Irish Knows His Dogs

Man challenges Calaveras on animal adoptions

By Francis P. Garland

Lode Bureau Chies

SAN ANDREAS–Dan Irish finds Dixie to be an intelligent, well-mannered dog that, in the proper hands, would be a “total delight.”

That’s not how Calaveras County Animal Control officials view the 2-year-old female Dalmatian mix. They say her former owners gave her up because she was becoming increasingly aggressive–and after their own assessment they believed she should be put down rather than be made available for adoption.

It’s an issue that hasen’t surfaced before but it’s one the Board of Supervisors will wrestle with at a 1:30 p.m. study session Monday at the Government Center, 891 Mountain Ranch Road.

Jearl Howard, the county’s agricultural commissioner, said that over the years, people have expressed an interest in adopting dogs that the county considered agressive.

“But when we’ve explained the situation and that the dog wasn’t a candidate for adoption, it’s never been challenged,” said Howard. This time, a Murphys couple and a neighbor of Dixie challenged it and wanted to bring in an animal behaviorist–Irish–to “reprogram” Dixie so she could be adopted. Howard believes the same scenario could surface again because the county must hold animals for longer time periods than before, so she wants the Board of Supervisors to decide whether aggressive animals should be considered for adoption.

State law isn’t clear on how to approach the issue.

On one hand, the law says only animals that have shown no sign of a behavioral or temperament defect that could pose a health or safety risk should be made available for adoption.

But the same lay also states that no “treatable” animal should be euthanized and that a treatable animal should include any animasl that is not adoptable but could become adoptable “with reasonable efforts.”

Howard said assessing animals for behavioral or temperamental defects is an inexact science and would go beyond the scope of “reasonable efforts” in terms of making an animal adoptable.

Irish, who said he has been studying animal behavior for 45 years, visited Dixie at the county animal shelter and found her to be “totally programmable.”

“The people who say she’s aggressive or needs to be put to sleep are totally unqualified,” Irish said. “I personally think it’s a matter of ego and ignorance.”

Irish said Dixie has not had any documented biting incidents–only someone saying she might bite someone. “It that’s true, we should put down three-quarters of all dogs,” said Irish.

“All dogs are potential biters. Anything’s possible. I might walk into the animal shelter with a Uzi and go postal. I can’t believe (the county) is spending this much time on this.”

Irish said he suggested Dixie’s former owners reclaim the dog so he could buy her from them for a nominal price and work with the dog. But the owners feared they would be legally liable if Dixie bit someone.

“It’s a scary world–and a sue-happy world,” said Ginger Kehmna, whose family got rid of Dixie after she “went after” a delivery man and a friend.

Kehmna said she didn’t want to give Dixie up but couldn’t run the risk of keeping her around her young children and anyone else who might come to her home. “I’m a dog-lover,” she said. “I’ve had dogs my whole life. But she scared me.

“I don’t like aggressive dogs. She was snapping, growling and barking–all at the same time.”

The liability issue also concerns Howard.

He said if the county agreed to let Irish or another behaviorist take Dixie, the county likely would be liable if Dixie did biting. And if the county allowed someone to adopt Dixie and she then injured someone, the county would also carry some liability.

Irish, though, is convinced Dixie wouldn’t hurt anyone and that she’s “absolutely not” dangerous or aggressive. He said that Dixie responded in a normal fashion when he visited her at the shelter and that her response to the animal control officers reflected her intelligence.

“Some dogs are more in tune with things,” she[sic] said. “She’s[sic] doesn’t put up with the BS because she’s intelligent enough to know, ‘This guy at the pound is bugging me.’

“She’s an absolutely beautiful thing.”

To reach Lode Bureau Chief Francis P. Garland, phone 735-9554 or e-mail


Animal behaviorist visits local preschool to teach children how to avoid dog bites

Friday, February 02, 2007

By Brandi Ehlers

Dan Irish, animal behaviorist, speaks to the children at the Amador Cooperative Preschool in Jackson about the rules to avoid dog bites with help from his Irish Wolfhound Audie Murphy.

Photos by: Brandi Ehlers

Reese, left, a student at Amador Cooperative Preschool, pets Dan Irish’s bulldog Wags under the chin following the rules to avoid a dog bite.

Dan Irish has been “playing” with dogs since he was a young child. For him it is a life-long passion to try to understand what dogs are thinking and why they do the things they do. Through all of his 50-plus years of experience, Irish has learned many things about dogs and shares this information so that other people, especially children, can better understand dogs as well.

On Tuesday, Irish visited the Amador Cooperative Preschool in Jackson to teach the preschoolers rules to avoid dog bites. Irish told them about his six rules to avoid dog bites and then demonstrated the rules with two of his dogs that he brought with him. The children were also able to interact with the dogs and demonstrate what they learned.

