Episode 3 – Ryan Albaugh

Ryan Albaugh has served as a K9 Police officer in Tennessee, K9 handler in Afghanistan for the Department of Defense and Department of State at the Embassy in Kabul. He has been through three K9 schools and currently owns a dog training business in Minneapolis, MN that provides individuals with private dog training for obedience and behavior modification for their dogs. His business also partners with local rescues and shelters to rehabilitate dogs and help prevent them from returning due to behavioral issues. Ryan currently works in Hollywood, CA as a K9 handler for movie premieres.


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Ryan Albaugh has served as a canine police officer in Tennessee, a canine handler in Afghanistan for the Department of Defense and the Department of State at the embassy in Kabul. He has been through three canine schools and currently owns a dog training business in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that provides individuals with private dog training for obedience and behavior modification. Ryan and his team work with local rescues and shelters to rehabilitate the dogs in their care and help prevent them from returning, due to behavioral issues.

 Hey, Ryan. Welcome to the show. Hi Rachel. Thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m really excited to have you. I wanna dive right in here, and I wanna learn a little bit about what you guys are doing, I’d say in Minneapolis, but you also have a location in Southern California. So why don’t you start us off and tell us a little bit about who you are and why you got into dog training. I’m originally from Tennessee. I seem to have been about everywhere else in the world since then. Um, I got started with animals, I guess at home. My parents were those kind of unofficial animal rescue people, who took in every stray creature, so the love for animals started pretty early.

 I started working with dogs, as a police officer, Canine Officer with a canine school and worked with, I had a black lab, that was a drug dog. And then I got a job with the Department of Defense as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan. I had a dog named Rocky, who was a patrol narcotics dog. We worked on the forward operating bases in southern Afghanistan. I also got a job as a civilian with the Department of State, working at the embassy in Kabul. I had a bomb dog protecting the embassy. The ambassador’s or whoever else kind of came there. Um, I also worked again as a canine police officer when I was Chief of Police in the small town in Hotland, Tennessee, and I decided to start a dog training business, really by demand. I moved up to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and people kind of asked me what I did, and I told them they would say, Oh, I have a dog. I think he keeps barking at the door. Or how do I stop that? And so I’d go and help them and their friend would call and say, Hey, help my friend with their dog. Their dog pulls at the leash, can you help me with that? I’d say sure. Pretty much, before I knew it, I had, like a full week of helping people. Word of mouth is a good way to start a business. And that kind of started that process, and it has continued to kind of grow and expand, from that point.

 We, um, moved out to Los Angeles and tried to kind of expand it in this direction. Hopefully, I’m really trying to take it in a different direction than just kind of private training, just seeing what the area offers here. I also work for an unnamed company that does movies in the area, and I provide, a bomb dog security for their premieres on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s fascinating to me how people under this particular industry from so many directions, right? You started off as a police officer in a K9. Then you did some contract work, right? You were overseas. You came back. And then it became this word of mouth, right, with just small little things. But all of those experiences have really got you that momentum and moving forward. And I love your vision of not just helping those in your local community. But now you’re thinking bigger, right? What’s that impact? How can you help more people and more dogs? And that’s truly fascinating to me. And it seems a little different than some of the other trainers that I’ve spoken with. And so I really want to dive into that a little bit.

 So working with canines, right? As a police officer and then overseas. Is it primarily the large dogs that you work with or is it across the board? Tell me a little bit about and maybe what’s the difference? Right? People think canine, right? Or at least I do. I think German shepherds and large breed dogs. So tell me a little bit about some of the different breeds that you work with. And what’s the difference? So a lot of times, working dogs typically yes, tend to be German shepherds. Mallonmaws, Dutch Shepherds, typical dogs you would imagine. But they’re not just limited to that. Those are typically gonna be dogs that if they’re gonna be trained in patrol work or attack work by work, have you wanna call it? Tend to do pretty well in it. Um, I know that when I was in Afghanistan, because the second time, they didn’t do patrol or protection work, they only did search work. Um, they had Springer Spaniels. They had, um, a wide variety of dogs that I had never occurred to me that you could use for working dogs. But as far as search dogs go, it’s from the same category as kind of like bloodhounds, people’s hunting dogs. So it’s the same kind of work. Um, it’s not necessarily limited to the big dogs you stereotypically would think of. 

