Written By: Ronald Sklar
“When I first got out of the military, I did not think I would be a dog trainer,” says John Devine, owner of Devine K9s in San Diego. John’s a former Navy SEAL (2004-2014) who has since evolved his passion for dogs into a thriving business.
“I just thought it would be a hobby,” he says. “I never thought I would be diving into it full force. Essentially, I had been helping other people with their dogs. I was getting clients, and some of these clients forced me to take their money. It was a slow, organic process.”
John’s a Rhode Island native who already had mad skills in dog training when he first joined the SEALS. It seemed natural to match him up with training military dogs at the SEAL’s multipurpose K9 unit.
“Your first day there, they screen you to see if this is something you would really be into doing,” he says. “You get 12-15 different dogs. Some of them bite, and then you may start thinking this is not for you. But I thought it was really cool.”
Part of the persuasion came in the form of Edo, a Belgian Malinios matched up with John as a last resort.
“When I first got him, he was the youngest dog that the SEALS had ever taken in to be trained,” he says. “He was about ten-months old. They thought that he may have a 50/50 chance of making it through the program. They weren’t so sure, because he was so young. He was the last dog in the kennel. He didn’t even understand the ‘sit’ command yet. I spent the night with him in the kennel and tried to bond with him and establish a relationship. At the beginning of the course, we were one of the worst dog teams there. By the end of it, we were one of the best. And it was only an eight-week period. We worked hard to catch up.”
John’s stint in Afghanistan (2012-2013) honed his dog training skills in ways that could never be applied in civilian life.
“When you have your four-legged best friend with you, it does make it a lot more easier to cope,” he says. “Even on deployment, even when the other guys are having a hard time, the first place they want to do is go to my room, because I have the dog.”
Of course, a SEALS-trained dog is extraordinary in every way.
“The dog is a true multipurpose K9 in a sense that it’s trained to find bombs, track down and fight bad guys, and jump out of planes and helicopters,” John says. “He’s also a therapy dog in the sense that he’s social enough to want to hang out with everybody and have everybody loving on him and reminding everybody of home.”
Readjustment to civilian life and leaving Edo behind were difficult for John, but he found solace in his natural training skill and genuine love for dogs.
“After I got out, I was helping other people with their dogs,” he says. “When I was helping other people, it helped me not focus on my own misery.”
Edo had been given to another trainer while John was recovering from a surgery. The separation was difficult. All at once, John lost his mobility and his best friend. Once home, he knew it was time to find a new dog to train.
“I randomly went on line to the classified section and I found this dog,” he says. “She had been returned about three different times to the adoption agency. When I asked about the dog, all they would tell me is all the bad things about the dog. I only asked one question: does the dog like tennis balls?”
That’s John’s training instinct shining through. The dog, named Jean (a Melinois/German Shepherd mix) was written off as a lost cause, until John came into her life.
He drove up to Santa Barbara to meet Jean and to see if she was a match for him. Within five minutes, John knew that Jean was the dog he wanted to take.
“Jean had a lot of severe behavioral issues,” he says. “She’s just a high-drive, powerful dog. Before me, she was adopted out to three different people. One was a botanist who tried to train her to be a detection dog for an endangered species; one of them was a search-and-rescue trainer. They weren’t successful because they just weren’t ready to deal with a high-drive dog like that.”
On the way home, John made a promise to Jean: “No matter how much work this takes, we’re going to make this work.”
John put his training skills to good use, but also applied some well-learned life lessons.
“If you put everything you can into something like your life really depends on it, it’s amazing how good you can really get at it,” he says. “You can use this philosophy for everything you do in life: work, school, relationships.”
The thing is this: getting with a dog that is easily trainable – the easier road – is not always the best direction for you or the dog.
John explains it this way: “If you were the coach of a football team, and you got to pick every player you wanted, you would have the best team in the NFL. But if you had to make a championship team out of only the players you had, then that would be a challenge and you would probably be a better coach for it.”
Jean kept John on his game.
“Jean was definitely more of a challenge than the dogs I train now,” he says. “I did select her for that very reason – because she was a hard dog to train. She made me a better trainer. It was a combination of my passion and needing a direction that really pushed me to go all in on it.”
Now, training dogs full-time, John owes much of his business success to Jean and his original promise to her.
“Now she’s a demonstration dog for my company,” he says. “She’s been a huge success, professionally and personally.”
Devine K9 gives dog owners the benefit and advantage of ten years of John’s experience. He and other trainers are skilled in police, military, service, and companion training, with guaranteed results. The length of sessions and availability are flexible, and the prices are competitive.
With a new fitness program coming, called MuttFit, John plans to launch a workout that owners can do with their dogs (a new workout will be posted every Monday). And more plans are in the works.
The role of “businessman” is new to John, but he’s up for the challenge. He says, “Every day is a learning process. I never took a business class in my life. It’s a lot of learning and every day I’m learning something new. If you are doing what you love, you never work a day in your life. It’s a lot of work, but I love what I’m doing.”
His original determination to do good despite any personal setbacks remains therapeutic, harkening back to his first days returning to civilian life.
“When you’re helping other people, you don’t have a chance to focus on your own misery,” John says.
Written By: Ronald Sklar