At Redemption Road, canines learn to be friendly creatures for therapy and K9 training

Goats, horses, wild African guinea fowl and more animals populate this ranch, but Attilius the Anatolian German Shepherd never bats an eyelash.

When he comes out to play at Redemption Road, a K9 cynology center, Attilius — six feet long even as an eight-month-old puppy — only has eyes for trainer John Anthony.

  • Lazarus of Bethany (3 year old Shiloh Shepherd Service Dog): Allergens/PTSD
  • Crixus of Gaul (2 year old Doberman/Belgian Malinois Mix): Detection/Apprehension
  • Attilius of Anatolia (8 month old Anatolian Shepherd): Livestock Guardian
  • Jane D. (1 year old Belgian Malinois): Rehab Livestock Guardian

Anthony usually will have a whistle, and he uses it to command Attilius with 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 on Friday, as Attilius’ peers came out to demonstrate their prowess 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 innate sense of aggression, especially when they are as big as Attilius.

Another unique breed is Lazarus. She is on her way to becoming a therapy dog for post-traumatic stress disorder, an unconventional fit for a Shiloh Shepherd long thought to be ‘too aggressive,’ a concept Anthony disagrees with.

He 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, Anthony was a first responder, 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 had been disheartened by seeing crowd control at 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 sheep herder.

Most breeds in K9 training groups hail from such lineages, and thus can be aggressive and defiant to human masters, unless you know a thing or two about 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 two year old was named for the ancient Roman gladiator but now only bites on command.

“We want to find something to implement among law enforcement and have animals be the bridge to connecting humans with the compassion of dogs,” Anthony said.

Anthony hadn’t always grown up around dogs, and was in fact attacked by two German Shepherds at age 13. Thus 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 eight weeks to age 2 by their owners. Based on what kind of environments they’re in, Anthony and his team will socialize them with birds (if they’re in an urban area with distracting pigeons), loud sirens (played so the animals can work and not have the noises bother them) or even whips that imitate gunshot noises.

Brian Tezeno, RRK9’s cynologists, trainers, and youth mentors who trained dogs at the 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.

For now, he has his training grounds for his dogs to practice learnt, cultivated aggression but respect the bond between trainer and animal still.

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 to 4 p.m.

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About the author

Crystal Duan

Crystal Duan

Crystal Duan is the Signal's political reporter, covering City Council, the county and other happenings around the city. She graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school and has worked at the Indianapolis Star and Minneapolis Star Tribune. She has been with the Signal since March 2018.