ELKHART — It’s a dog-eat-dog world.
Or perhaps it would be, if not for the hundreds of dogs trained by Elkhart’s Rudy Drexler over his long career.
Drexler has trained bomb-sniffing dogs, drug-sniffing dogs, war-fighting dogs, but also plain old good dogs.
“I’ve got dogs all over the world,” he said on Saturday, as friends, customers and community members gathered at the Rudy Drexler’s School for Dogs at 50947 C.R. 7. to celebrate his 54th anniversary of being in business.
He keeps several large folders with reports, photos and newspaper clips of the achievements of some of the dogs he trained. Among their feats, he said, is sniffing out more than $44 million worth in drugs.
But far from all of his dogs become K-9 units. Regular people want the protection that a big and well-trained dog can offer.
“People want protection,” he said. “When I sell, I want dogs that are good with people, good with kids. Not maniacs.”
That is the exact type of dog that Joe Falconeri and his wife have been looking for. They drove from Toronto this week to pick up their new German shepherd from Drexler. The family got their last dog from Drexler as well, after hearing about him from one of Falconeri’s colleagues and a Toronto K-9 officer.
“It was just a great experience. That’s why we’re back,” Falconeri said.
Before getting their first German shepherd, Falconeri’s wife was terrified of dogs. But Rudy assured them that one of his dogs would make that fear go away.
“My wife’s walking the dog now and she loved our last dog,” Falconeri said. “My wife’s fear for dogs has disappeared.
But not every dog can go to a safe home when they leave Drexler’s school. He has trained 969 police dogs over 30 years, he said. Of them, four have been shot and killed, and three were poisoned to death.
“Those dogs loved me. They played ball with me every day, but they didn’t know what’s going to happen to them. It’s sickening,” Drexler said.
Though he sells dogs that are trained with specific skill sets in mind, he encourages people who just want a regular dog to go to the shelters and give a home to a dog in need.
For those who do that, or just have a dog from somewhere else, Drexler also offers training for dogs with owners.
The dogs he sells are brought in from several European countries. That means they are bred for the right temperament and workability, he said. But it also means he needs to know more, including the commands in Czech, Hungarian, German and Belgian.
After training a dog for six to seven weeks, Drexler can then sell them for between $10,000 and $15,000. But that doesn’t mean he will necessarily turn a large profit on each dog. Bringing them in from Europe can cost nearly $2,000 just for transportation.
Falconeri said that, with Drexler’s dogs, you get what you pay for.
“This particular dog is well worth the money,” he said.
Despite the global aspects of Drexler’s business, the Elkhart-native has lived in the same spot just outside of town since 1957. He opened his business as under the name Orchard Kennels but changed it to its current name in 1969. A friend helped him realize that putting school for dogs in the name made it clearer that this wasn’t just a kennel, though he still does boarding.
Putting your own name in the name of your business also means something, he believes.
“People respect me, and if something went wrong, a dog didn’t work, I took it back and I gave them their money back. That’s why I’ve been at it for 54 years,” he said. “I’ve always tried to be honest with people. You start screwing people over, you’re done.”
Before starting up as a dog trainer in his 20s, Drexler went to veterinary school for three years. He didn’t like coming home bloody, and it didn’t work out. That’s when he realized dog-training was what he wanted to do. He has been happy doing it ever since, though he has the scars that might say otherwise.
By the numbers, Drexler said he knows about 40 different problems with dogs that he can correct with three to five approaches. As for breeds, he said he has worked with 96 different ones. And a pot-bellied pig that he trained to sniff narcotics in New Jersey.
And each dog, or pig, is different, he said.
As for people, he said some tend to think that getting a well-behaved dog is all magic.
“They have to work the dog. Normally I tell people ‘Work your dog 20 minutes a day, give them one day off as a break,’” he said.
If that doesn’t produce results in a month, Drexler encourages his customers to bring the dog back to school figure out what’s going wrong. He doesn’t charge more for that.
“I want this dog to be perfection,” he said. “That’s it.”
Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus