Long before there was a Dog Whisperer, Bash Dibra of Fieldston Pets in New York City was training celebrity and champion dogs and teaching their humans (Matthew Broderick, Mariah Carey, Martin Scorsese, and Jennifer Lopez among them) the Three Ps: Patience, Perseverance, and Praise. Few behavior experts have Bash’s intimate knowledge of a dog’s inner wolf, for Bash actually worked with a real wolf named Mariah in the 1970s. “She taught me everything I know,” he recalls of his friend and four-footed mentor.
The author of numerous books, includingStar Pet: How to Make Your Pet a Star, Bash knows star quality when he spots it whether he’s casting for TV commercials or movies, or prepping dogs for their moment at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which starts today. Several of Bash’s well-behaved charges will be strutting their stuff at Madison Square Garden today and tomorrow, so it was very gracious of Bash to sit and stay for a Dogster interview in the middle of a Westminster whirlwind of training sessions andradio/TV appearances. Read on to learn more about this pup-culture pioneer.
What breeds of dog are you working with for this year’s Westminster show?
A Portuguese Water Dog named Swan, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Mickey,a Basset Hound named Gaston, a BichonFrise named Noodles,and a Standard Poodle named Jolie.
What are the special talents of each Westminster contender you’re prepping this year? i.e. What, besides their champion status, makes them Star Pets?
The secret of a real star pet, or a champion, is the way the dog comes across. S/he ischarismatic and struts when he moves, as if to say, “Am I cute? Am I beautiful?” A great dog just stands out, exploding into the arena, or into the presence of a talent agent such as myself, with confidence. S/he has something that tells people, “Look atme don’t I look great!”That’swhat we call the Star Pet phenomenon.
Each breed has an individual Star Pet vibe. And so, Swan the Portuguese says, “I’m a happy-go-lucky dog but I want to please you and I will please you!” Mickey the Cavalier is constantly happy, trotting with an upbeat gait and wagging tail. Gaston the Basset commands attention by walking with momentum and determination. Noodles the Bichon says, “I just got groomed and pampered I feel the love, so I will give that love back to everybody here at the Garden.” And Jolie the Poodle says, “Look how beautiful I am, outside and in; I’m in perfect harmony.”
What breeds of dog have you worked with in the past?
German Shorthaired Pointer, German Shepherd,Komondor, Puli, Doberman, Rottweiler, and American Staffordshire Terrier.
Being Magyar by ancestry, I’m partial to the Hungarian breeds. Please tell us about the Komondor and Puli you worked with, and what gives them Star Pet quality.
The Hungarian breedsare very noble and very loyal to their owners.When it’s time to enterthe show ring, they say, “I’m a working dog a herder of sheep but if you wanna go to a show,I’ll put on a show for you. I will show off my good looks!” In addition to their flashy corded coats, these breeds have a unique, regal, noble, and ancient bearing they’re special.
You’re the unaBASHed expert on canine star quality. In your expert opinion, what dog had the MOST star quality ever?
The icons of canine stardom are Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and Benji. One of my favorite pictures is of me with Lassie, taken whenIpresented her with theStar Pet Award; Lassie thanked me by giving me a kiss (editor’s note: see photo at top right). These dogs had the star quality that made themnaturally effortless on screen. They’re the greatest Star Pets of all time.
What dogs live with you now?
Lulu the Bulldog, Amanda the Boxer, Shuggy the Cockapoo, and Delilah, a Parisian Shepherd.
A Parisian Shepherd?!
Yes,Delilah was a rescue, so at first we thought she was a mixed breed. And in photos shelooks like a shaggy dog. But observing her habits and mannerisms, we saw her herding ability, plus shealways liked to climb rocks and navigate obstacles. Isaid, this dog is really amazing, there’s something more to her.
So we researched her and found out she’s a Parisian Shepherd: They’re smart, intelligent, and they aim to please. That kind of working stock makes for a wonderful Star Pet. Every dog is a Star Pet, but one that really stands out is a dog that says”I wanna please you what else can I do?”That’s the secret of a real star, whether it’s a pet or a person – that ability to understand exactly what the writer or director wants, capture the feeling, and nail it in one take.
Tell us something about Mariah the wolf and what you learned from working with her.
Mariah was my muse. She taught me everything, and shecrystallized the world of animal communication for me. She showed me what are the personal drives of wolves that all dogsinherit, andthis helped me understand how to communicate with people and their dogs.Size doesn’t matter big or small, Great Dane or Chihuahua, all dogs share the ancestral drive of the wolf.
In the years since Mariah passed, which dog most reminded you of her, and why?
All the dogs I’veworked withhad a bit of Mariah in them, whether it’s the body language or the drive. Every time I look at a dog, I always seesome facet of Mariah’s spirit shining forth.
Tell us about the very first time you went to Westminster.
