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Educating Fido : Dog Trainers, the Lords of Discipline, Use Praise to Win Canine Obedience

January 26, 1989|R. DANIEL FOSTER | Foster is a Woodland Hills free-lance writer.

Strauss said she trained a rat, Gatsby, to rob a bank during her final examination at Moorpark College, where she earned an associate of arts degree in exotic animal training and management. "I built a little Western set," Strauss said, explaining that Gatsby was trained to crawl along ramps and jump from roof to roof of the set, looking for a money bag that Strauss had hidden.

"I would say, 'OK, Gatsby, get the money out of the bank and I'll meet you on the other side of town,' " Strauss said, adding that Gatsby was also taught to jump into a stagecoach, pick up the reins and drive it away.

"They're very loving; they're very smart," Strauss said of rats. "I think I'll always have rats as one of my pets. One of Gatsby's best friends was my dog, Strawberry. She saved Gatsby's life one time when Gatsby fell in the toilet and was drowning. They were very good friends."

'Start Young'

The best time to introduce dogs to other species is when they are young, Strauss said. "That's why I believe in puppy training. Your dog will be more adjusted as an adult."

Should your dog prefer to socialize with dog celebrities, the Hollywood Dog Training School in North Hollywood has housed the likes of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. Twenty trainers work with 30 to 50 dogs a day, school officials said, using on- and off-leash basic obedience courses priced from $800 to $1,500, including kenneling.

Carl Spitz Sr., who trained Toto for "The Wizard of Oz," began the school on Ventura Boulevard in 1927 and moved it to its Vanowen Street location in the early 1950s.

Present owner Richard Karl, a former guide-dog instructor, said he incorporates some of Koehler's method in his work and never uses food, unless he is teaching a dog tricks.

Karl, as with many dog trainers in the area, has trained a number of celebrities' dogs, including Starbuck, the late Lorne Greene's Australian shepherd; Lolly, Chevy Chase's golden retriever, and Bruno, Tina Turner's white German shepherd.

Sandy Tooke, who brings Winston, her springer spaniel, to Canino for training, said her dog can "absolutely hold his own" against the celebrity dogs that Canino has trained, which include Jabba, Doris Day's bull mastiff; Mr. Jones, Don Johnson's golden retriever; Bobo, Charles Bronson's mutt, and Nufie, Burt Bacharach's Newfoundland.

"But it would be wonderful if Winston could become friends with their doggies," Tooke said. "Then I could meet Don Johnson."

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