“It is important for kids to know this information so that they may grow up understanding what makes dogs do the things that they are supposed to do and not supposed to do,” Irish said. “Every person in the world will come in contact with a dog bite situation or know someone who has. It is important for me to teach people how to deal with these situations so they understand what is happening.”

Irish’s six rules to avoid dog bites include petting dogs under the chin, not on top of the head. This rule is important because if a child pets a dog on the top of its head, the dog cannot see the hand. That can make some dogs nervous and could lead to a situation. Petting the dog is also restricted to really knowing the family and the history of the dog and not really just believing the owners about the dogs temperament. It is also important to look to see if the dog appears nervous, scared or upset, according to Irish.

Another rule is never withdraw your hand quickly from a dog. If a hand is withdrawn quickly, the dog might get scared and think that something is wrong and they will go after the hand, Irish said. “When children pet dogs on the top of their heads and the dog moves its head children usually pull their hands away because they think that the dog it trying to bite them,” he said. The reality is that when the child moves the hand away quickly is when they usually get bit.

Also, don’t bother a dog when it is eating. When dogs are eating, they feel like it is the last meal they will ever get, according to Irish. So if they are showing sings of aggression including showing their teeth or their hair standing up, you should back off.

Equally, don’t approach a dog in the back of a truck or in their dog house. Dogs have designated areas in their mind that are scented and well marked out that are their zones, Irish said. If someone tries to invade that space they feel threatened. With dogs it is fight or flight, Irish added.

Additionally, don’t run from a dog. Dogs can run much faster than people, Irish said. So if you are in a situation where you feel like you need to run, that would probably make it worse.

Lastly, don’t jump on a dog when it is sleeping. Dogs are like humans and can be startled when they are woken up, Irish said.

“Most dogs will give a warning sign and say get away when they are bothered,” Irish said. “You get bit when you call their bluff. I have spent many, many hours putting this information together. These are the only reasons dogs bite.”

The presentation was organized by Jenny Upchurch, board of directors president for ACP, because of a recent event where a friend’s child was attacked by the family dog.

“My kids have no fear when it comes to animals, and I think many kids are that way,” she explained. “We’ve tried to explain to them why and how they should be more careful with dogs and cats, but they are just so drawn to them and don’t seem to understand. I have been hearing about a lot of dog bite incidents lately and thought it would be beneficial for the children to learn this information from a person with so much experience in the area.

“We have a dog at home and the kids usually jump all over him trying to play with him,” Upchurch added. “The dog is very well tempered, but I think that hearing the information from another adult will help them understand better what not to do.”

Upchurch was positive about the presentation and felt that it really reached the children. “I think the children actually retained quite a bit from Dan’s presentation,” she said. “We have circle time at the end of the day where we discuss some of the things they learned that day. When the teacher asked the children to help her remember what some of the rules for avoiding dog bites, several of them raised their hands. It was great because we had not had a chance to reinforce or discuss the information.”

The presentation was most important for the parents, Upchurch said. “The children did pick things up and as a parent will help them retain the information by reinforcing it. Some of the stuff Dan said is really basic, but to lay it out in a simple format it was really helpful.”

Irish began his relationship with dogs in 1958 when he was a child, showing shelties with the American Kennel Club at dog shows. From there he moved up in the ranks from junior handler to trainer to master trainer to animal behaviorist.

“When I was young my father said pick three things,” Irish said. “So I chose dogs, cars and music, and still have a passion for all three. My dad always really supported me.”

When Irish was 10 years old, he became blinded from an incident with cutting open a golf ball. His neighbor rushed him to an eye surgeon where they did what they could. “I was not supposed to see and at that time my dogs really became a big part of my life,” he said. “I have since regained my sight and now one of my dogs is blind and I help him see.”

Irish has worked training police dogs to attack on command for several police departments. In doing this he learned that dogs wagging their tails does not always mean they are not going to attack. Most of the dogs he trained would wag their tails the entire time because they were happy to please their owner, he said.

Irish has also done dog bite training for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Pacific Bell employees, lectures on the topic for different dog clubs and does age appropriate presentations and demonstrations for children. He also worked with the Animal Rescue Foundation for years.

“I call what I do playing with dogs, not working with them, because I love what I do,” Irish said. “I understand what they are feeling or thinking and help people understand past experiences they had with dogs.”

Irish started helping people with their animal problems 26 years ago when his children were young. The main thing that keeps him going is looking for the dog that he can’t fix.

Dogs are like computers, Irish explained. What you put into them is what you get out. Dogs, just like computers, can be reprogrammed. “Dogs want to do what you want them to do,” he said. “When they get confused they act up and it is not their fault. In 99 percent of cases I work with, dogs don’t know the word no. It is the misunderstanding that people have that gets people into trouble.”

