is positive reinforcement training?
A:There are a couple of ways to modify a behavior you don’t want your dog to have: through force and through encouragement and reward.
Positive reinforcement training is for every dog—even the most troublesome ones. Look at Michael Vick’s dogs: It was determined the most humane thing to do with them (once rescued) was to put them down because they were “beyond rehabilitation.” At the last moment, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary asked the court of they could take the dogs and rehabilitate them or let them live their lives out at the Sanctuary. The majority of these dogs were able to be rehabilitated through the power of positive reinforcement training; they came from harrowing circumstances and positive reinforcement worked wonders.
Q:Should you start training a puppy as soon as you bring him home?
A:From the moment you bring the puppy home he is taking cues from the environment. They seek to learn, and they seek safety. They look to the people who are providing for their needs in food, shelter and love and take their cues from that. Do they want to learn, “sit, stay, lie down?” Maybe. Maybe not, but what they want to do is please you. Dogs, like people, desire rewards and want to avoid punishment. They want to share a love bond with their humans.
Positive reinforcement offers rewards to the dog for a job well done and no reward if the job isn’t performed. For example, if the dog “sits” he gets a carrot. If he doesn’t “sit” he doesn’t get a carrot. Pet parents should reward the behavior they want. The behavior that isn’t rewarded goes away.
Please know that when you bring a puppy home it can take up to three months to house train him. It will be frustrating, but it will become a learned behavior and he will learn to potty outside. One of the reasons that Spider was relinquished was because of potty issues. He is proof that with patience and positive reinforcement training you can get the behavior you want out of your dog.
_Editor’s Note:_Finding the right dog trainer is important to unlocking our dog’s behavioral potential. With these tips in mind, you can find the best dog trainer for your pooch.
Q:How did you meet Spider?
A:Spider and I met on a film shoot at Pet Orphans. They would choose dogs for us to train and we’d meet for the first time on set. Spider came on set and we trained him that day. We got him to sit and stay. Since we were filming a 4th of July spot, we wanted to acclimate him to wearing a red, white, and blue ribbon on his collar. As the week went on, we did get him trained, but he still hadn’t been adopted.
Every time I volunteered at Pet Orphans I’d see him. He sparked something in me I hadn’t felt since I lost Higgins. I got curious as to how well he’d do at agility, so I had him run the courses on agility equipment I’d donated. He took to it immediately and I made the decision then to adopt him.
He had bad behaviors and triggers when I first brought him home; he still has a few. But we worked together, and I practiced my patience and gave him space until he came to me. In time he did. I can’t imagine not coming home to him.
Q:What else do you have in the works?
A:Spider and I are working on various tricks; he knows close to fifty right now. We are working on more tricks. I even turned my garage into a video studio and when Spider walks in there he knows it’s trick time and he starts performing.
I’ve also been working on a cat-centric project: Crimeless Cat. I love cats, but don’t pretend to be a cat expert. The good news is that I have a great team member who works with me on Crimeless Cat. (That would be you, Robbi!) I’ll continue to grow Positively Woof and work on rescue projects.
I’m always developing new media projects and because I have a platform with our more than two million followers, I feel I have an obligation to manifest my mission around shelter dogs, positive training and cat rescue. My closest confidants have urged me to develop my public speaking platform and that’s what I am working on right now. Stay tuned!
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.