Did you always know that that was something that you wanted to do, was police work and working with dogs? How did that come about? I always wanted to be a police officer, since I was about eight years old. Basically, it was pretty early on that I always wanted to do that. I always wanted to help people. And I had the, I guess, eight-year-old view of what a police officer did. Working in the field for a little bit of time, I realized it’s not at all the same as you imagine it. I originally did not plan on working with dogs. I love animals, and I hadn’t really considered that. I had just happened to be at the right place the right time. The opening came up and they were gonna dissolve the canine program. And I said, Well, I’ll do it. So I kind of took it in and really enjoyed doing it. It’s different than police work. It’s an entirely different kind of job. So I liked, I liked the challenge of getting to know the dog and how to utilize them more officially. 

What does that take from a police officer standpoint? Right when you are living with that dog and you are teaching them and you are learning their movement, right? Tell me a little bit about what that looks like. As far as canine training goes, typically, you have to go to an academy or a school. They’re typically about 30 days long and you have set standards you and the dog have to meet, together as a team, in order to pass. That just kind of varies on where you’re at and what you’re doing. Once you’ve completed the course and passed the certification, you’re now certified, for one year. During that time, every month or so again, depending on where you’re at, what’s going on, you have additional just maintenance. Being sure the dog is still correctly alerting and things of that nature. As you can imagine, you want to be sure that a bomb dog correctly finds bombs. On the drug side, want to be sure that the dog is not falsely learning if there are no drugs present because then you run into search and seizure issues. So that’s kind of the aspect as far as, I guess the training involved with that is, there’s a lot more I could talk forever about it. Um, and as far as kind of how that translates now over to the private dog training, I say it’s kind of like working in reverse, for dog training because we went to the K9 school, you’re expected to know how to handle your dog. You’re expected to know, um, how to work obedience, how to get to listen. And you’re really just doing the high-level fine-tuning of why the dog is not sitting close enough to the owner. Or why is the dog not fighting on command or not letting go? So with private training, it’s a lot of what I call it, week one type K9 work. Where it’s getting the dog, communicating with the dog effectively. 

So you’ve obviously taken a lot of your experience and in the transition to what you’re currently doing today. What do you find with your clients is the biggest challenge? Why do they come to you? What’s their biggest problem, that they’re coming to you with? Two things are pretty consistent across the board, there’s always system things that’s had that, um, walking on a leash and being interactive with other dogs. And the interactiveness has to be a big one, right, because as you mentioned you, a lot of the dogs that you’re working with are larger working dogs, and so talk to me a little bit about how you do your initial consult and then what that progression looks like, through the training stages with them? So people take, people will contact us, have a kind of formal line that gives answers to the key questions that we’re looking for. We also schedule an in-person consultation before we start training. Want to see kind of what people are looking for? Gonna meet the dog and see how the dog is. That’s really the big key factor is getting to see the dog. And kind of people and dogs’ interaction. And then trying to see, you know, what are their goals? Because it’s their pet. What do they want their dog to be able to do? Just because what I think the dog should do necessarily means, that’s what they care about. So we try to see what they’re looking for. We want, basically increase their communication. A lot of times it’s gonna be alright, call handler dog communication if they’re not communicating. The dog is giving off the right signals to what they want or their human is treating them, not as a dog. It’s helping them figure that out. So once you kind of figure out what’s going on and again we have, it’s about an hour, so it’s just kind of a quick guesstimate of what the situation is. By now, we’re all pretty good at it. We can generally tell, so we try and design or recommend.

