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Manatee’s ‘Dog Whisperer’ plies his trade in a natural way

BRADENTON — “Pappy ... Pappy ... ”

Will Thomas was ready for the team photo with Jazz and Tai Chi, the Australian shepherds, and Freedom, a Great Pyrenees.

But Pappy the Papillon was off heeding nature’s call.

Even Thomas, the “Tampa Bay Dog Whisperer,” must wait for one of his four dogs once in awhile and that’s OK.

“Let the dog be a dog,” he said.

It’s a simple statement, yet provides insight into how the former Los Angeles business owner makes his livelihood nowadays.

What is a dog whisperer?

“He is more of a behaviorist,” said Thomas, 49. “We work with dogs in a natural way. It involves eye movement, body language, energy and gesture.

“When I work with dogs it’s more of a presence, a state of being, high energy that’s positive, a leadership type energy and dogs follow that.”

The lifelong animal lover began working with dogs 15 years ago, and, after much study and practice, focused on this calling five years ago.

Thomas figures he’s worked with 1,200 dogs, covering a whole gamut of problems: chewing up furniture, excessive barking, urinating in the house, biting, etc. His visits last 2 to 3 hours, and he spends part of it coaching the owners.

“When I see the dogs, how they’re reacting, why they’re reacting, then I can put a plan together,” Thomas said. “If the people follow it, the dog will come around. In some severe cases where the dog is very aggressive, people will have a plan to ... balance the dog with exercise, rules, limitations and affection. Put it altogether, the dog gets a hierarchy.”

It worked for Sonny Drain’s family in Palm Harbor.

They have an 8-month-old Lab/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix puppy who was 75 pounds of rambunctiousness. Walks were an adventure.

“My wife couldn’t control him,” Drain said. “She had no confidence. He sensed he could take advantage of her. What he taught her is take control, stand straight, shoulders back, eyes forward and go. You’re not asking him. You’re telling him this is what we’re going to do.”

Thomas’s philosophy, indeed.

“A dog’s got to know he has to look to you for direction,” he said.

Except when nature calls.

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