Goats, horses, wild African guinea fowl and more animals intermittently populate this ranch, but Attilius the Anatolian Shepherd never bats an eyelash.
When he comes out to play at Redemption Road, a canine cynology center, Attilius — 6 feet long even as an 8-month-old puppy — only has eyes for trainer John Anthony.
So do his friends: Lazarus of Bethany, a 3-year-old Shiloh Shepherd service dog; Crixus of Gaul, a 2-year-old Doberman/Belgian Malinois mix, trained in detection and apprehension; Attilius of Anatolia, an 8-month-old Anatolian Shepherd, a livestock guardian; and the same for Jane D., a 1-year-old Belgian Malinois.
Anthony usually has a whistle he uses to help issue Attilius commands in three degrees of languages. English is used for everyday commands, but if Anthony ever switches to Hebrew or Farsi, Attilius knows he means business.
“For a long time, these breeds were thought to be untrainable,” Anthony said, as Attilius’ peers came out to demonstrate their training, as well. “But here at Redemption Road, we’re here to change that.”
This facility located in the heart of the wild landscape of Agua Dulce isn’t your run-of-the-mill “K9 training facility.” Sure, it specializes in helping young pups about to take their first steps into the police programs desensitize themselves to outer stimulation.
But it also socializes dogs to control their sense of aggression, especially when they are as big as Attilius.
Another unique breed is Lazarus. She has completed her training track for post-traumatic stress disorder and allergen service work. In an era where people are moving away from pointy-eared dogs because of the “intimidation” factor, Lazarus is proving her worth as a medical service work animal.
Anthony started the ranch after he witnessed police brutality in crowd control during the Ferguson 2014 riots after the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown.
At the time, he was there to mobilize social change through voter registration and community resources, and thought the way dogs were being used in the riot control was depressing.
“Dogs can come here to learn to search and rescue, sniff out drugs, have multi-purposes, but in general, we really try to use dog cognition science to teach them not to attack humans or view them as a threat,” Anthony explained. He was disheartened by the crowd-control techniques in Ferguson, and then decided to go into the field of strengthening the bond between officer and dog to make it a more controlled, safe interaction.
When Anthony tells Attilius to sit, Attilius knows how to listen — at first. But he takes every opportunity to sass Anthony, because 6,000 years of genetic breeding has trained Attilius to be a shepherd.
Most breeds in K9 training groups hail from such lineages, and thus can be aggressive and defiant to human masters, unless you know how to speak their language.
Crixus, a Doberman Pinchus Belgian Malinois mix, is another example. With a slick, narrow brown head and long limbs, this 2-year-old was named for the ancient Roman gladiator, but only bites on command.
“We want to balance where working dogs can harmoniously coexist with law enforcement officers and the communities where they work,” Anthony said.
- Anthony hadn’t always grown up around dogs, and was in fact attacked by two German Shepherds at age 13. Anthony didn’t trust dogs for years, but now these canines are some of his closest friends.
Many are brought as dogs as young as 8 weeks to age 2 by their owners. Based on what kind of environment they’re in, Anthony and his team will socialize them with birds (if they’re in an urban area with distracting pigeons) or loud sirens (played so the animals can work and not have the noises bother them).
Brian Tezeno, one of Redemption’s cynologists, trainers and youth mentors who trained dogs at Ohio State University, said this program is essential to being a bridge between worlds for a lot of enforcement officers and the public.
“John is one of a kind in this industry,” he said.
The team was once based out of Seattle and moved to Agua Dulce in September, as it was a more dog-friendly environment than the city had been.
Anthony, already a certified elite canine athlete specialist, is in the middle of getting his certification to teach a police handling course now.
He is also upgrading the barn on the ranch to military grade kennels for many, many more dogs to populate Redemption Road in later years.
Redemption Road K9 plans to partner with SRD~Straightening Reins, the equine-assisted therapy, to host an Open Barn event next month on March 9.
The event will feature a celebrity guest appearance USA track and field medalist Norris Frederick and is open to the public for $10 from 1-4 p.m.
For more information on Redemption Road K9 and John Anthony, you can find them online or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org