FRESNO — Bernardo Perez leads a dog's life. That is, he loves to get into the heads of dogs, so that he better understands their behavior, especially the little habits that annoy their owners and others.
Yappers, nippers, herders? He can correct them, he says.
Perez is owner of a dog-mentoring business -- Road Dogs, Dog Mentoring -- that specializes in using the psychology of dog behavior to modify actions instead of using traditional reward methods to train. Perez stays calm and uses no hard tugs on leashes.
Perez travels all over the West Coast mentoring dogs.
"He's worth every dollar," says Sheri McBee of Firebaugh. Perez says he always has been a dog lover. Growing up in Moorpark, he remembers bringing home stray dogs. Many were out of control and ran away.
"I wanted to learn how to get dogs to stay, so I wouldn't hear, 'The dog ran away,' " he remembers. "You had to give them a reason to stay." Later, Perez said he learned this lesson: "What makes a dog want to stay is security." As an adult, Perez worked as a Realtor until about three years ago. When the market plunged, he was out of work. He ended up adopting a Husky named Coda that he trained. People commented about how well-behaved Coda was and asked whether he was a trainer.
Perez said no until he worked a day with Robert Weatherwax, grandson of Rudd Weatherwax, the man who trained the dogs on the "Lassie" television show. Perez says he picked Weatherwax's brain, read extensively on dog mentoring and decided to become a dog trainer, despite not having any dog-training credentials.
"I asked (Weatherwax) one last question: 'What do I tell people when they question my credentials?' " Perez said. "He said, 'If you can do that -- calm dogs -- you can train dogs. Don't worry about it.' " Perez says his training methods are actually about training humans to better understand their dogs, especially when their dogs are at their worst behavior. He believes you can teach whatever you want to your dog.
Perez also says he does not teach dogs to recognize their owner's commands, but rather teaches owners how their dog thinks. This allows owners to set the tone for "the pack." On a recent day, Perez demonstrated some methods as he met with clients and their dogs at the Roeding Park dog park.
Among them, McBee came with her standard poodles -- cream-colored Romeo and his sister, black-haired Juliet.
When a stranger walked up to talk with Perez, Romeo got a little edgy. His legs soon were twisted in his leash. Perez sensed the problem and moved calmly into a position between the stranger and Romeo, with Perez's back to Romeo. Romeo calmed down. Then, Perez reached down to free Romeo. Not a word was spoken.
"They have this language, and it's about security," Perez says. "Dogs are civil. There's no dominance in a dog's world. When you come into a situation with dogs barking, it's normal.
"A dog's number one need is security. Once you address that issue, you move on." Later, both Romeo and Juliet acted up. Perez understood. He subtly shortened his hold on their leashes, which he held behind his back. No words necessary.
"He's excellent," says McBee, adding she sought help when she felt Romeo and Juliet acted unruly inside her home.Ellie and Bob Yarnell of Visalia also came to Roeding Park with their dogs -- Malcolm, an English bulldog, and Moko, a Chihuahua.
"It's a lot of dog language -- body language, how they line up and react to you," Bob Yarnell said. "You're in charge. You have to reset the pack order.
"It's simple if you speak dog language. It's like learning a foreign language."