Interview with Beverly Ulbrich
Silicon Valley’s own Beverly Ulbrich traded in her corporate marketing job to become a master dog trainer, specializing in film.
What do you do?
The majority of what I do is dog training, private, personalized dog training, usually dogs, with behavior problems, fears, or aggressions. Aggression being number one, resource guarding, dog on dog aggression, or people aggression. I work one on one with people and help rehab their dogs, better communicate with them, and get their anxiety out so they can relax and be happy pets. That’s my main business. Then I do puppies and some fun training and trick training. The other chunks of my time go to handling dogs for movies and TV stuff. My dog herself has been in about a dozen commercials in two years. I just put a reel out for her, that’s really cute.
She’s been in a few movies, the most recent one was The Last Black Man in San Francisco. She was in that movie as was another dog of mine that I work with. That’s another fun part that can take up a good portion of my time. Sometimes I give talks and sometimes I am busy being an expert, having to be interviewed for my dog expertise for court cases, I am asked questions like “Why did this dog attack a kid?.” I go to court to testify and be an expert witness for dog bite issues.
Sadly the problem and it usually happens with dog people, is that they love dogs, but they don’t like people. That’s where things go wrong. It’s fine to be a dog walker and hate all people. You just grab the dogs, and you walk them, you get your payment. You’re out of there. But in my case, I’m training the people. So I have to be good with people. I have to be good at coaching people, training people.
How did you get into this line of work?
It’s weird. I started loving dogs as a child, and I was always attracted to them, I was the youngest in my entire generation. So there was never anybody to play with. So wherever I went, I found the neighbor’s dog or any dog. And I not only played with them, but I trained them. I don’t know how I did it, but I knew to tell them to sit and stay and walk on a leash and all that stuff. I just naturally trained them, but it didn’t even occur to me then I could make money doing that. I don’t even think dog trainers existed. So I went off and made money by getting a math and computer science degree, working, writing code, and working in high tech. I worked my way up and got an MBA at night at Santa Clara while working at Sun Microsystems, and I became an Executive Vice President of Marketing.
Why didn’t you stay there?
I wasn’t having fun. So, I started my own consulting company and did the same kind of work. I’d say, Oh, I’ll just fix this marketing department and hire and fire. If you want to sell your company, I’ll get it sold for you. I did those kinds of things and did negotiations. Then even that was falling through because of the.com bust. I was still like, “Is this really what I want?” I was reading some books on dog training. And I finally realized, I know more than these people. I know all this stuff, I know more, I just need to do this. And that was it. I literally was reading a book on the beach in Florida going, this is ridiculous. Why am I not doing this?
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What was the next step?
I was thinking, and I know this stuff. I’ve been studying my whole life. So then I jumped into it and took more courses and I did a lot more college credits and studies and worked hands-on in apprenticeships. I volunteered with lots and lots of dog rescues, one after another, and went to their adoption events to help. I just had lots of extra hands-on training that I helped out people by working for free. I got a lot of experience that way. That’s how I got ramped up quickly, within six months.
I’ve noticed lots of people getting dogs during Covid, what are your thoughts?
It’s something I’ve been writing about and very concerned about people getting a new dog right now, think of their world. They go out for a walk, and they see other people with masks on hopefully and avoid them. So instead of a Hi puppy, I’m coming right at you! They’re saying, Oh, walk around you. So that’s what their world is. That’s what they know. So fast forward, whenever we’re allowed to be normal again and a person comes up and goes, “Hi puppy, I’m going to pet you!” That puppy is going to go, Nobody touches me! I don’t know what you’re trying to do. They’re going to be completely flipped out that somebody tried to come at them. So if you don’t purposely use this time to socialize your dog fully, you’re going to run into those problems.
Anything else people should watch out for?
The other thing that is going to happen is separation anxiety. You’re home 24/7, and you’re not going out to dinner or the movies. You’re not having guests over. Suddenly, you have a guest over, and your dog is like Who is invading our home? Nobody else should be here. They are going to be like, why are you leaving home? You’re always with me. Don’t leave me alone. They’ll freak out. All those things have to be worked on extra hard right now to make sure that when things go back to normal, we’ll still have dogs that can adapt and aren’t going to get completely messed up mentally because of it.
