I have been living and working in Italy since 2004 when I left New York City with my wife and kids to live on a farm in Umbria. I have trained thousands of people and dogs over the last thirty years, and now I do this work between Rome and the Holiday Farm I created with Marta. Il Cucciolo is a special place, a small village where our guests can bring their dogs and either work with them, or simply enjoy visiting a wonderful natural setting. Having their dogs along guarantees excellent company, and I have noticed that dog lovers are the most considerate and friendly guests we get during the year.
Many of my clients throughout the first 20 years of my career in America were from the fashion world, models, stylists, designers and most of all photographers. My connection to the world of fashion began with the support I received from Bruce Weber and Nan Bush, at first clients and then friends, who have had an important impact on my life and career. In 2001 I published “Philosophy Dog: The Art of Living With Man’s Best Friend”, a book with Universe Publishing (Rizzoli) featuring images from many of the most important photographers in the world, and of course Bruce was the first to lend his support and pictures. Bruce and Nan’s dogs became my constant companions during my early years of learning about dog behaviour. Other amazingly talented artists like Steven Misel and Steven Klein were also clients whose wonderful dogs I got to know and care for.
In New York I also became a trainer of dog trainers for “The Animal Behaviour College” who sent their students to me to earn hands on experience working at the three locations where I held weekly group classes. For the most part I concerned myself with managing the interesting cases of aggression and other difficult behavioural problems like anxiety, fear, and lack of human leadership. Manhattan is dense with dogs, but they learn to live together due to good human leadership and lots of rules, as well as early socialisation, sterilisation and habituation to the environment.
When I came to live in Italy I discovered a different culture of dog ownership compared to the one I knew so well in New York City, where dogs are relatives living and sleeping in our apartments as part of the inner circle of family. The “Italian experience” enriched me so, and expanded my understanding and my connection to dogs, especially when I entered into the world of Truffle Dog Training. In 2005 I taught our family dog Trilli to fetch littered plastic water bottles from the forest along the roads near our farm. Every morning I walked her and filled up a large plastic garbage bag. In six months the forest was sparkling clean, and to keep Trilli involved with something to do (a job) I used what I have come to call my “American Method” of dog training to teach her to find truffles and bring them to my hand like she had with the thousands of plastic water bottles. Our walks became, oh, let’s say, very pleasurable and tasty for my family and for the guests of Il Cucciolo.
With Trilli I applied the many rules of learning I had been using for years in this brand new undertaking, forming teams of two, a man and his dog moving into a natural space for a purpose, hunting treasure together, but more like equals than I had ever considered possible. And if the truth be known and said, much of the time dog and man are not equals, but the dog is superior in the forest and we humans must acknowledge this without surrendering our power and authority, but instead go deeper into the idea of team mate, family really. Only the dog can find the truffles buried underground, and I must trust the dog until she gives me a damn good reason not to. And even then, my mistrust is usually an error. Real team work is the ever increasing ability to communicate for a shared purpose.
The efficiency of my “American Method” of truffle dog training is much greater than what the other local trainers are capable of. My method requires a week to ten days while their methods need two to three months. So I made an interesting and unique impression on the local truffle hunter community with my speed and results. Another facet of what endears me to the local truffle hunter is that I am not really in competition with him as are so many other dog trainers in the area, men whose interests can seem to be in conflict with providing a good training service.
Helping the local men to discover new ways of interacting with their dogs has been such an insightful experience for me. I have made friendships, that I hadn’t dreamed were possible just a few years ago. I have discovered a place for myself in this rural community that previously had been little more than a place to tolerate, the long conversations about the weather, which slowly by slowly allowed me to drift without seeing into a state of isolation, to a depth I have never experienced before. My philosophy about dogs and how to train and live with them is a philosophy about life, leadership and love. Join me and my happy pack of dogs, friends and guests here at Agriturismo Il Cucciolo, return to something ancient and beautiful, as only nature can be. Or Follow me on my blog.