 We’ve got to slue of different packages, just time based, uh, what kind of resources you can have access to for each package? So we kind of make a recommendation based on their goals. How the dog is, how the dogs are reacting, which of those will probably reach their goal. And a lot of it’s very heavy on the human side, which I have to really have to stress with people is that it’s your dog, not my dog. I can give you the tools and I can work with your dog. But we have no doubt that I could get the dog to listen to us. But you’ve got to get it to listen to you and I can’t, a lot of times, I can’t do that on behalf of the people because it’s like humans. If you build a bomb with humans and you go, I see you go on a road trip together, you’re on a road trip with their friends. And remember how much stronger the bond was after that? It’s just the experiences that you shared. Allow that bond to be better. So having training with your dog really helps build that bond, in a natural way and is a structured way with you as a leader and really working on things you want in it. And we do it with a very positive reinforcement. So we try to make it fun for the dog. The dog enjoys it as well as a person trying to make both people enjoy it. You train with their owner right, with the human. And I think there is value in that. I appreciate it, as the owner of an animal, right? I want to have that connection. I want to know that I can control them in any environment, in my home environment.

Did you always know that you wanted to go down that path because of your background? Tell me how you kind of came to that conclusion. Um, is really by demand. I moved to Minneapolis and I was trying to find a job and kind of figure out what I wanted to do. I would talk to people and they would ask me about my background. I told my background, they said, You know I have a dog, which issues I’m running into. Can you help me? And it kind of snowballed where they would tell their friend and their friend, and it just kind of continued to grow from that point. I had always wanted to work with rescues in general. Um, just because it is very depressing when you go to rescues and they’re very good, very sweet dogs that need to get homes and they don’t have one. And they may never get a home. Um, also with my dog, Rocky, who I had in Afghanistan, the first time, I actually got him back, after he retired and I had him five years and he came from an organization called Canine Hero Haven. They were one of the only one, I think there’s a couple now. I was able to get him back, and that’s kind of one of my goals. My have been a dermatologist who used to work with Rocky, had a lot of health issues, so he kind of had his own private vet to keep him stable. 

We’re trying to, one of my, I guess, life goals is I really want to find there’s not a good kind of like VA or veterans affairs program for working dogs who also have a lot of the same issues that veterans do. They have health care they need, you have PTSD, they a home that understands they’ve got problems. Um, it’s very hard to do that. It is very hard to even get adoptable easy dogs from a rescue adopted, much less like a trained working dog. So where we wanna really create a place that can help fund for medical and as well as help fund for the training to detrain them. Yeah, I didn’t think about that. So what is that? What does that mean to you? Obviously you were impacted by that, right? The rescue side of things is really, really important to you. And I love the direction that you’re going. What does that look like for you going forward? If that’s something that you want to dive into a little bit further. Really, it’s gonna be finding other people that are, that agree and our own board from nationwide. The issue I run into is that the us and even if I donated 100% everything just in the absolute location. That’s only a very small percentage of where the working dogs that have been retired go. Be police and Border Patrol. And there’s a whole list of kinds of working canines across the board, that need homes and generally previous canine handler homes and understand what they’re dealing with. It’s, you know, it’s gonna be funding, it’s going to be non-profits. It’s got the funding, is gonna be trying to get other vets and trainers on board. So that way, people in the area who need, you know, who have these dogs, can help get the medical care and can help get the training to de-escalate them. Um, and it’s just me, me and the vet, currently, and just the two of us, so.

