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He's a dog person

by George Kingson
| May 28, 2013 9:00 PM

If you want to know anything about Dave Byer, ask a local dog.

If you don't get a satisfactory answer, try asking a local veterinarian.

"When you spend a little time around Dave, you realize he kind of thinks like a dog," said Dr. Bob Erickson, owner of the Mountain View Veterinary Clinic. "Dogs seem to be really comfortable around him - the man's seen just about everything there is to see regarding dog behavior."

Byer, a professional dog trainer, owns Trails Inn Kennel in Rathdrum. Some people believe he is a bona fide dog whisperer.

"Dogs look at things so much differently than we do," he said. "It's only when we look at the world from their point of view that we can have any real communication. My focus is on the dogs and not on myself.

"If you talk to a dog and you're not just going through the motions - if you really mean what you're saying - then that's good energy and it's a force that flows from the person to the dog. If I can do it, I know other people can. But you must be sincere and your focus at that moment has to be completely on the dog. I do believe in having telepathy with dogs."

Byer was a 4-H kid, born in 1941 and raised primarily in Santa Cruz, Calif. When he was 15, he won the blue ribbon for best youth dog handler in a show with entrants from all over the West.

"I've always loved to be with animals," he said. "In those days, there weren't too many dog trainers in the U.S., so I was very fortunate. About a block from my house was a dog kennel and a trainer. That summer of 1956, I trained 13 dogs by myself. Back then, when we did basic obedience training, we kept each dog at the kennel for six weeks."

By the time he was 21, Byer had been honorably discharged from the Navy and was back in Santa Cruz, once again training dogs. Pretty soon clients were requesting he come to their homes to work with their pets.

"I've always been open to just about everything," he said. "You know, there's a lot of mystery in this life and I haven't thought much about reincarnation, but if there is such a thing, I'd guess I was probably a caretaker at some big old estate - maybe taking care of the dogs and doing training."

Sheila Paquin has been bringing her dogs to Byer for more than a dozen years. "I can't imagine anyone else being as devoted as David is," the Hayden resident said. "Our dog, Shiloh, is a standard poodle and when we got her she was an abused puppy who acted like an abused puppy. David was instrumental in turning her into a proud dog."

Byer's philosophy hasn't changed over the years. "All dogs are model citizens," he likes to tell his clients.

To understand your dog, he feels, you must be aware of a few basic principles.

"Dogs are a pack animal - they're all related to the wolf," he said. "They look for a leader. If they don't have a leader, they will assume the leadership role themselves. If their owners aren't the leaders, that can make the dog somewhat insecure.

"And when it comes to trainability, I think a dog that's high in trainability has more of a pleasing gene. Not all dogs want to please their owners - that's nonsense. But you can take the ones who don't want to please and by working them properly, they will learn to please."

Before he settled down for good in the dog business, Byer had a couple of other dreams to pursue; first of all, he wanted to be a cowboy. So, in the early 1960s, off he went to Nevada, where he worked on a string of cattle ranches.

"In those days it was $150 a month room and board," he said. "After I left one particular job, I ended up homeless in Elko, where I slept in my car and didn't eat for days. Then I met this guy who owned a bar and restaurant and asked if I could wash dishes for him because I was hungry.

"He fed me and let me stay in an upstairs room until I could get a job and pay him back. I finally did find a job at a ranch - feeding cattle - got my $150 and quit.

I went back to Elko, walked into that restaurant and put $40 on the counter. I said, 'I bet you thought you'd never see me again.' And the man said, 'Oh, I knew you'd be back.'"

By the time Byer was in his mid-20s, he had gotten the ranch itch out of his system and was once again in Santa Cruz, managing the kennel he would later buy. He charged $1.50 per dog per day and got paid $450 a month plus 20 percent of the gross.

But then he got bit by the Hollywood bug after doing a local television commercial with one of his dogs. He got a job offer on a Disney cat movie, but turned it down because he didn't work with cats. In the meantime, he trained his German shepherd, Conrad, to perform a collection of unique stunts.

But the glam of a silver screen career wasn't in the cards and in 1978, he picked up and moved to Idaho to continue his dog training and kennel business. Seventeen years later, after fielding some major life challenges, he found himself starting over.

"At first, not many dogs came," he said. "But suddenly the training picked up and I was training an average of 20 bird dogs. So then I decided to back off and do a little boarding. And suddenly the boarding picked up, too."

"David knows the personalities of all our dogs," Paquin said. "When we drive out to the kennel, Shiloh will start sniffing the air a quarter of a mile away and just yip and yip and yip. You'd think David was handing out T-bone steaks."

It may not be T-bones, but Byer is definitely generous with his time and his love. He explains that teaching dogs is little different than teaching people.

"If you have a person who really believes in you and doesn't tell you how bad you are - tells you the really good things - then you can learn," he said. "Same goes for dogs. Whatever you do in life, a little encouragement goes a long ways.

"A big part of dog training is showing the dog what's expected. Sometimes you have to correct a dog - it's the real world. But any correction that could physically hurt a dog is not dog training. The most valuable training aid of all is the trainer.

"I guess I've just got dog training in my blood. I'm thrilled to be making a living at it. I'm one lucky man."

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