There are many capable dog trainers out there, but only a few have the sort of star quality that can really change people’s minds about how we relate to dogs. Robert Haussmann, a.k.a. Dogboy, is one of those charismatic few.
Something of a best-kept secret, he’s trained dogs for Mayor Mike Bloomberg and actor Richard Belzer. Meet him now, before he becomes a superstar in Cesar Millan’s league. Later, you can say – as so many celebs now say of The Dog Whisperer – you “knew him when.”
A New York native based in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and baby daughter and theirterrier mix, Maxwell, Haussmann has developed a loyal client following for his patient, gentle approach, in one-on-one sessions and group classes. For him, each dog is an individual, and it shows in the way he treats them: more like a brother than a master.
What sets Haussmann apart is his remarkable sensitivity to dogs’ feelings and thoughts. Like an animal communicator, he has an uncanny sixth sense for what makes dogs tick, and a talent for conveying that information to dog owners. Explaining your dog’s thoughts and feelings, he sounds like a United Nations interpreter translating for a foreign dignitary. He has a profound respect for members of the canine race, because in some impossible-to-explain way he’s one of their tribe. What he has to say, and his expertguidance on healthy leadership,will astonish you and deepen the bond you share with your dog.
That effortless connection has roots in his childhood. “I grew up with dogs, and they were all rescues,” Haussmann recalls. “I spent most of my time with my dogs – much more time than my friends spent with their dogs, and much more time than I spent with my friends.”
Dogs helped Haussmann through a rough passage in his childhood. “I had learning disabilities growing up, but I always understood music, art, science, and dogs – those were the subjects I excelled in,” he says. “The dogs were a constant comfort to me, and have remained that way for my entire adult life.”
Haussmann navigated more rocky roads in his twenties, and once again his four-footed friends saw him through. One in particular, a whippet-lab mutt named Pokey, left an indelible impression: “She was my constant companion since the seventh grade, when I got her. When she passed away in 1999, I had a really hard time; I was heartbroken.”
He sought out dogs wherever he went. “I spent most of my time going to animal shelters,”Haussmann says. “Any time I could spend with dogs took away all stress and anxiety.” Thinking he’d pursue a career in graphic design, he attended art school – but abandoned that path to follow his true calling. “I realized dogs were such a part of me that I couldn’t be without them. It would be very difficult for me to have a normal life without dogs!”
His girlfriend, now wife, gave him the nickname Dogboy because, he says, “Everywhere we went together -every date, every vacation -I somehow managed to find a stray dog that I would rescue andfind a safe haven for.”
Working with dogs became his goal. One day, he responded to a classified ad offering on-the-job training in dog training. He underwent the training, but disagreed with the methods used. Exposure to what he calls “training methods I didn’t like” motivated Haussmann to explore positive-reinforcement, reward-based training. “I looked into it, and it opened one door after another,” he says. “I studied underseveral trainers, sat in on so many different classes, and attended seminars with Ian Dunbar and Jean Donaldson and Nicole Wilde. That led me to the path I wanted to be on, and that I stay on now.”
Now Dogboy Inc. is the name of his business, and I can say from first-hand experience that his technique is impressive. Haussmann worked with my dog Lazarus, who – from the moment he came to live with me – displayed major dog-aggression issues while out for leash walks. Laz is fine, even adorably affectionate, with my other dogs, and gets along famously with dogs he meets in supervised, off-leash situations. But out on the sidewalk, Laz turns into an Incredible Hulk impersonator whenever another dog crosses his path.
Gently yet masterfully – and within a matter of minutes – Haussmann had Laz eating out of his hand and sitting calmly by his side, despite some powerful dog distraction. Needless to say, I was floored.
October is Adopt-a-Dog Month, and to honor the four-footed friends of his childhood as well as the many wonderful shelter dogs who consoled him after Pokey’s death, Haussmann is dedicated to raising awareness of shelter dogs. He’s passionate about doing his part to help solve the homeless dog crisis “by preventing and solving behavior problems that land dogs in shelters in the first place,” he concludes. “That education is the key to decreasing the number of dogs in shelters!”