Hi, Von Bargen nation! I’m Gary Cassera. I’m a 36-year-old entrepreneur and new resident to LA. I live here with my super amazing wife Melissa and our three dogs; Jacob (aka fun police), Kita (aka monkey feet), and Lily (aka little badness). I grew up and lived in NJ for 33 years. I have spent the last three years living in Napa, CA before moving to LA.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for my entire life. At five years old, I started walking dogs in my neighborhood, charging the owners when I got back – much to their surprise!
My wife and I own a few businesses; one of which is a dog walking and pack walking business. We specialize in socializing dogs who can be a little naughty.
For fun we do most things with our dogs. We hike, go for beach adventures, and eat at amazing restaurants wherever we are. Mostly, I work a lot! I find a lot of truth in that famous saying: “Do something you love and you never have to work a day in your life.”
What path lead you to working as a professional dog trainer?
I was a tennis player after college and I was starting to get old and tired. We adopted a Shih Tzu who was totally gregarious and fun loving, then suddenly … wasn’t. I had a friend who hired a behaviorist and she passed the info on to me. After working with the behaviorist – it just clicked. I started doing everything I could to learn more about dogs and started my company Balanced Dogs soon after.
Let’s say I just got a puppy. When should I start training her? What are your favorite resources? Which commands should I start with?
The first thing question people should ask themselves is “Why did I get this dog?” If you can be self-aware when answering that question, you can head off a lot of potential problems. Fifty percent of my clients could fix their problems if they focus on that answer! Owners make their job harder when they can’t answer that question.
As far as commands, for me, that’s not a first priority. Down the road, it can be fun to show your friends that your dog knows how to sit, but if you’re using those commands to avoid problems like jumping or door bolting, that’s a different issue.
My goal is to help my clients socialize their dogs and show the dog how they should interpret objects and scenarios. If either the dog or client is nervous, I help them through it. If they are too pushy, I show them how they should be.My favorite thing about dogs is if you teach them how to be, you never have to ask them to do anything like sit, down, etc.
Would your suggestions be different for someone who just got an adult rescue?
The first thing I do when I get a dog is imprint them on me. Imprinting is the process by which your dog learns the behaviors of a parent, other dogs, humans or other beings, and gains some of his basic socialization skills. I give them structure structure structure.I show him where he sleeps, where he eats, where he goes to the bathroom, how we walk, etc.
Once the dog starts following me around without the leash and starts to anticipate and be connected to me, then I can start challenging him more. I might introduce him to a new dog, teach him to relax when a biker goes by, show him how to relax around kids, etc.
The best advice I can say about rescuing an older dog is to be honest with the level of project you can handle. It’s okay to say “This is too much dog for me.” Really, it’s the responsible and admiral choice! My clients who have committed to the wrong dog really struggle.
While I’m on the topic – cute is not a reason to bring a dog home. It plays a part, but please don’t make that mistake.
In a best case scenario, how long does it take to teach a dog basic commands?
I don’t focus much on commands right away. I believe commands cause confusion in a dog’s brain biology. Why we want them to lay down and why they lay down are two different reasons. We think commands give us control when we are unsure of an outcome or scared of something happening so we say “sit” or “down” – like saying “sit” before they jump on Grandma.
Avoiding a problem not really solving it. Dogs lay when they are tired.What they should be taught is to respect Grandma’s space and not jump on anyone unless they’re invited. That’s why I socialize my dogs so I don’t have to give them commands. I can let them be responsible for their own decisions and they live with the consequences, good or bad. That’s real life.
What are the most common mistakes owners make while trying to train their dog?
Too much freedom and no plan. Be more proactive instead of reactive. Have a good offense.
Dogs love structure and so do we. Imagine driving on a road with no signs or lights. It’d be complete chaos! Would you feel stressed? Hyper alert? That’s what most dogs are living every day.
So, if you are having problems, a little more structure and teaching the dog what is expected, will help your relationship and avoid confusion.
Is there really such a thing as a dog who can’t learn new tricks?
Do dogs have genetic problems? Of course, just like humans. But I have not met a dog I couldn’t help. If a dog has been practicing the behavior like any ingrained habit, he can be a little more challenging to help the dog through it but it can be done.
In your opinion, what’s the best dog for a young family? A retired couple? A single apartment dweller?
I offer a service for people by phone or in person where we go through a series of questions to diagnose what they really want. Everyone’s environment is different.
Do you walk a lot? Do you need a dog that accepts strangers well? Do you live in the country and want a dog that barks like crazy because there is a sense of comfort knowing they are watching the property? Will you have children one day? (Editor’s note: if you’d like Gary’s insight into which type of dog would be best for you, you can email him directly at balanceddogsllc@gmail (dot) com)
In my opinion, most people want a social dog they can take everywhere. Be real about how much physical and mental challenge you can give the dog every day.
I wouldn’t get a guardian breed if I run a home therapy business. Is the dog going to take kindly to new strangers every day? Not naturally or without guidance. So to flip it, I might say if you really want a guardian breed, do you realize that socialization is very important? You must make time with the puppy to have positive interactions with everyone that comes in the house.
If you are a marathon runner, don’t get a greyhound. They walk 10 min and then they are done. So if you hike 12 miles on a weekend and you want to bring your dog it may not be the right fit.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from your work that any of us could apply to our daily lives – even if we don’t own a dog?
Your dog’s behavior is a barometer for your feelings. Are you angry, frustrated, anxious, scared? That’s why your dog acts out. It’s amazing the connection. A fellow trainer has a great line: “Your dog’s behavior will change as soon as yours does. You just have to go first.”
My dogs have taught me about anger that I needed to dive deeper into. They taught me patience and that we all move at our own speed – which has helped me in my marriage.
My dogs are here as much for me as I am there for them.I get emotional all the time thinking about the selflessness they show me every day and the forgiveness they show me for my errors. No judgment, just total forgiveness.All they want is a calm stable environment and they are reminders to me every day to search for that.
Thanks so much, Gary! This was incredibly helpful! Do you guys have any questions for him?