Upon first glance, Bob Smith doesn’t look out of the ordinary. The 77-year-old resident of Tacoma, Washington enjoys reading, meditating and spending time with his four dogs. He also describes himself as a classic introvert.
It’s when you get him talking about his work that he truly lights up the room. So what does Smith do?
“I’m doing the same stuff I was doing when I was 13 years of age: playing with dogs,” Smith said.
The fine art of training dogs
“I grew up in Louisiana, in a neighborhood that was Seventh Day Adventist, and people looked at me different because of my religion. So I sort of grew up alone. I learned how to cope with just reading my Bible, and getting my dog and going out in the woods.”
That’s never changed for Smith. When he volunteered to go to Vietnam in 1969, he trained a German Shepherd to be the unit’s mascot, and experienced firsthand how much dogs can help soldiers at war. Afterward, he was reassigned to Germany, where he learned to appreciate how well-socialized and trained their dogs were.
“I wanted that controlled obedience, and I made my training a holistic perspective of canine training; training the mind, body, spirit and soul,” Smith explained.
Smith was already planning for his future after the military. He established his current business, Bob Smith’s K9 Association, in 1973, when he was stationed in Fort Sill, OK. He retired in 1986, and switched from logistics in the Army to training dogs full time.
“Understanding the temperament of a dog is just like understanding a person… you know, everybody’s got their own thing.”
Smith subscribes to the idea: “Socialize, Don’t Euthanize!” He believes that every dog can be socialized, and with that comes behavioral modification and obedience.
“Dogs are just like your best friend. The Lord has blessed me to have a companion there to save my life on numerous occasions,” Smith revealed.
Once, when he would’ve drowned in a Louisiana spring, Smith’s childhood dog saved him. Later, when a man was attacking him in Fort Riley, KS, Smith’s rottweiler came to his aid and chased off the offender.
“I owe my life to the dog world,” Smith said simply.
Emotional support dogs
More than physical help, is the emotional support and relief that can come with having a dog at your side. Dogs are proven therapy animals, and are often kept for service and support by people who need varying degrees of assistance.
“When I get sort of depressed or anxious, I just go out there and start working my dogs, and all that goes away,” Smith stated. “They rejuvenate me and give me that sense of stability of saying, ‘Hey buddy, I’m here for you.’”
“So when people say they’re alone — their husband died, or their wife died, or someone in the family has gone or passed — they come to me because they need something to fill that empty space. That’s what I do. That’s why I do emotional support dogs.”
How long does training take?
Training a dog to be an emotional support animal can be a long process. They go with their handler everywhere — stores, buses, planes and elevators — and their handler must know that every command will be obeyed.
“Normally I like dealing with a dog between four and six months. I don’t tell them, I’ll have your dog six weeks or ten weeks — that’s bullsh*t. They have to be able to do that stuff on a consistent basis, both on and off leash.”
Smith continued, “If I go in sick to the doctor’s office, I’m supposed to be able to leave the chair and have my emotional support dog lie, sit and stay at that chair until I come back out. That to me is what in an emotional support dog is supposed to be trained like. You cannot get that in six weeks.”
Some dogs are just like people — they start slow. But Smith reassures that the process will work.
“The most rewarding part of my job is when I see a client come into my office and be distraught about their dog, and I tell them: ‘Don’t worry about it…’”
“… It just takes a little time. What’s rewarding is when I see that person’s face once we evaluate that dog, and they see that we can fix this. But mainly, it is my responsibility to train the dog. It is also my responsibility to the person to teach them what I’ve taught the dog. We work as a unit, because if they knew how to train the dog, they wouldn’t be in my office.”
Bob Smith’s K9 Association
Bob Smith’s K9 Association offers discounts to all veterans, seniors and students. They also give complimentary lessons to people who have adopted from the ASPCA or Humane Society. You can find out more about their services here.
“I charge people by their budget. If you’re on a fixed income, you can’t afford that much, so we reduce the price,” Smith said.
And after six decades of working with dogs, Smith still isn’t slowing down. His explanation is simple: “You don’t get tired of what you love.”
“I had two back surgeries, one in 2015 and one in 2018, so every day I can put a leash in my hand and walk out and see my dogs I am blessed. That’s my gratification.”