 With a big vision, right? I mean, that’s no small task. It sounds like a huge undertaking. I guess for me, the question that I have is what, what goes into that? So you kind of talked a little bit about what that vision is and what you need to kind of get it going. From a dog or training perspective, you had mentioned that getting others involved to have that experience is probably key because I myself would not know how to work with an animal who had been through that and seen that and experienced right. So how does, say the average person, Let’s say myself went into a rescue or into one of these programs and was really interested in jumping into something like that. How would I, as the average person go about saving an animal who had done so much for this country? Essentially right, that I want, I want to give back. And that’s the kind of animal that I want to adopt. If I have the home in the environment for that animal, how would I go about getting involved in something like that? I would be looking to see if you have good structure in the household because I got military-style working dogs. They’re gonna expect a pretty regimented you know, structure. Almost doesn’t have to be a structure that when they were working, but that’s what they’re used to. So working to really transition them out of that calm, confident, assertive, as a person. But you gotta have that personality, Really, in general, working with dogs, that is the kind of personality to project. I tell people if it’s not you, fake it. They’re like little kids still believe in Santa Claus. I love that. Love is always gonna be large, kind of outdoor fenced-in area. And then there’s with a good understanding that they’re not pets first. The goal is to detrain them into a pet. But they’re not gonna be a pet. They’re going to be a tool, in their mind, they have a job they’re used to only work. They’re not used to getting attention. They’re not used to doing dog things. They don’t know how to dog. So you kind of show them how to dog and, um, get them to understand that. You also have to find a task for them. They’re used to just working, 24/7 you know, coming out, going to work, coming out, going to work, they need something else to do, which is why I could have structure. You’ve got to give them commands and you gotta find something that’s obvious unless you are working them still, something that you can do that will feel that need for them. Especially from Malamuw, you’re gonna need lots of time and lots of energy.

 Yeah, and that is very opposite, right if you’re trying to train them to be a dog, right? Essentially versus taking a dog or a pet, that now you’re trying to turn into, something that they’re not used to. So it’s a little bit backward. Hopefully I have that right? It’s a different way to, it’s a different way to look at things.  And so I hope that through this conversation,  we’ve shared another perspective on dogs because they are all dogs, right? That doesn’t change, but how they’re brought up and how they’re raised and how they’re trained, from the very early days, definitely impacts the personality of the dog. Right? And you just describe that to a T. I think the whole thing is very fascinating to me.

 I do want to talk quickly about your connection to the rescues. Why were you impacted by that? Was it Rocky who impacted you or was there another experience in your life that made you really want to kind of focus on those rescue dogs? In school, I had a project where we worked with the animal shelter in and I don’t know if that was the original kind of seed that was planted. Um, there’s always been something that I wanted to do, and I said, if I ever get rich and famous, I will do all the training, for as many rescues as I can. I was just kind of the conversation we had with Animal Arkin Hastings, Minnesota. We do our rescue stuff with, um, they actually reached out to us. I was already working with another rescue, Underdog, which I had contacted. You know, I like animals and it’s in my skills. That’s something that I can do right. I see it’s something that, I see there’s a need and I see that something I can help fix. It’s like a black hole. It’s gonna be perpetual, never-ending. There isn’t gonna be, kind of flag at the top. I’ve accomplished it now because there’s always gonna be dogs that need homes. There’s always gonna be more and more and more. Um, and it’s also very similar to the working dog. So you’re a lot of these rescues, you know, don’t know how to dog as well. They’ve not had a home. They’ve been on the streets or they’ve been abused. And their view of the world is very scary. So a lot of it is very similar where you just kind of have to. It’s psychology, basically.  I say I’m like a dog psychologist, right? I’m not a serve on my behaviors, but you have to be OK they’re frustrated, got to give them their time and really just work with them. So being passionate about that is I love animals. And as I realized, what I’ve got from police work is I can’t save the world, right? You think you come in and I individually can save the whole world, and that’s not the case. So I mean, I started working with, what can I do individually and actually make an impact? And that’s where I saw that you know, rescues is a place that I could make the impact of going to one of those unrecognized, unknown types of deals, and I’m not in it for fame/fortune. But, um, that’s something I can do, and I can also help my staff do that as well, and they’re also very passionate about it. They love the idea when I tell them it would be worth the risk.

 So I appreciate that when, not if, when you get rich and famous that you want to give back, that’s important to you. I love that you have a partnership with Animal Arc. I looked them up before we connected, and they’re an amazing organization, doing a lot of great work in Minneapolis, and I love that they contacted you. Sometimes we don’t, we don’t hear that right. A lot of times it’s the trainers going to the rescues and shelters, asking if they need help. And the fact that they recognize the great work that you’re doing and your team is doing, speaks volumes for you guys and the partnership that you have. Um, I love that it’s ongoing. Finding those unique partnerships is often difficult. And then maintaining them sometimes can be just as just as hard. But hopefully they can see your dedication and what you bring to the table.

