Updated: Jul 5, 2020
If you drive by Norman O. Houston Park on a weekend morning and see a group of dogs standing at attention next to their humans, you might think it's our version of the Westminster Dog Show.
Those of us with rescues, know first-hand what's it's like to have a wonderful dog that sometimes has moments that can elevate to an embarrassing reaction (or worse). This is OJ's specialty, fearful and reactive dogs that have trouble on a leash or around other dogs.
One day, on a walk to Kenneth Hahn Park, we saw about ten incredibly well-behaved dogs and their humans standing in a line like statues while our dog was lunging and barking his head off at them. Once we got far enough away with our dog, I went over to inquire about what we were seeing.
I first met Jeff and Jackie who were attending with their rehabilitated Mastiff, Roger. He recognized the look of exhaustion in my face and said, "you need to sign up, it will change your life". Those were bold words, but he continued, "our dog was a mess just a few months ago and OJ changed everything for us".
I looked over to see Jackie and Roger weaving in and out of other dogs, sitting, standing, coming, staying, all with the slightest of verbal commands. About that time, I noticed a lady with a very well-behaved Shepherd that was training her dog for a competition in France, so they were learning French commands together. I wasn't quite sure we were ready for this, but we gave it a shot.
After a quick Yelp search and a look at his website, I read testimonial after dramatic testimonial that sounded just like our situation. We decided to spring for the 7-class package to give it a shot and see what he could do. We were warmly welcomed by OJ and invited to attend the next class that was beginning shortly. In just about an hour, we made more progress with our reactive dog than we had in years with countless other trainers.
OJ Knighten started reforming troubled dogs in our neighborhood at La Brea and Stocker 31-years-ago and has only missed a few weekends since (many of them were recently due to the pandemic). In addition to weekly classes each Saturday and Sunday morning, he also trains dogs for television and film at his ranch in Agua Dulce.
OJ's methodology of establishing yourself as the pack leader is much like what you may have seen Cesar Milan do on TV. After six weeks of classes, we've seen a massive improvement in our dog in both following commands and also enjoying his quality of life.
Here is an old, but fantastic clip of Cesar introducing OJ and talking about his group training method:
A few things to know beforehand:
You must use approved equipment with your dog. If you don't show up with the right equipment, OJ will loan it to you, then you can either purchase from him or buy elsewhere before your second class. You must have a 6' leather leash, a stainless steel training collar, a prong training collar, and most importantly, delicious, high-value treats.
Your first class might be a little emotional. Many dogs who have been making their own rules aren't sure what to make of this new, strict approach to training. However, you will visibly see when the dots connect for your dog and she can begin to relax and live her best life.
Parking is hard–especially over the next few weekends when La Cienega will be closed.
Don't be late. This class is fun and educational, but also taken very seriously. In some cases, this could be a dog's last chance, so there is little tolerance for humans who aren't prepared to give it 100%.
If you have a dog you'd like to form a closer connection with, consider watching a course from the sidelines first any Saturday or Sunday morning at 9a at Houston Park. If you decide to purchase classes, you can do so via Paypal on his website. The Advanced classes are 9a, and the Beginner classes are at 10a on both Saturdays and Sundays. OJ decides when your dog is ready for Advanced.