Dog Whisperer of the Month – Kelly Gorman Dunbar

A Dog Whisperer is anyone who feels a special connection to mankind’s oldest friend and puts that feeling into action. Our newest feature, Dog Whisperer of the Month, will spotlight these special people, from trainers to rescuers to scientists to veterinarians. You’ll meet our monthly Dog Whisperer, take in their personal life-lessons, and gain rare knowledge and insight from their articles.  

As our second Dog Whisperer of the month, we are incredibly honored to have with us a true superstar and innovator of the dog training community, Kelly Gorman Dunbar. She has so much to teach us all!


Kelly Gorman Dunbar
COO, Sirius Puppy Training

Kelly is Educational Director of both SIRIUS Puppy & Dog Training and the Center for Applied Animal Behavior, where she recruits and trains the instructors for SIRIUS, the largest dog training organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the creator of the SIRIUS Sniffers scent-detection curriculum, the SIRIUS Puppy Kindergarten Program, and the SIRIUS Essential Life Skills Series.

She was one of the very first Certified Nose Work Instructors in the United States and has served as a judge for several scent work titling organizations. Kelly is also a co-founder and the executive editor of a free online dog training resource loaded with information on everything dog imaginable.

Kelly’s video series, Dunbar Dog Diaries, show her solving dog problems in real time, to help people navigate the principles of dog training even when things don’t go exactly according to plan.

If all that wasn’t enough, Kelly developed Open Paw, a non-profit organization devoted to turning shelters into finishing schools for dogs and cats. She lectures internationally on the principles of SIRIUS and Open Paw, consulting for animal shelters worldwide on design and staff-and-animal training protocols and procedures. Creating programs that make continuing education fun for both people and dogs is her ongoing focus.

Kelly’s goal is to expand awareness about dog behavior in order to teach people how to live with dogs in harmony while also honoring their inherent dogginess. Kelly lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her two Belgian Shepherd boys, Lazaretto and Mars.

Don’t Give Up on Shelter Dogs

Kelly has always had a soft spot for helping shelter dogs get a new lease on life. Shelter work has been her way of using her skills and knowledge to give back to the community and to the dogs that have enriched her life and been constant companions from her earliest memories. Early in her dog training career, her work in animal shelters first as a volunteer, then as a canine behavior evaluator and adoption counselor, lead her to realize that nearly all of the problems dogs displayed in the shelter environment were predictable, preventable, and most often, with the right approach, easily resolved as well.

She also couldn’t help but notice the stressful shelter environment itself caused or exacerbated these common behavior problems, and realized that most shelters did not have sufficient training and enrichment programs in place to alleviate or prevent behavioral deterioration due to stress.

So many of the shelter dogs she met clearly had never been given the proper education to succeed in our human world with our human rules and expectations.

Her desire to bring easy, efficient, scientific training principles into the shelter setting led Kelly to develop the Open Paw program. Open Paw is a non-profit organization devoted to turning shelters into finishing schools for dogs and cats and into a resource center for communities by providing valuable user-and-animal friendly training and behavior information to keep pets in their original homes. Kelly is as passionate about educating people as she is about dogs because that is the key to keeping dogs off the streets and out of shelters.

Read the inspiring story of Nox, just one of the many shelter dogs Kelly has helped…complete with video documentation of Nox’s real-time training on her YouTube Channel, The Dunbar Diaries.


Q & A with Kelly Gorman Dunbar

Q: When is the best time to start training a puppy? Can an old dog learn new tricks?

A: The answer to the first question is, the very first day you bring your puppy home is the best day to start training. The answer to the second question is, yes! Absolutely!

Q: One of your many passions is puppy problem prevention, leading to your teaming with Dr. Ian Dunbar and his the world-renowned SIRUS Puppy Training program.   What can puppies under the age of 5 months possibly learn?

A: Puppies begin to learn by taking in scents and tactile input as soon as they are born and keep going from there. However, I will keep this answer focused on puppies that generally come into their new home somewhere between 8 – 12 weeks of age. By this point, a puppy can learn loads! They are like little sponges just waiting to be filled with sights, sounds, experiences, and knowledge. This is the perfect time to develop good habits such as teaching them household manners and rules, such as where to eliminate and what to chew (rubber chew toys and bones) for starters. They can also learn the basics such as to follow you around the house and yard (pre-loose leash walking), to come when called, and the basic positions such as sit, down, stand, stay. Most importantly, for relationship and confidence building, your puppy should learn how to like being alone for short periods of time (with a food-stuffed chew toy project) and how to enjoy playing games with you over anything else!

Q: Shelter around the world are overflowing with dogs and cats needing forever homes. How do you go about advising shelters that are overwhelmed and underfunded?

A: It doesn’t take hundreds of volunteers or millions of dollars to make a difference in a shelter dog’s day. What it does take it constantly keeping the end goal in mind, to help prepare each dog for adoption.  Train each dog to present themselves well at the front of the kennel. Instead of feeding shelter dogs from a food bowl, hang their bucket of food on their kennel door and encourage staff, volunteers, and passersby (through signage and conversation and training) to reward each dog for highly adoptable behaviors such as approach, wagging, sitting. It’s important to also take a moment to reward the absence of behavior you don’t like, so reward silence over barking, four on the floor over jumping, etc.

Q: Matching a shelter dog with the right human is so important for a successful long-term relationship. What’s your best advice to people who want to adopt from a shelter, but aren’t sure how much dog they can handle?

A: Volunteering at a local shelter is a great way to get exposure to a lot of dogs, to assess and improve your dog handling skills, and give back to the community. If you cannot volunteer, before you adopt any dog, make sure to spend time with it out of the shelter kennel and always take the dog out for a walk. Don’t just go by looks. Realistically assess and list your lifestyle, abilities, and expectations before you walk into the shelter and then share your list with an adoption counselor or other shelter staff so they can help guide you to the dogs that best fit your needs. The people who work with the dogs day in and day out will know best how to help you make a realistic match.

Q: “Nosework” is another one of your specialties. What is nosework, and why is it important for every dog?

A: Nosework for dogs is basically scent detection! Dogs finding things with their sniffers, which they are exceedingly good at, especially compared to us humans with our inferior schnozes. Dogs smell the world the way we see it. When we teach a dog nosework, we are not teaching them to use their noses to find things, but rather, to find the specific scent we ask them to find among an abundance of rich and exciting smells the environment provides and then to alert us to where the source is. So really nosework is about teamwork and communication, but unlike in other team activities, the dog is generally in the driver’s seat!

Scent work is important to all dogs because, as I mentioned above, smell is their primary sense and the way they best gather information and navigate the world. To not have an outlet for sniffing is very frustrating for dogs. It’s nearly as if we asked a human to wear blinders all the time rather than explore the world with their eyes. To have a holistically happy and healthy dog we need to provide them with an outlet and opportunities to explore with their noses.


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