I used to go as a spectator in the ’60s, just to see all the dogs. Then, in the early ’70s, I worked with a German Shorthaired Pointer named Eli. I trained him for the competition and handled him in the ring; and in 1975, he won Best of Opposite Sex.
What’s your favorite Westminster memory?
Eli’s win, definitely.
Dogstravel from all over the country to compete at Westminster, but as a New Yorker yourself, do you think New York born-and-bred dogs have their own attitude?
Oh yeah I personally think a lot of dogs fromwithinthe New Yorkarea are true champions in their own right. It’s like the Sinatra song says: “If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere.”That’s reallytrue of New York dogs: they’re savvy, socialized, and can handle any situation, from riding an elevator to riding in a taxi. New York is the best training ground for a Star Pet champion. Plus, in Van Cortlandt Park we haveCanine Court, the agilitypark Idesigned for dogs; all my Westminster contenders love to trainthere.
Whichof your poochprotegespresented the most unique training challenge?
The Komondor was really a challenge. Hewas imported from Hungary, andover therethe dog shows are really focused on the pure sense of what the dogs are supposed to be doing. The Komondor’s job isherding sheep, and shepherding dogs can be very dominant. Gordy the Komondor was extremely dominant, and a bit of a menace. I said, “Welcome tothe US!Let’s revamp our thinking.” Imade him a canine good citizen.
Still, when we entered the show ring at Westminster, there were three other Komondors. As he walked by, he stared at them and they lowered their heads. He was telling them, “I’m winning today, and you’re not!” And he did win that day!
That’s some badass ‘tude! Do canine champions who compete at Westminster know they are hot stuff?
Absolutely. When a real champion enters an arena, any arena,with everybody staring at him, then applauding when he moves,he seems to airlift himself! He walks around almost like he’s flying. He works the crowd, and feeds off that admiration.
Does diva behavior ever happen? Please dish!
Of course!I rememberone beautiful Poodle, a couple of years ago,who wasvery pampered and loved. But whenever she felt she wasn’t getting enough love if, say, her handler was busy doing something else she would just touch the handler with her paw to say, “Give me more attention, please!”She even did this in the show ring, giving her paw during judging! “Hello, I’m the diva here,” she seemed to be saying.
My purebred German Shepherd bitch, Desiree, recently fell head-over-heels in love with a male GSD that we met while out on a walk. Do you think the fact that the are the same breed had something to do with it?
Yes, they really recognize themselves in each other the similar tail, body, mannerisms, all of those signals. “Look,he talks and acts and looks and sounds like me it’s as if I’m meeting myself!” So they naturally gravitate to their own breed, and they bond over their similarities like long-lost littermates.
Day two of Westminster just happens to be Valentine’s Day. Has it ever happened that a male and female of the same breed become smitten with each other while in the dog show ring?
Oh yeah. Championdogs see and notice each other all the time it’s as if they’re saying, “Oh, it’s you again!” Sometimes, one dog will come in and another will roll on his or her back.
I remember a Yorkie boy flirting with a Yorkie girl, and the girl rolled over on her back, messing up her nicely groomed hair. The handler rolled his eyes, because it meant he’d have to brush the dog all over again!
Please give two examples of celebrity clients who displayed affection for their pet in a unique way.
I’ll never forgot thelove that Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker had forSally, theirBorder Collie [Broderick] loved showing off her Frisbee talents, and he asked me to teach her to jump up into his arms. The signal was tapping his chest, then he’d open his arms wide and Sally would jump up into his arms!
Mariah Carey took her Jack Russell, Jack, everywhere she went.Jack loved balloons, so Mariahwould have balloons handy, so when he was in a playful mood, he could have fun and keep busy with “balloon bopping” poking at the balloon with his nose, like a seal!
What’s your favorite part of being a dog trainer?
Helping people that have puppies, oradopt shelter dogs, get started in the right direction, solvingand pre-empting problems sodogs stay at home instead of going back to the shelter.
My passion is helping people keep their dogs, then taking the enjoymentof having a dog to the next level: Turning them into Star Pets.I lovetaking a dog that’s a diamond in the “ruff” and proving that,with love and training, s/hecan shine like a star.
What’s the most important lesson a dog ever taught you, and which dog was the teacher?
Muffin, my Tibetan terrier. He was a shaggy dog thatI adopted in the ’80sbecause his owners said he was destroying their home and barking all day long, driving the neighbors crazy.
Muffin taught me that even a so-called “problem” dog can become aStar Pet. After I worked with him, Muffin became the hottest thing ever, enjoying a long, successful career of print jobs, commercials, and TV appearances, and moonlighting as a therapy dog, visiting hospitals and nursing homes. He even appeared on the daytime mystery soap Edge of Night with Lori Loughlin. He was just the best a wonderful dog, and a real star.
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