If you’ve ever seen a pony-sized black dog sitting calmly alone on a restaurant patio in Louisville, no tie-up in sight, you probably saw Rosie. She’s holding a table for her person, Tyler Ohlmann, and she’s not moving till he gets back and tells her to.
Rosie is a Great Dane who is a walking, 127-pound billboard for Ohlmann’s business, Rosie Dane Dog Training. And she’s one highly effective advertisement. “There was no dog alive more belligerent or manipulative or aggressive, and so tough,” Ohlmann says of the dog he brought home. “She was baptism by fire. She had every problem in the book.”
On Death Row, #A120087
If you’d seen her as a one year old you’d never believe it was the same animal. Waiting at Louisville Metro Animal Services in early 2011 to be put down after she’d killed a dog, the hundred-pound Dane “was quiet, in the back of her cell – they’d cleared the ones on either side,” Ohlmann says of the day he met her. “All I saw was her size and her eyes peeking out. I said ‘I’ll take her.’”
“If she had a theme song it would be Tom Petty’s ‘You Got Lucky,’” Ohlmann likes to say. “She found somebody more stubborn than she was.” With three homes in her short life before he rescued her, Rosie came with a bite record and multiple complaints – including killing a neighbor’s dog. “She needed rehabbing so badly that she would have died if she wasn’t.”
But Ohlmann had a mentor and friends in the training world, and he believed this dog could be saved. Though he’d never owned a dog before, let alone trained one himself, he had a vision for what she could be, and transformed the dangerous animal into an impeccably well-behaved companion and service animal who inspires dog owners all over Louisville to make their dogs “Rosie Dane dogs.”
Going in, “I knew it would be a challenge,” he says, “but I wasn’t deterred.” He’s since noticed a phenomenon in his training that might explain that confidence; “We are drawn to dogs that we naturally fit with,” Ohlmann says. “Dogs that are stubborn end up with stubborn owners.”
Rosie Goes to Work
He lost 20 pounds in the first six month of training her, but Ohlmann out-stubborned his dog – and found a saving grace. After a crash in 2013 that flipped his car, and his life, upside down, doctors said he wouldn’t use his left arm again. With the arm sewn to his side and hand sewn to his hip, Ohlmann was walking with Rosie in a rural area by his family’s home one day when he dropped his cane. “Holy crap,” he thought. He wouldn’t be able to make it home. But, “I pointed and said ‘Rosie, get my cane.’ She picked it up.” The Dane eventually became not only a beloved pet, but his certified service animal. To the physicians’ surprise, Ohlmann’s arm healed – but Rosie’s work wasn’t over.
The Dane had developed a reputation as a good dog while visiting Ohlmann at the UofL hospital where he spent two months, and staff knew how hard he’d worked to train her. As part of his recovery, “they told me I needed to do something physical and I said ‘like what, chop wood?’” he recounts. “They said ‘what about working with dogs?’”
Ohlmann had recently fallen out with his friends in the training community. “As the breakup with that group happened I thought I could do it better than they did,” he says. “I helped a couple friends with dog things, just casually would give advice, it worked, they were appreciative.”
Fifty dogs later as he sat outside one day in 2014 having ice cream with his girlfriend and their dogs, “someone came up and asked me how I got my dogs so well trained,” he recalls. “I said ‘I’m a dog trainer’ and gave them my number. It snowballed.”
Ohlmann thought it would be fun to train ten dogs a year, and kept his day job in finance. In early 2015 – four years after he brought his death row dog home – the staff at his vet, Middletown Animal Clinic, took notice of the well-behaved dogs under his care and asked for his card to give out. “People always say that,” he says, but they really did. Six months later he was a full-time dog trainer, with Rosie at his side. It’s not a job for the faint of heart; they’ve both been attacked. “I get bit for a living,” he jokes.
Making Good Dogs
Working with 20 to 30, sometimes 40 dogs a month, and with nearly 500 under their belt total, Ohlmann and Rosie are now a fixture at local parks. With an approach that focuses on training in the real world, he holds classes and private lessons all over Louisville. The dogs and their families might be working at Cherokee Park one week and Brown Park the next – places purposely near distractions. He and his students may also be seen at pet stores or even Home Depot. And graduates join him for events like Light Up Louisville, where a pack of Rosie Dane dogs can be found heeling perfectly alongside their owners – itself an effective advertisement—and his only method. Nearly all of his business comes from word of mouth.
The appeal to many of his clients lies in Ohlmann’s philosophy. Rather than bribing dogs to perform tricks using treats, he shows owners how to teach their dogs to turn to them as a leader. Clients often come to him after failing with other methods. Sondra Powell, co-owner of Red Hot Roasters coffee shop, and her partner brought their Buddy to Tyler this fall after failing to get help at another class. The sweet stray they’d found on the street in Jeffersonville wasn’t a bad dog, she says, but he had a barking problem. “When he barked in that first class,” she says, “they put him in a corner and threw treats at him. We were basically kicked out.”
Following their first class with Ohlmann, on the other hand, “he pretty much has not barked at people or dogs since,” Powell says. Her boyfriend has always wanted a well-behaved dog he could take anywhere, she says. “And after classes with Tyler, we have that. Buddy is a more confident dog. He’s a better dog. Buddy’s looking at us to be the leader, not reward him by throwing treats at him. Tyler’s methods are based in science and psychology.”
Other successes are more dramatic. An eight-year-old pit bull who’d been used as a bait dog in dog fighting had been to several trainers before coming to Ohlmann. “None could help him,” he says.
It took going through the curriculum twice, but the dog ultimately passed the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test and is pursuing therapy work. More than 40 Rosie Dane clients have passed the AKC test, which requires dogs to demonstrate obedience, good manners, and control when meeting strangers and dogs. Another favorite in Ohlmann’s books is the dog that attacked Rosie; that pup now lives in a dog-friendly complex where he’s made friends.
Any dog can become a good dog, Ohlmann believes. It’s bad habits in the owners he often has to overcome. “People are more resistant to change than dogs,” he says. “Training is a lifestyle – if I can show people they need to adopt that lifestyle then I have really done a good job.”
As his roster of grads grows, the next dog you see holding a table at a restaurant may not be Rosie – just a Rosie Dane dog.