 And, you know, I think you had also mentioned previously that you work not only with the dogs while they’re in the rescue and shelter, but you work with the adopters post-adoption, right? So tell me a little bit about what that looks like. A lot of times we get people who have the best intentions, who really wanna want to help an animal and really don’t understand what they’re getting into. And a lot of the Animal Arc has been great, they’ve been places, definitely stood out in my mind they’re proactive versus kind of just managing what they got. This really impressed me when they reached out to us about, you know, Hey, we have a need for training, will you help us? And that’s I feel like you say, that’s not typical. So, you know, they’re trying to practice. They’re trying to find ways to fix issues that come up and what I  think they also want is us to follow up with the clients who are the adopters, once they kind of get the dogs. A lot of the dogs that they kind of have, as a no-kill shelter, would have probably been put down in another situation, but they’re willing to work through it. So finding people who understand the dog has issues and maybe doesn’t know exactly what to do in what situations, where we come in. We say there is a gentleman who adopted one of my pet projects at the shelter, Snoopy was the dog’s name. Snoopy was if he didn’t know you, he would bite you right away. So he had an aggressive issue and he loved me by the end of it. It took a little work for him to warm up to people and this kind of older gentleman wanted the dog and him and Snoopy just hit it right off. And he had not really had a dog before. Wanted to know, kind of, how to deal with him. And Snoopy was kind of hard to manage at the time. So we spent a couple of times with him and helped him work through how to deal with that.

 And you know meeting people, what should you do? And a lot of its management. People come to the shelter and they think they’re going to get the perfect dog. That you can, you can take to the breweries, you can take to the mall, you take everywhere, play with kids and that’s not the case. You gotta really set realistic expectations for people and show people if something happens, like, how do you address it? And a lot of it can be, can I pet your dog, pretty common with the people? Take the dog, generally get the dog where you can take it. You can walk around the block and it’s not going to attack people. But it can’t have people coming to pet on it. And that’s something for a long period of time, maybe it can get better. Maybe I can’t because it’s really up to the dog’s mind. And when is it realized that people are not a threat anymore. It’s showing people how to walk them properly, How to kind of reinforce that behavior. And then, you know, people are approaching, like how to kind of put yourself between them and the dog and say, I’m sorry is not friendly. So a lot of people just don’t know, you know, how to really address those issues. So let’s continue to work with people, educate people, and like I said, just working on both. You get them to come together and make it one big family, and that’s really how to get the most success is, once they get home, they really just tend to excel.

 I think it’s really cool what you guys are doing in the rescue world. I think it’s really cool that you’re bringing your past, um, and your history into what you’re currently doing today. I love your vision, Um, for what you’re working towards and wanting to help those service dogs as well. Ryan as we wrap things up, is there anything else that we maybe didn’t get to that you want to talk about? It takes people and takes one thing away from it takes time, patience, repetition and consistency. I had a client, you know, say like, Okay, when do I get to stop this training? And I said, well, whenever you want to, but the dog never. It’s every day. It’s like going to the gym. You know, I learned that. Okay, I’ll just go to the gym and I work out for four hours today and that will make up for not going, you know, the whole rest of the month, you can’t. You gotta do it every day consistently, over and over. You got to keep working on it. Um, it’s not a deal from a trainer speaking as a trainer. You can’t hand me the dog and say, Fix it.  If I could make it better, um, it’s really gonna be It’s like a child, right? If even if this is a well-behaved child, you take it out of the situation, something may happen. You have to know like, Oh, you can’t do that. You know, you have to tell a child, you can do that. You gotta be the leader. And people sometimes want the dog to be a leader, and the dog is not the leader, the human is the leader. So again, thank you for joining me today and sharing your story and for everything that you’re doing, it’s really wonderful. Well, thanks, Rachael for having me. It has been nice talking with you. 

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