After one session, Vladae Roytapel, the “Russian dog wizard,” had Wesley, a 2-year-old Alaskan Klee Kai, doing things the dog’s owner didn’t think he was capable of.
Michelle Morris had wasted time and money on five dog trainers who didn’t understand her dog and were unable to teach him basic obedience.
“Wesley is now able to walk with strangers, is no longer reacting to other dogs passing by and is able to maintain a ‘stay’ in a highly distractable environment,” said Morris, of Mission Viejo.
Since most people are looking for simple rather than hardcore dog training, Roytapel, of Newport Beach, begins his program with some words of caution: “If you treat your dog like a human, your dog will treat you like a dog.”
Roytapel — who got his “dog wizard” nickname from clients — has 40 years’ experience in five countries and has collected many pet industry awards and appeared on numerous TV and radio programs. He began his career working for the Soviet KGB as a dog trainer before immigrating to the United States with his parents in 1995. While living in Michigan, he raised, trained and lived with 15 Bouviers and German shepherds, guarding and patrolling the streets of Detroit in cooperation with the Police Department.
He and his wife and two children became residents of Newport Beach in 2008. That’s where he founded SoCal Dog Training.
“After becoming the best dog trainer in Michigan, I decided to move in the heartland of the best dog trainers in America … Southern California, where I can be one of the very best of the best in America and someday pursue my own TV show,” Roytapel said. “Knowing that Cesar Millan [formerly of the ‘Dog Whisperer’ TV series] is in Los Angeles, I decided not to invade his turf. I was thinking like a dog.”
“Life is much different [here] than in the Midwest.” he said. “It was the same culture shock for us like moving from Russia to Michigan. And people [are] treating their dogs much differently — they treat [them] like humans. They are so emotionally attached to them as I [have] never seen before.”
According to Roytapel, the key to dog training success is gaining an understanding of the dog and addressing the root cause of a training problem.
“Dogs are unique creatures; they can only be just in two social positions — leaders or followers. There is no space between,” he said. “It is my observation that many households [have] leadership problems. If even people in the family don’t know who is in charge, how can dogs know?”
“People want to be the friends with their pets and don’t understand that friends can do just a favor for them but will never take orders,” Roytapel continued. “People are often very emotional toward their pets, but dogs are very logical, and the basis of canine logic is simple: Who has less authority cannot set the terms. Dogs often misbehave because many pet owners don’t know how to behave — at least not in a way that makes sense to our canine friends.
“I also see a starting point of the trouble, that people do not look at what the dog breed was designed for .… and after that expecting them to do what their genetics [did] not intend them to do. In other words, those who are born to crawl shall never fly.”
General welfare, including meeting physical, mental and social needs, is vital in preventing behavioral issues caused by lack of discipline and structure, he said.
“They forgot that the tired dog is the good dog. Tired kids sleep well. I come up with a plan [to] proactively drain down physical and mental energy from the dog’s body and mind,” Roytapel said. “Just as humans thrive when they are employed or have a purpose, dogs also have a better quality of life when they are put to work. If a dog is just left alone all day, they can become bored and will usually end up causing trouble.”
The Russian dog wizard compares his training style to an FBI agent who interrogates, assessing lifestyle and living conditions in every corner of the house, inside and out.
From her first session with Roytapel, Jasmin Loza saw results with Mona, her 2-year-old German shepherd, who had fear issues.
“Mona is a lot more confident and now I bring her everywhere I go since she’s being trained as a service dog because of my vision loss in one eye,” said Loza, of Norwalk. “This has been a great experience. Vladae has an awesome sense of humor and he’s really great with my dog. I’m impressed with the way she is now.”
Roytapel describes himself as a teacher of “Doglish,” or dog language.
“People speak to their dogs in the wrong language,” he said. “Many of them [are] afraid to say no to their dogs … and, of course, to enforce that … in the language their dogs would understand … which is canine language.
“I use English words in the way dogs understand … sounds that actually mean something for him,” Roytapel said.
Vocally, people should communicate with dogs in three ways, he said:
High pitch to mean excitement
Low pitch to mean consequences are coming
Barking pitch to make a command or demand
“Dogs have [a] culture much different than Americans do,” Roytapel said. “They do not speak in English, they don’t preach democracy, they do not share our human values.”
Susan Hoffman is a contributor to Times Community News.