How Jack Endino accidentally helped me be a better dog trainer

One of the people who influenced me the most is not a dog trainer, probably doesn’t even recall his advice, or have any idea how much he has helped me.  Recording engineer, producer, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist Jack Endino had a huge influence on my development, and I hope his influence might help others.

25 years ago I shared a small duplex with my friend Daniel House for a few months; I was several years younger than him and his other friends; I mostly tried to be quiet when they were hanging out. My general strategy was from Mark Twain: better to be silent and thought a fool then speak and remove all doubt. Jack Endino was a frequent visitor, and I listened very carefully to what he said in casual conversation. I was interested in music, to be sure, but also, Jack was excellent and kind at the same time — excellent at what he did, whatever he chose he to do, and kind enough to be supportive of others. All these years later, I still apply lessons I learned from him, both directly and indirectly.

Jack isn’t the kind of person who announces his history or accomplishments upon meeting him, but even back then his story was well-known to me. He had a career as an electrical engineer, but was more interested in music. He saved his money, quit his engineering gig, and spent time developing his musicianship and recording skills. In the first couple months after I met him, I saw Jack play drums with Crypt Kicker 5, bass with The Ones, and guitar with Skin Yard (he also played a slide bass solo with Skin Yard that I still think about all these years later). He was more than passable at all the instruments I saw him play, but on guitar he absolutely amazed me. The sound of his instrument, the notes he chose, the absolute comfort and mastery he displayed — it was not something I had experienced before in person – I had been to lots of shows and concerts, but his total concentration, dedication, and absolute proficiency stunned me. It is not that he was showy or demonstrated bravado or audacity; he took his audience to other places, other worlds – this was musical art. I saw Skin Yard play many times that year, and listened to several recordings Jack recorded and produced. Not surprisingly, I was often intimidated when in his presence; this had nothing to with his demeanor or personality, as he was quite pleasant. I was just young and insecure. After a few months of being around him, however, I did summon the courage to ask Jack a few questions, and managed to have several conversations which were important to me. Mostly, these consisted of me asking him for advice, Jack being embarrassed but helpful, and then one of us wandering away.

I played guitar a little bit, and was interested in playing more or better. I didn’t even own a guitar – it was a fantasy — I was just interested, and I asked Jack several questions about being a better guitar player, being in a band, and being a musician in general. The essences of his answers (I don’t pretend to remember the exact words) have helped me immensely in pursuing the big goal of my life: being a professional dog trainer. Following are a few of the general ideas I took, and that I have applied to my career:

Believe in yourself. If you examine your talent and your devotion and believe you can do it, go for it. Sacrifice the safe for the glorious. Work hard, try hard, and keep working and keep trying. Don’t become complacent. Be helpful, be polite, but know that the pursuit of excellence doesn’t leave a lot of time for other pursuits. We were having a casual conversation once in which I found out Jack used to play Risk, a board game I enjoyed a lot at the time. I asked him if he would like to play sometime, and I loved his answer, which was something like: “That sounds fun, but I just don’t have time to play a game for several hours like that; I have too many projects.” It took years for that to really sink in – people who are pursuing excellence are busy doing that. It is more than a full-time job.

Learn more than one instrument, and play more than one style of music. Understanding at least a little bit about other instruments helps musicians perform in a group, and playing more than one style of music helps people be better at all styles. To be a better producer, it is helpful to be a recording engineer. To be a better guitarist, learn how to play bass. To be a better bass player, learn how to play drums. It is incredibly helpful to work with more than one dog – it helps us understand each of our own dogs and others. The more I learn about all kinds of training, the better able I am to help dogs with all kinds of goals. I don’t know if I will ever become an agility instructor, or conduct a gun dog class, but learning a little bit about these has definitely expanded and refined my thinking on my own specialties.

Be prepared. I have several friends who have recorded with Jack and come away wishing they had prepared better. Several of Jack’s interviews mention frustration with guitars that won’t get or stay in tune – either because the equipment is faulty, or because the performer cannot tune his or her own instrument. Either way, those issues should be addressed before entering the studio. Fresh drum heads, fresh strings, good sleep… don’t waste Jack Endino’s time. Equipment matters, and so does the condition of the equipment. Just as important important is the condition, mood, and demeanor of the performers. For dogs and training sessions, this means a somewhat contented dog (rested but exercised, etc.) before the formal training session begins. For humans it means not being angry or frustrated, prepared with a goal for the session, a plan to get there, and enough flexibility to change the plan or the goal if things aren’t working out as intended.

Practice, practice, practice, and record everything: Listen or watch carefully and critically, and learn from it. Watch and listen to yourself, but also to others, and learn to improve yourself and those you play with. I will never forget this morsel of critical advice. As a musician, I often recorded practice onto a little cassette 4-track. As a trainer I record onto a little digital video recorder. I only publish a minute amount of what I watch and learn from. I publish a huge amount on YouTube and Facebook, but it is a tiny fraction of what I record and review. Sometimes the tiniest clue – an ear twitch or a muzzle-tightening – is missed at the moment, but noticed later on review. Basic video software that comes with most operating systems for free will allow us to slow down video n playback. Watching dogs at ½- or even ¼-speed has been incredibly helpful. Sometimes I record little parts of class, and when I hear myself talk I recognize points I could have explained better, or comments I wish I had made in a different way. Mostly, I watch the dogs. The ability to watch behavior, rewind it, watch it again, slow it down and play it over and over… this is an invaluable part of what I do. As much as I learn from doing, I learn from watching myself with dogs and people, and noting places I can improve. This simple idea of recording, reviewing, and learning, is a very powerful concept. I might have stumbled upon this myself, but it was Jack who told me that he did that, and it was him I was mimicking the first time I did it. I will always be grateful.

Visit Jack Endino’s website here:

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