Irish can help people with dog problems over the telephone and in person. He also works with other animals including cats, pigs and horses.

“My reputation is essential to everything I have ever done,” Irish said. “And my success rate is 100 percent.”

To inquire about having Irish help with a problem, write to him at Dan Irish, P.O. Box 65, West Point, 95255.

Brandi Ehlers, Leadger Dispatch Click to see the origional article

Rescue Success Stories


By Kimberley Harper

Ella and Amos came to the CATC Rescue in need of understanding, socialization, and good new homes. The two dogs started out life together, going from the same litter into the same shared home. As they grew up and took on personalities of their own, they became more and more of a handful to their original families, who eventually surrendered them to our Rescue.

Upon acceptance and initial evaluation, Virginia Smith of the CATC Rescue sought the help of professional and highly experienced canine behaviorist and trainer, Dan Irish. She had first met Dan when she attended a talk he gave to the Sacramento Council of Dog Clubs. With Dan’s help, would it be possible to turn these two unruly terriers around?

Happily for them, the answer from Dan was a confident “Yes!” He first evaluated the dogs, which included a review of their history prior to coming into the CATC Rescue. A number of important questions had to be answered before the dogs could be matched up with new homes. Could the dogs be separated from one another? Would they be better in homes with other dogs or pets? What kinds of experiences and socialization were missing from their lives so far? With Dan’s help, both dogs began to respond well in new and expanding environments. It was determined that the dogs would actually benefit from separation, being quite different from one another. Separating them would further open their minds and hearts to their people, rather than keeping them focused on each other. Dan worked with the dogs to promote good new habits, and a healthy curiosity about their world. He spent time and attention establishing the trust and authority that would be the new foundation for future health and fulfilling dog/owner relationships.

Dan’s work paid off! Today, placed in their permanent homes, Ella and Amos are doing well. I had the privilege of talking to both of their families. Alfred and Linda Temple couldn’t be more pleased with their companion, Amos. The love and warmth in Linda’s voice speaks for itself, as she shares about life with Amos. “He’s such a doll! I couldn’t find a better friend?” She goes on to say that Amos is somewhat of a homebody, who craves the company of his family and follows them from room to room as they go about their day. “Everybody who meets him just falls in love,” she relates about this Airedale ambassador. He has even learned some tricks, with gusto. He has learned “Play dead”, and displays great warmth and intelligence. He listens to his human family, and tries very hard to please. In talking to Linda, it’s obvious that both her family and Amos have made a good match. Ella has had equal good fortune. She lives on a ranch, and has another 3 year old Airedale to join in her adventures.

Connie Marianella was happy to share about life with Ella. “She spends her days busy about the ranch. She can dig to her heart’s content, hunting gophers, and she loves to chase the hawks on our property!” Connie tells me that Ella is delightful company. “I don’t know what all her past experiences have been, but with each passing day, they get farther behind her. She seems to understand more and more that her life will never go back to what it was. She just gets happier and happier, and more trusting every day that we have her.” Connie and family are experienced Airedale owners, having had them for over 30 years. Ella is their fourth Airedale. Their previous Airedales lived to be over 15 years old, loved and appreciated their whole lives. It’s good to know Ella will benefit from the same love and care her Airedale forerunners also enjoyed.

Our thanks and appreciation are extended to Dan Irish for the part he played in bringing these two to their current happy homes. Dan Irish has been working with dogs since childhood, and has amassed impressive and varied experience. He has worked with several Police Canine Units, training dogs and people for the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department, Martinez Police Department, Oakland Police Department, and more. He also assists several breed rescues, including Golden Retriever and Bulldog, as well as our Airedale rescue. His special area of interest is in bite prevention, and he has worked with postal carriers, meter readers and others who work with the occupational hazard of dog attacks. He has also worked with many public schools, teaching kids to understand dog behavior and educating them about our furry companions. Dan states, “I want to teach children and adults that a dog can be their best buddy, and will be for life if trained well.” Dan has over 30 years of experience working with therapy dog, Search & Rescue, Police Dog Training, and handicap aide dogs for the hearing impaired. His unique experiences include medical research training dogs to detect the presence of cancer.

Dan’s experiences with the CATC Rescue include not only his work with Ella and Amos and a previous rescue Airedale that he ended up adopting into his home, but several others, including “Duke”, who you will be reading about further along in this newsletter. Dan works with the dogs that come to him from several rescues, taking them into his home and integrating them into his mixed pack of canine companions. He has several different breeds in his home pack, and they all work together to outfit the rescue dogs they host with a happy, healthy outlook, and new life experiences. In the setting of his ranch home, with Dan Irish and his own dogs, many opportunities arise for spontaneous training and education. The rescue dogs learn to successfully navigate the world and love and trust again. Dan has made a significant contribution to our rescue effort. Ella, Amos and their families are a living testament to the success of his canine behavior training, his experience and the love he pours into his work for the CATC Rescue and for all the dogs and owners he has helped over the years. Thank you Dan, for making permanent homes a reality for some of our recent rescues!

