Trips Abroad: Dog trainer Matt Betts

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 9:30am

Matt Betts once worked in his family's autobody shop, but realized that training dogs was his calling in life. Today, Betts owns "K9 Instincts," a dog training, breeding and kennel facility located in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The company's 5,000 square foot warehouse features a kennel and training room where Betts transforms ill-mannered dogs into well-behaved pets.

"We're a dog training facility and a boarding kennel," said Betts during an interview with The Block Island Times. "We work with all types. We specialize in pet obedience and behavior modification for the average pet owner."

The behaviors that K9 Instincts can train are jumping, not coming when called, separation anxiety, fear aggression, noise nervousness and general obedience and control of the dog. The goal is to turn the pets into, as Betts puts it, "being a well behaved pet you can take out in public. Every dog is different. There are some easy mixed breeds and really difficult pure breeds to work with."

The first step is to analyze the pet's behaviors.

"Typically, someone will call me and say they have a dog that pulls every time they go for a walk around the neighborhood, or it's barking, doing a behavior that needs modification," said Betts. "We can analyze what's going on with the dog very quickly, within a few minutes. We'll ask the owner questions and try to get a feel for what's going on with the dog and then figure out their half of it, too. And at that point we say how we're going to approach the training program for a particular dog. Because it's all individualized, the price is, too. We stand behind the training."

The results are noticeable.

"People are amazed by how well their dog is doing after training," noted Betts. "They see the dog working with us and they're starry-eyed. They can't believe it's the same dog. They think it's a totally different dog. They say, 'I can't believe it. It's still the same happy-go-lucky dog, but he's never stayed like that. He's never not jumped all over us.'"

There was a time when Betts was once labeled a Dog Whisperer, after renowned dog trainer Cesar Millan. "I don't get called that very much anymore," he said, "because the phrase has been phased out. I think anyone who's good with animals has something that most people lack - that you can't teach. There's absolutely something that you see. And I see it with owners and I see it with some of the police dog handlers."

Betts said that the owners will see his command with dogs when they visit his training facility. "When they come to a consultation and we take the dog from them — right in front of them, right in this small room — when we take the leash the dog responds totally different to us in a positive way," said Betts. "We take all of the drama out of it. We take all of the unnecessary emotion out of it and have the animal feed off of us in a positive way, with way less talking and way less feeling. It's more natural to us."

According to Betts, the philosophy of K9 Instincts is "balancing everything with praise and correction so that the dog can understand it, while having the dog enjoy it. My philosophy is making sure that we have a consistently well behaved dog and a happy owner."

Betts is keenly aware of how owners can impact the behaviors of their pets. "If the owner had the dog for a week or five years, they've got behaviors associated with that owner that they think are normal and okay. Now we've got to go back and, for lack of a better word, erase that stuff and teach the owner how to handle the dog. Not to make it a robot, but to make it a more healthy and successful relationship," he said.

Betts said that his operation boasts a 99 percent success rate and offers a free consultation and free refresher training. "It's a lifetime program," explained Betts. "If we take the dog in, and we train it, the client can do free refresher training with us any time they bring their dog back. I want my clients and their dogs to come here and stay here. We may not be the cheapest place for training, but in the long run you're going to pay for one place and always have somebody involved in the dog's training. So in theory it will always be cheaper."

"A majority of our clients are repeat customers that will board their dogs with us when they go skiing for the weekend or go away," said Betts. "So now when they come back, we know the dogs very well and they know us. They know the routine. They know the environment."

Betts began working as a dog trainer 18 years ago. He graduated from Pro Train, a dog training school in San Diego, California. He served as manager and trainer for several facilities located in New York, Texas and California before returning home, in between jobs, to work at his family's auto shop.

"I moved back here and my family had an auto body shop. So I was working back at the shop," said Betts. "I had friends that knew I was back in town who asked me to train their dogs. I always had two or three dogs in my father's office at the shop. I'd paint a car, come out and train a dog. Next thing you know, my father says there's too many dogs in the office."

It was at that time that Betts decided to leave his family's business to start his own in Portsmouth. His first operation was based out of his home, but demand quickly required him to expand into a farmhouse. He has operated his current training facility located at 160 Willow Lane for the past six years.

At his training facility, Betts trains an average of 10 to 15 domestic dogs a week and anywhere from 15 to 30 police dogs at one time. "We can deliver about 20 dogs to border patrol in one delivery," said Betts. "We also have a facility in Holland. We go over there monthly looking for police dogs. We bring them back, train them here and put them with police departments. I would say we handle on average over 2,000 dogs a year total — each of us."

"We get everything from Chihuahuas to Mastiffs," said Betts. "We get a lot of shelter and rescue dogs. People associate me with German Shepherds and working dogs. We also breed Malinois."

Betts employs a staff, but works most closely with Brittany Raymond, who worked with horses before training dogs at K9 Instincts. Raymond, who started out as kennel help, has been working with Betts for five years.

"I was a vet tech for five years before I came here," said Raymond. "I was always very interested in dog behavior and training. My favorite thing is to see the success with the dog and the owner. You see the result and how much of a difference has been made in the dog's life and the person's life. Seeing them enjoying things together is probably the most rewarding part."

"People humanize dogs, but they're animals," said Betts. "I love this or I wouldn't work with the dogs, but it's an animal. You cannot humanize an animal. They don't learn, think or reason the same way that humans do."

Betts feels that there is "a lot of psychology" involved in his work. "You're dealing with living things. Two totally different living things that operate differently, but coexist," said Betts. "You're working with the dog in one hand and the owner in the other hand and trying to blend them together."

The K9 Instincts facility, which houses 30 dogs in its kennel, is located at 160 Willow Lane in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

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