By Janet McAfee
Do you wish Sparkey would stop jumping up on your guests? Would you like your dog to do tricks? Does your dog become anxious when you leave the house? Meet Sandy Miller, Coachella Valley dog trainer who once trained dogs of the rich and famous in Hollywood. Sandy works with dogs and their owners on many training challenges including digging, dog-child adjustment issues, fence jumping, potty training, excessive barking, and more. Does she train the dog or the owner? Sandy answers, “While the dog and its behavior is changed, it’s really the human who gets trained.”
Sandy Miller has over 40 years of experience in her field and has trained over 10,000 dogs. She always loved animals and thought about becoming a veterinarian. She found a job managing a pet hotel in West Los Angeles. George, the pet hotel’s owner, trained dogs. George challenged Sandy to train a Labrador puppy, and Sandy found she had a knack for this work. Later she was laid off from a job as a Reproduction Typing Supervisor, and found herself exploring options. She launched a dog training business when she spent $7.95 to make a flyer, distributing it to the vets and groomers she knew from the pet hotel days.
Sandy’s first client was actress Liza Minelli who sought help with a mix breed dog she rescued in Mexico. Her client base grew to include the pooches of notable Hollywood folks Michael Caine, Mel Brooks, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Olivia Newton John, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, Jacqueline Smith, and Tina Sinatra. Other clients, Barry Manilow and Keely Smith, have roots in the Coachella Valley. Sandy trained the English Sheepdog in the Katherine Hepburn movie, “Olly Olly Oxen Free.”
Pongo, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier owned by Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, was one of her most challenging cases. “He was physically a very strong dog, and he would dig up everything. He’d pull these huge banana trees out by the roots. Mel and Anne worked with me, but Pongo usually got the best of us all!” Finally Sandy determined the dog was bored and developed some alternative activities. In a humorous moment, working with a dog on the “down” command, Sandy noticed the owner ineffectively repeating “down, down” in very soft voice…..when Sandy used a firmer tone “Down!” both dog and human dropped to the ground.
Sandy describes her style, “I’m very quiet and low keyed. The dog immediately knows I’m the alpha. I don’t know what it is I exude, but it’s there. Positive reinforcement and praise enhances the dog’s confidence. No negative or inhumane devices are used. Understanding the needs of my human clients is also of utmost importance. I work with the whole family.” I have witnessed Sandy’s rapport with dogs, and she has an innate gift to transform the most challenging dogs, including puppy mill dogs that have never been socialized.
Sandy offers advice to house train a new dog. “People do not understand how to house train. They smack the dog or stick his face in its feces which is not the best way. It’s best to set up a schedule and take the dog outside at set times and reward with a treat when they potty outside. If they have an accident inside, ignore it, otherwise you’re unintentionally drawing attention to bad behavior. For more difficult situations, hook them to a short leash and attach to your belt or waist. You can also hook the leash under the leg of a table and the dog won’t go in its immediate space inside the home.” Another idea for a male “leg lifter” who marks his territory in a new home is to purchase a “male wrap” from PetSmart or PetCo.
Easy methods to correct behavior include the use of a spray water bottle, but never spray directly in the dog’s face. Sandy likes the “Pet Corrector” spray canister to correct problem barking and jumping up, but advises owners to keep the canister hidden before using or it loses its value.
An obedience trained dog is a happy dog. Sandy explains, “If it’s done right, the dog absolutely loves it. He gets the attention he wants, he knows where he stands, and he knows the rules. When you train correctly and consistently, they love you all the more for it.”
Sandy volunteers her time to help Loving All Animals’ adopters and foster parents with their rescue dogs. Contact Loving All Animals about their programs at (760) 834-7000. Contact Sandy Miller at (760) 360-4085 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is pictured here with her rescue Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Churchill. Training dogs the “tender” way increases the loving bond between the dog and his human.