Editor’s note: Should you wish to retain Dan’s services for behavioral consultations, he can be reached at: PO Box 65, West Point, CA 95255, (209) 293-3249

Training Dogs The Irish Way

by Julie Deforest

One of Bethel Island’s newest residents is Dan Irish, a consultant on dog behavior and dog bite prevention. Irish moved to the Island four months ago from Concord, where he works as a maintenance supervisor at Blanchi Schools.

For the past seven years, Irish, 35, has trained and demonstrated attack dog techniques for police departments in the area. Recently, Irish has expanded his area of instruction to include dog bite prevention, inspiring his company name “No-Bite”. He plans to work with public utilities and post office workers to help decrease their chances of being bitten by a dog in the course of their work.

During a recent demonstration for PacBell workers, 80 employees participated to learn more about avoiding the hazards of dog bites.

“If people understand what makes them tick,” says Irish, “they’ll have less trouble dealing with them.”

Irish points out that most dogs reach the mentality of about a three-year-old, but even with domestication, a dog’s instinct is still dominant.

“Since we’ve domesticated them they no longer have to hunt,” he says. Because of this, dogs may bite during the course of play simply because it is their nature to do so.

“A lot of people train their dogs to bite without even knowing it.”

Irish has a set of rules to avoid problems that are simple and filled with common sense.

According to Irish the DON’TS are as follows:

1) Don’t tease. Many children are injured while playing with the family dog by holding a favorite toy our of reach or working the into a frenzy over nothing.

2) Dont step on tales or toes.

3) Never bother an animal while it is eating.

4) Never bother mothers with puppies. Most animals are extremely protective at this time.

5) Don’t disturb dogs that are chained up or are waiting in their owner’s cars. Frustration from confinement can cause dogs to bite suddenly.

6) When approaching a stray, do not pet the animal on the head. Do pet them on the chin and neck so the animal can see your hands.

7) Don’t run away or yell suddenly when approached by a stray. Stand still and allow the dog to sniff your hands.

8) Never put your face at the level of the dog’s face.

Irish hopes that his program will help decrease the number of dog bites reported each year in Contra Costa County and hopes to expand his work into the rest of the western states.

His work is acknowledged by top veterinarians in the state and Irish is confident the call for his services will increase as more people realize that dog bites are a preventable occurrence.


Do’s and Don’ts Around Dogs

Bianchi students get some pointers on bite prevention

By Terri Weintraub

CONCORD – Bianchi Elementery School student Jack Mullins was playing with his golden retriever a few weeks ago whan the dog jumped up and bit him on the cheek. Mullins, 11, was teasing the dog by holding her squeeze-toy newspaper up in the air.

Another Bianchi student, Oliver Bouamalay, 11, recalls how a doberman that guards his father’s transmission shop bit him when he picked up the dog’s food dish. Bouamalay says the dog has a mean streak because strangers have been mean to the dog. Once, someone sabbed the dog’s leg with a knife, he says.

To try to prevent dog bites, Bianchi maintenance worker Dan Irish demonstrated proper people behavior around canines to a group of students on Monday.

Irish, 35, a Bethel Island resident, has done attack dog demonstrations for police departments for the past seven years.

Irish showed fourth-through sixth-graders at the Coewll Road school that Butch, his 9-year-old black and brown Rottweiler, is sweet and tame if treated with proper respect. Students lined up after class to pet Butch, a trained attack dog.

Last year, there were 1,212 dog bites reported by people in Contra Costa County, said Ted Brasier, chief animal control supervisor with the county’s Department of Animal Services.

The most bites reported in a six-month study in Contra Costa last year were from German Shepherds, pit bull terriers, labradors, golden retrievers, dobermans and cocker spaniels, in that order, said Larry Vase, an animal control supervisor with the department. Those rankings do not take into account which breeds have the largest populations in the county.

Irish says dogs will bite if they perceive a threat to their territory or food, or if they think people are playing chase games with them.

“To them, you’re like a rabbit,” Irish says, “They don’t like to bite things that don’t move. It’s a game to them.”

Above all, Irish says, people should treat dogs like best friends. Don’t jump on them while they’re sleeping, he says. Talk to a sleeping dog before touching it.

Don’t try to pet dogs on chains or in cars, Irish says. They might be frustrated from being confined and they will guard their territory, he says.

Vales [sic] [recte Irish] says people should avoid petting or bothering mother dogs with pups and any dog that is eating. Also, he says, don’t play too rough with dogs. While some dogs like rough play, others don’t. People can always tell the difference, he says.