By Darlene Donloe
John Anthony Shahor’s life has gone to the dogs, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Shahor, 36, is the co-owner of Redemption Road K9, described as a “working dog company.”
The Seattle native recently moved his operation from downtown Los Angeles to Agua Dulce, right outside Santa Clarita.
Redemption Road K9 spans 10 acres, which includes a 38,000-square-foot training field complete with an agility course, sandpit, confidence cage, agitation tables, along with shaded tie-outs to help keep dogs cool.
The company has classes for pet owners and dog trainers. It also has several youth programs including Jobs for Juveniles, RRK9 Kid Handlers Program, and even a Reiki Healing program.
Workshops include diet and nutrition for the canine athlete, pack leadership, elite canine athlete conditioning, and dog CPR, first aid, and safety for pet pros and owners.
For six years, Shahor has run the top-rated company specializing in breeding and training working bloodline canines for medical service work, police K9, search and rescue, agility, personal protection, obedience and competition.
Utilizing cutting-edge science along with decades of training experience, Redemption Road K9 training programs work endlessly to offer both people and dogs another chance at a happy and fulfilling life. The company assists in breeding and training well-balanced and sociable dogs that are vigilant in their jobs.
“When we say well-balanced, that means we want a confident social dog that understands the work and can do the work without taking it personally,” Shahor said. “When you see police dogs, they understand their job is to bite someone — but only when they are instructed. You also want them to be able to disengage on demand and wait for the next set of directions.”
Last January, Shahor made history when he spoke at the ClickerExpo, an international training expo for animal training enthusiasts and professionals interested in improving their skills, keeping up with the latest techniques and learning from world experts in positive reinforcement.
“I was asked by Ken Ramirez (executive vice president and chief training officer of Karen Pryor Clicker Training) if I was interested in speaking at the expo,” Shahor said. “He said it would be the first time for a Black speaker. The first Black to speak on protection dogs.”
During the expo, Shahor shared his thoughts on the methodology of positive reinforcement.
“Some participants thought positive reinforcement wouldn’t work with SWAT or police dogs,” said Shahor, who also does research on wolves. “More than 2,500 tuned in to see my live demonstration. It was a great opportunity. We have the opportunity to pioneer as Black men to show we are experts in the field.”
During the expo, Shahor, a self-proclaimed dog scientist, demonstrated how he could train protection dogs and do it ethically. His 2 1/2 hour presentation included training seven different dogs in real-time, a puppy drive circle, working on a tether, and a face attack where the handler gives a bite command.
Shahor, who works with about 2,000 animals annually, said he has never met an untrainable dog.
“Never,” he said. “A domestic dog, I haven’t met one that is untrainable.”
While all dogs are trainable, Shahor said some are suited for certain activities.
“Before they were pets, all dogs were working dogs,” Shahor said. “We try to take their natural ability, enhance it and give them a job that suits them.”
Redemption Road K9, a Black-family-owned and operated canine research institution and training academy, teaches leash etiquette early and doesn’t use any extended leashes.
“There is no need for my dog to be 30 feet away from me,” Shahor said. “They don’t need to be more than six feet away. We positively reinforce the dog being with us. Distance from me is discomfort. Proximity to me is when good things happen.”
Shahor’s training is all-inclusive, even in how someone feeds their dog.
“The dog holds all the value,” he said. “When you get a new puppy, you feed your dog out of your hand for the first month or two months. That way they understand that all good things come through you.
“That bond is established. Happy hormones are released when the dog eats. Now the hormones are associated with you because you’re holding the food.”
The Redemption Road K9 team of experts works with top breeders and scientists throughout the world to carefully select its canines from strong bloodlines and of stable temperament. The company’s conditioning and training program includes continuous assessments and performance reviews to ensure their canines are healthy, strong and ready for their new life.
There was a time when Shahor wouldn’t have been caught within a million miles of a dog.
Ironically, for 20 years, he was terrified of dogs, and for good reason. When he was 12, he was attacked by two German shepherds. He was bitten in the face and spent time in the hospital and missed two months of school.
“They tore me up pretty good,” Shahor said. “That turned me off on dogs. A doctor thought a medical service dog would benefit me greatly. I was dealing with something anxiety-related. My biggest fear was getting bitten again. I also didn’t want to clean up poop. I also had a severe shrimp allergy.
“The therapist said the dog would help with both my allergy and the anxiety. It took her two years to convince me. I started off by volunteering at three different shelters seven days a week.”
Today, Shahor, who studied economics at Morehouse and Dartmouth, is one of the foremost authorities on dogs. He’s a canine performance scientist and training director and has advanced certifications in dog emotion & cognition (Duke University), and animal welfare & behavior (University of Edinburgh), and 40 certifications related to animals.
Shahor’s methodology is based on marker training and has resulted in a full relationship-based course that takes dogs from puppyhood to maturity. He studies dog behavior, cognition and emotion employing a combination of progressive tactical assessments, interactive games and critical analysis to obtain a profound perspective on canine capabilities, the canine viewpoint and dogs’ natural inclinations for certain work.
Prior to opening his own dog company, Sharhor said he had gone to every trainer in L.A. County and all the training clubs, but couldn’t find a welcoming friendly place for dogs where they were able to make mistakes.
“I sat down with my family and said, I can’t find it, so I’m going to create it,” Shahor said. “It started as a family business. We have seven people who work for us. We consider our clients as family. We have the highest rating of any dog business in L.A. County.”
A former songwriter who worked for a publishing company, Shahor walked away from music after the therapist recommended he work with a service dog.
“It turns out I fell in love with it and stepped away from music,” he said. “I do miss the music, but dogs are more fulfilling.”
Before anyone jumps into dog ownership, Shahor suggests doing some research.
“You have to understand how dogs think,” he said. “When you do, training becomes easy. Canine learning theory will help inform how your dog works, how he views food, threats, toys. It’s important to understand all that.”
To those who like dressing up their dogs, Shahor warns that it might not be a good idea.
“They are not fur babies or little humans,” he said. “Don’t treat your dog like a baby. Dogs are dogs. Don’t treat them like humans. Dogs don’t like sweaters.”
After a career in music and banking, Shahor believes he has found his life’s work.
“I love dogs,” he said. “Their undying loyalty, the passion for what is valuable. Wherever you are in the world, people love their dogs. Dogs bring people together.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.