John “JP” Parrett jokes that his method of dog training is a bit like “Dr. Phil meets Cesar Millan.”
Rather than “The Dog Whisperer,” though, he prefers to be known simply as “The Dog Guy.”
Parrett exerts calm, assertive energy when handling a dog, but like Dr. Phil, he pulls no punches attempting to remedy dysfunctional family dynamics that may contribute to a dog’s behavioral issues.
The training has more do with humans than canines, he says.
A former professional musician, Parrett’s newest gig is a television mini-series titled “For the Love of Dog.” Produced in partnership with KTVL Channel 10 and Rosebud Media, the show first aired Oct. 29. The three-part episodes are broadcast in 2-minute segments during the local news Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Each week, the condensed training sessions focus on one topic related to behaviors or challenges puzzling dog owners.
Although he has acquired nearly 20 years of knowledge and skills in handling (and loving) dogs, Parrett likes to say, “The dogs are my teacher; class is always in session.”
One such “teacher” is Hope.
A mocha-hued ball of fur with a beautiful white, fluffy chest, Hope is a pit bull that Parrett rescued from a shelter in Oakland, California.
About 8 years old, she spent the first seven years of her life in an 8-by-8-foot box without human or other dog contact, he says.
“She’s my project dog,” says Parrett.
“A potential aggressor,” she was not going make it in the shelter, he says.
Pit bulls are “a dime a dozen,” he says. And in Oakland especially, she was “on the hit list.”
After he brought her to Oregon a year ago, she spent time at a transitional boarding facility in Phoenix until she was ready to be re-homed.
But Parrett fell in love with her, and the bond built on trust, “rather than fear and aggression,” allowed him to bring her home to his family, which includes two other dogs.
Hope has “become the most loving, affectionate dog I’ve ever had. But I had to earn her respect,” he says.
At first he had to realize that she was “basically a feral animal,” he says. Over time, he learned she was “like a child experiencing the world for the first time. Every experience, every encounter was new.”
A serendipitous Saturday outing in a dog park almost 20 years ago was a turning point for Parrett, who didn’t set out to be a dog trainer.
After high school, the Southern California native devoted several years to working with at-risk youth in after-school programs, going undercover to locate runaways, counseling adolescents in group homes or residential treatment programs, and serving as mediator between parents and teens with substance abuse, addiction or mental health issues.
Often the crux of the situation was the parents’ lack of “being present,” he says.
The teens were given everything — except proper discipline and affection.
One young man Parrett bonded with was autistic. On weekends, it was his job to take the teenager on outings. The boy’s parents had respite, and the youth became more comfortable with public places and social interaction.
One such outing was to a dog park in Brentwood, California, where Parrett met a dog walker. The two became buddies. Through this acquaintance, he was introduced to what he calls “the psychology of dog behavior.” When his friend left to go to work with Cesar Millan, Parrett took over the man’s dog-walking business. (Story has been corrected to reflect Parrett did not meet Millan.)
As Parrett learned more about dogs and began to understand common pitfalls for dog owners, such as showering heaps of affection with very little exercise and even less discipline, he discovered his calling. Since then, he has become a highly sought-after dog trainer. He has clients in Southern California, Southern Oregon and in other states across the country.
Lori Lautt says she had “an ah ha moment” when she realized her dog’s transformation from “dog park dream doll” to dog park terror was not all about Shasta, her 2-1/2-year-old part wolf, part collie, “but all about me.”
Shasta’s fear-based aggression, Parrett told her, boiled down to her lack of coming to grips with her own post-traumatic stress after Shasta was attacked by a German shepherd at a Grants Pass area dog park.
“(Shasta) felt every fear I felt,” she says.
Lautt says that in two sessions and a couple of follow-up excursions to the dog park, Parrett gave her the tools and the confidence that at even 105 pounds, she could control her 80-pound dog.
It was about gaining back “power that had given away” to fear, she says.
In time, Lautt felt more at ease and was able to let Shasta have nose-to-nose meet-and-greets with other dogs.
Following tips from Parrett, she’s become watchful that frolicking among the dogs at the dog park doesn’t become unsafe. She’s also vigilant about other dog owners’ behaviors, too.
If she senses dog owners have no control over their dogs, she and Shasta don’t stay.
Besides training owners to take the lead when handling their dogs, he counsels them in assuming responsibility for proper discipline and affection, much as he did with parents of troubled teens, he says.
Mary Rhodes has hired Parrett two different times. First, he helped her with an unruly Dalmatian that she feared would become an escape artist, and later a pit bull mix that “had had a lot of turmoil in its little life,” she says.
With the Dalmatian, she learned that as with a child, “love can be expressed with discipline and structure.”
“JP had to remind me that structure is love,” says Rhodes.
While the Dalmatian had been “over-loved,” she says the little pit bull had never been loved.
After learning more about the dog’s history of countless rejections and returns to the animal shelter, Parrett guided her and her husband as they helped the dog trust again. They were able to welcome the dog into their pack of four other dogs.
Parrett is also on a mission to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home dogs that have been abused, neglected or traumatized.
“And that’s where both worlds I have worked in collide,” he says.
After moving to Grants Pass nine years ago, Parrett had to start all over building clientele among those seeking a dog trainer. So he spent the next five years at Kairos, a treatment program for teens who have been abused, neglected or traumatized, and who experience triggers that ignite violent and aggressive behaviors.
Working with those youth, age 17 to 24, took a toll. Many of them age out without skills, ill-equipped to tackle life, he says.
“You work to keep them out of state hospitals or the jails,” he says.
He found that just like with the dogs, “I had to gain their respect and trust.”
There are parallels, he says.
“You learn to keep the noise volume low, slow down, exercise patience, and not let the excitement of the moment dictate your movements,” he says.
Seeing the fruits of his labor with the youth was slow in coming, but Parrett has maintained contact with some of the boys, now young men, and is reassured they are living productive, healthy lives.
But he prefers his work with dogs.
“There is immediate reward,” he says. “And great joy in the success there’s a huge difference.”
As far as being on television with “For the Love of Dogs,” Parrett says, “It isn’t about me working with dogs. It’s about helping people work with dogs.”
Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at firstname.lastname@example.org.