After initially following us on social media, Andrew reached out to us and expressed his love of dogs along with his interest in becoming a volunteer handler with SoCalBMR. His previous job working as a doggy daycare and hiking attendant left him with a hunger to learn more about the breed and when he saw SoCalBMR was looking for volunteers he jumped at the opportunity.
Upon meeting with our co-founder and lead handler Sharod Johnson (they completely hit it off I might add), Andrew was thrown straight into the deep end of the handler world as he escorted Sharod to evaluate a dog up for owner surrender that would potentially be coming into the rescue. When Andrew told me this I immediately bombarded him with questions. What it was like? Was it hard? How was the dog? What was wrong with it? Was it aggressive? What did you do?
The evaluation was emotional. He could see it was extremely hard for the family who were surrendering the dog, and the dog was clearly very attached to the family. We’re always quick to judge when we see someone advertising to rehome their dog on social media. The truth is it’s not always simple, and often trying to rehome the dog or seek assistance from a rescue is better than the alternative whether it be a less than optimal life or worse when they are sometimes dumped in the desert.
Andrew’s first experience with the rescue was intense, but I think I can say that he was completely hooked. To find a group of awesome people supporting each other and sharing the same passion of wanting to help as many dogs as possible is exactly what he was hoping for.
As one of our most experienced handlers here at SoCalBMR it’s clear from just a few minutes speaking with Andrew how passionate he really is about our pups and setting them and their new families up for a lifetime of success together. Without further adieu, I bring you Andrew’s take on what it’s like to be a malinois handler with us.
When and why did you decide to become a malinois handler?
For two years I was working first as a doggy daycare attendant and then took over as the hiking attendant. I would take the dogs hiking from San Diego areas to North County, Dana point and also the Laguna Beach area. I really wanted to learn more and I knew I could help so when I found out SoCalBMR needed handlers, I checked it out right away.
What surprised you most about the Malinois breed?
I was surprised to find that with a breed this active, people don’t actually understand how intense they really are. They take on the dog as a young pup and as it begins to grow up the puppy starts to behave more like the typical crazy malinois we know. Because of this, we see a lot of neglect.
When and why did you want to become a handler?
I was in my previous job for 2 years and I just really wanted to learn. I was able to help and wanted to learn how to train a dog. I was also really interested in learning protection so when Sharod told me he was into that I knew it was for me.
How many handlers are volunteering for SoCalBMR at the moment?
At the moment we have 5 handlers who are operational.
How do you become a handler with SoCalBMR?
You can get in contact with us and from there we arrange for you to come down to our training sessions to meet with us and see what it’s all about. We can talk more and show you what we do and if it works out we can start your training.
How often do handlers have training?
We have training sessions twice a week. If you’re curious just come down and investigate. The great part is that we can work with the breed no matter what type of personality it has. Often when the dogs come to us they have been mishandled or misread. If you’re open to the idea come on down and check it out. At the moment we train on Mondays @Rohr Park 5 - 8 pm and Saturdays @Rohr park 10 am - 1 pm (msg us on our Instagram to confirm)
If there was one thing you could change about the rescue what would it be?
It would have to be the handler to dog ratio. We could definitely use more handlers, but also fosters as well, which would help us in the long run rescue more dogs in need.
Who are your favorite dogs in the rescue?
I really couldn’t say and it’s hard. They each have something; some are hyper and others chilled but they all have something unique and special.
What sort of things do you do when you go to evaluate a dog that might come into the rescue?
If it’s an owner surrender we usually go to their house and see how the dog behaves in its home environment. We usually have the owner bring the dog out and see how it acts around us first while the owner tells us about the dog and any issues it may have. Then we go outside and see if the dog will engage with us, maybe throw a ball around and just generally see how the dog is responding to different stressors and things happening in the environment
How do you act if you’re going to evaluate a dog that you’ve been told is aggressive?
There’s always a bit of nerves when you hear the dog may be aggressive but I make sure it’s known that I’m friendly and I’m not there for a specific reason. I try to arrive with open arms and body language, but at the same time look for any signs of stress or maybe just even nerves from the dog.
What’s the hardest and easiest part about being a malinois handler?
The hardest part can be sometimes just getting a dog used to certain elements, which of course may take different lengths of time depending on the dog. Figuring them out on your first meeting is hard. The meeting can be awkward and pinpointing any issues is difficult. The easiest part is that once you have the dog’s respect and recognition you can grow. It’s a team effort and once you’ve established that you accomplish things really quickly.
What do you think will change within the rescue over the next 5 years?
I think we’re going to become more team-based. We’re going to have more volunteers, handlers and more interest. We’re growing and have more people opening their homes to help.
What’s coming up for you in the dog handler world?
I’d like to build on my training more, get into protection training and maybe even the competitive dog world. Down the road, I’d like to run a business and provide training to people. I’d also like to study veterinary medicine.
Do you have any dogs yourself?
I have three dogs; Biscuit is my German Shepherd and I have two Minpin & Chihuahua mixed Dogs named Bella and Princess.
What’s a surprising fact about you?
I have my dogs tattooed on me!
What’s expected of you as a trainer?
Minimum at least 1 hour a week
Working with your assigned dog minimum of once a week
Taking your assigned dog to any events (approx. every 4-6 weeks)
Attending training sessions with the other trainers
Anything else you’d like to tell us about being a handler?
Being a handler is really rewarding. You’re building a bond with a dog and to be honest they actually teach me a lot too. I really enjoy learning what’s behind their behavior and at the end of the day, the dog becomes a reflection of you.