Standard poodles are smart. Real smart. They’ll outthink you.
That’s what Greg Durham, the owner of Durham Haus Working Dogs way out on Colonel Glenn Road, said Saturday. The Observer was there to see what our friend’s poodle could do and meet Durham, Arkansas’s dog whisperer.
A line of big dogs were tied to a fence along the driveway. One, two, three German shepherds, two shepherd pups and a ... dachshund?
Yes, the dog-whispering Durham trains dachshunds for show, bird dogs to hunt, dogs to keep autistic children out of trouble, dogs who know when their owner is about to have a seizure. Dogs that can sniff out termites. You name it, this guy does it.
We knew Durham’s police dog reputation — remember Jubilee, Tommy Robinson’s first drug dog? Durham taught him. He also taught Nero, the explosive-sniffer employed during Clinton’s presidential visits to town. Our friend didn’t want her poodle, Freno, to find drugs or semtex. She just wanted him to sit and stay when she told him to. And she wanted to show off Durham.
To get into Durham’s office trailer, we had to step over Bodo, a huge German shepherd sitting in the doorway. Bodo had been told to sit and sit he did. “I don’t care if a herd of buffalo runs by,” Durham said, that dog wasn’t going to move until told to.
We had interrupted a visit by a couple of G-men who spoke to Durham in hushed tones about his being “the man who set the standards” and how his was a “stable product and service.” Then they told The Observer they’d have to kill us if we revealed their identity.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But Kelli Buck vouched for Durham’s ability. He’s trained a shepherd to look after her “fearless” son when he plays on the 300 acres they live on. He stands between the boy and the pond, and, like Lassie, knows to bark if help is needed.
Durham, 59, has been training dogs for more than 35 years, a skill he learned from his father, Grover, who trained hunting dogs in Ohio. His dogs have won national and international awards. He is the only certified K9 instructor for the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.
We sat in the sunshine in Durham’s meadow and watched him put a few dogs through their paces. They found hidden balls and hidden owners, awaited commands to fetch, heeled and backed up and turned corners. Which brings us to Adeline, the dachshund. The winner of several shows, “she can stop on a dime,” Durham said proudly as her owner put her through her paces.
“People ask me, are dogs psychic?” he said. Well, yes, in a dog kind of way. “They go off vibes,” Durham said. With seizures, he says, it’s body temperature that’s the signal. Autistic children, he says, telegraph their intentions to leave a room, and the dog will stop them.
Words of wisdom:
People praise their dogs so much they don’t know what praise means. “It’s like if I told my wife all day, I love ya, I love ya, I love ya, I love ya, I love ya,” Durham said. “After a while it doesn’t mean anything.” He feeds his dogs only five times a week, and it keeps them grateful.
Why doesn’t a dog (like Freno) come to your child when he calls? Because they’re litter mates — equals.
Why would a dog (like Freno) ignore a sit command? Because they can read you like a book; you’ve got to project leadership.
And last: Dogs are one thing. “The toughest thing is teaching the people.”
As we left, Freno was heeling. Durham had just about got his owner trained.