What are your methods?
The number one way I do it is that people come to my house for training and I set up a room. I tell them it’s like therapy. It’s nice to go to an undistracted new environment where it’s neutral. None of the dog’s toys or bones are there. There’s nothing, the dog that barks down the street won’t be heard, it’s a nice, quiet place to work. I explained to them that I get to see the dog’s personality in a new environment.
What attributes do you need to do this job?
Sadly the problem and it usually happens with dog people, is that they love dogs, but they don’t like people. That’s where things go wrong. It’s fine to be a dog walker and hate all people. You just grab the dogs, and you walk them, you get your payment. You’re out of there. But in my case, I’m training the people. So I have to be good with people. I have to be good at coaching people, training people. I coach people’s relationships a lot of times because one person thinks it has to be done this way. The other thinks it has to be done that way. They say, Come on, Beverly. You tell us, you know, so I’m put in the middle of people a lot. The dog is confused because two different people are teaching it two different things. That’s why it’s confused. It’s not the dog’s fault. And if you guys will straighten it out and figure out what you want and tell your dog, they will do it.
How did you get into the film work?
I just got in on the ground floor and worked my butt off. Craigslist would have postings for people or dogs needed for film. I would do those kinds of things. I literally just responded to casting calls and stuff with my dogs. After a while, those people got to know me and worked with me, and they said how good my dog was and how good I was to work with on a set. So over time, it’s at the point now that most people, if they come here to film, will call me and say, Hey, you know, I asked four different people in San Francisco where I should get dog talent. And they all said The Pooch Coach. I’m just the go-to person for that stuff because I’ve done it so much. It’s a smaller industry here, so we know each other. A lot of people just know me as a person who can get the dog and get them to do what they need.
Who inspires you?
The only person who always comes to mind that I have met briefly, but I really, really like, and I like all the more now is Chelsea Handler. I knew her as a stand up comic and I followed her whole career. She went from just being an insult comic to now being a full-blown activist. She went to therapy and explored herself, and now she’s become a different person. And I admire her even more. She wrote a whole book about what we need to do to start a revolution.
What can we learn from dogs?
I think what I like about dogs is they don’t make assumptions about anything. Everything is pure, raw energy, and they accept things as they are. They live in the now while people tend to hold onto grudges and make assumptions. So if you say or do something to me, I assume it had to do with me directly and you’re insulting me. I’m going to get offended as opposed to a dog. Whatever you say or do to them, they’re going to be like, Oh, well, that happened. They don’t get personally offended. They don’t hold it against you. They don’t hold a grudge. They haven’t decided to hate all people that look like you because of it. You know, they’re much more flexible and tolerant and, just happy. In general, that is the biggest lesson, I’d say everybody should learn from pets.
What is your end goal?
If I’ve done my job correctly, I should have worked myself out of a job. Occasionally, a new behavior will pop up, and a client will have to reach out again, or they get a new dog, especially maybe the other dog was older, and they haven’t had a puppy. So they want my help with their puppy. Sometimes I get extra work, but typically I don’t. If I really train someone, if I teach them how to manage a dog, they shouldn’t need me again.
What role do dogs fill in your life?
I think a lot of people already know that. If you live alone as I do. My dog is my partner through this period. I thought about it a lot and I wouldn’t want any other partner. I already knew I loved her, but she’s the perfect partner — when I want to eat, she wants to eat. When I want to walk, she wants to walk. When I want to sleep, she wants to sleep. We don’t have to get in arguments over that stuff. And even if she doesn’t want to sleep, she goes off and does her own thing. We’re very copacetic, and we feed off each other’s energies very well. It makes me very happy even just petting her, you know, you get a nice little hormone boost in your system and dopamine boost. It’s been really great having her around. Many people have been saying to me that their dog has been keeping them sane throughout all this.