Do you ever wish Sparkey would stop jumping up on your guests? Would you like your dog to do tricks like the dogs you see perform at competitions? Does your dog become anxious when you leave the house? Meet Sandy Miller, a 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, car sickness, excessive barking, and more.

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. Then Sandy got a job managing a pet hotel in West Los Angeles. The pet hotel’s owner, George Barnes, trained dogs. George challenged Sandy to train a 6 month old Labrador, and with George as her mentor Sandy found she had a knack for this work. Sandy increased her skills by watching other trainers. Sandy is largely self- taught. She also learned that she does not favor the use of certain training techniques such as the use of choke chains and punishment. Later she was laid off from her job as a Reproduction Typing Supervisor, and found herself exploring options. She launched a dog training business, previously known as The Tender Tutor, when she spent $7.95 to make a flyer and distributed it to the vets and groomers she knew from the pet hotel days.

Her very first call came from actress Liza Minelli who sought help with a mix breed rescue dog she had brought back from Mexico. Sandy was understandably excited about having a celebrity’s dog as her first trainee. 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”. She trained a group of dogs that appeared in a Mae West film.

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 Labrador dog on the “down” command, Sandy noticed the owner ineffectively repeating “down, down” in very soft voice…..when she used a firmer tone “Down!” both dog and human dropped to the ground in response.

Sandy describes her style, “Back then I was the only one going to homes to train. I’m very quiet and low keyed. When I go into the home, the dog immediately knows I’m the alpha. I don’t know what it is I exude, but it’s there.” I have witnessed Sandy’s rapport with dogs and believe that she has an innate gift to relate to these animals. “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 so even children can handle the dog”.

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Does she train the dog or the owner? While the dog and his behavior is changed, it’s really the human who gets trained. The owner has to follow up and do the work for the training to be successful. Sometimes humans with a “macho” or know-it-all mentality aren’t willing to make any changes. “Sometimes people are challenging to train because getting a new dog can be like getting a new job or becoming a first time parent”. Sandy describes dogs as like children, going through the “terrible 2’s” of puppyhood prior to 6 months of age, turning into rebellious teenagers between 6 month to a year….stages that can be shortened with proper training.

Sandy Miller supports the efforts to find homes for homeless animals. “I first got involved with rescue when I met Lindi Biggi (President of Loving All Animals) and trained her dogs. I help with issues early on to ensure the rescue dog’s adoption goes well”. She networks homeless dogs on-line and facilitates her clients adopting from a rescue organization or shelter rather than going to a breeder.

Sandy offers advice for house training, a major issue particularly with a puppy. “People do not understand how to house train. They smack the dog or stick his face in it’s 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.” My own dog Scarlett O’Hara took forever to potty train after being rescued from a dog hoarder. I didn’t know Sandy then, but I learned about Nature’s Miracle, a wonderful product that can clean up the stain, odor and enzymes. Another idea for a male “leg lifter” who marks his territory in a new home, purchase a “male wrap” from PetSmart or PetCo when you visit Aunt Mildred with the new white carpet.

Easy methods to correct behavior include the use of a spray water bottle. Sandy also likes the “Pet Corrector” spray canister that helps correct problem barking and jumping up, but advises owners to keep the canister hidden before use 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. It’s just like with humans. We all want to know where we stand, and we all want attention. Animals need the same guidance as children. When you train correctly and consistently, they know those things, and they love you all the more for it”.

Sandy suggests folks considering a new pet to ask themselves some questions first to see if a particular dog fits their lifestyle. Does it shed? Does it need it need a lot of exercise? Can it dwell in an apartment or does it need a yard? If it needs grooming, can I afford this? Will this dog get along with my children or grandchildren? Bring the children with you when you adopt and ask to have time in a visiting area. Carefully select a size and breed.

You can contact Sandy Miller at (760) 360-4085 and by email at tendertutor@msn.com. 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.

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