HUNTINGTON — Study after study has proven how “man’s best friend” is more than a cute phrase. There are defined health benefits, physically and mentally, to sharing your life with a canine companion.
This pleasant fact had been unscientifically confirmed each night David Rodes came home from another grueling day of work with his previous job at the Western Regional Jail. At the time, the unmarried 22-year-old was trying to carve out a career in law enforcement. Shift after shift with forced overtime as a corrections officer could have easily made coming home to an otherwise empty apartment unbearable.
But as man has come to expect from his best friend — there was always someone waiting behind his front door: Hezekiah, a German shepherd, and Berkley, an Australian shepherd. The love Rodes developed for his two dogs in his trying times eventually led his twisting career path from the prison to the pet shop, where the now 26-year-old father-to-be serves as a senior dog trainer and mentor for PETCO’s four district stores.
“Five years ago, I didn’t even have a dog. Five years ago, I was taking tests to try to get on
with a police department,” said Rodes, who’s worked with more than 300 dogs since changing careers in 2016. “But I’m much happier now. This is a completely different animal, and I think I’ve helped more people with animals than I ever did with a badge.
“I still feel like I’m helping people, but this is in a much bigger way.”
A Huntington native, Rodes graduated from Huntington High School in 2010.
After enrolling at Marshall University to study sports journalism, a lack of discipline in college led him to fail out in 2012.
Re-enrolling on academic probation in 2013, Rodes pursued a criminal justice degree that eventually led him to entry-level jobs in loss prevention at Sears and local security agencies.
The law enforcement path took him to Western Regional Jail, where he had been hired as a corrections officer in 2015, leaving Marshall a second time. It isn’t uncommon for jail staff to work 16-hour shifts, he said.
The following 18 months were miserable, as he described it. Forced overtime in the understaffed jail was the norm, and exposed him to what he called “the dark side of law enforcement.” At the time, the only bright spots outside an otherwise dreary life were his now-wife Candace, 26th Street Baptist Church, and the two dogs waiting for him to come home.
“I went in (to the jail) with the attitude that I wanted to help people, and it ended up kind of turning me into a person I didn’t like,” Rodes recalled. “I wasn’t really happy with my life.”
As easy as it could have been to come home and slip into more unhealthy habits, Hezekiah and Berkley wouldn’t allow it. Keeping two big dogs in a small apartment forced him, for the better, to take them out and be active.
It eventually led Rodes to begin training the two intelligent breeds, but it remained strictly a passion, never a plausible career option.
The jail eventually became too much, and in July 2016 he decided to quit. Almost immediately, a job was posted at PETCO, just across Interstate 64 from Western Regional, for a groomer’s job at the new store in Teays Valley.
“At the time, it definitely felt like God’s plan,” Rodes said. “Dog training wasn’t in the picture at that point, but little did I know.”
Rodes joined PETCO, initially managing merchandise for a few months, before a full-time dog trainer position opened at the Barboursville store.
Rodes completed six weeks of academic and hands-on work, applying much of what he learned from his own dogs, and is now the top dog trainer for PETCO’s four district stores. In the course of a day, Rodes instructs group obedience classes as well as private lessons.
What was once a hobby now earns him more than working overtime at the jail, he added, but working with other people’s dogs and different breeds is a contrast to working solely with his two buddies.
“Every dog is different, and every breed is different,” Rodes said. “What may work for one dog might not work for another, and you get to see the differences between individuals and breeds. It’s all about building a connection with them a little at a time.”
Rodes’ methods are strictly positive-reinforcement based, which is not only ethical but far more rewarding to coax an animal to perform a command at their own free will.
“It’s a communication that’s reward-based. We’re basically paying them with toys or treats to do a certain behavior,” Rodes explained.
“Just the idea that you can teach another species is rewarding. I can help manipulate these dogs and get them to do what we want them to do.”
The uncertain career path is finally set, but simply training dogs isn’t the end of his development.
As science unravels more about the connection between man and his best friend, Rodes said he plans to keep on learning and building himself up to be the best he can be.
“This right here isn’t the end all,” he added. “I still have a lot more ambition for myself and for the dogs in our area.”
Rodes can be contacted at PETCO in Barboursville at 304-733-0001 or through Facebook by searching “David Rodes Dog Training.”
“What may work for one dog might not work for another, and you get to see the differences between individuals and breeds. It’s all about building a connection with them a little at a time.”
Dog trainer, Petco