When Tom Davis was 19 or 20, he lived in a tent with two dogs. Davis’ parents were separated and his father had moved to Indiana, and Davis was trying to make it on his own after graduating from South Glens Falls High School. So he spent a summer sleeping in a tent in a friend’s backyard with a Saint Bernard and a mutt. Davis wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do in life, but he knew he wanted it to involve dogs.
Wednesday morning, nearly a decade and a half later, Davis, a Wilton resident, will be on the Today show helping to commemorate National Puppy Day by offering some advice to millions of viewers on how puppy owners can develop better relationships with their pets.
Davis, 33, has become one of the premier dog trainers in the country, having worked with thousands of canines and owners around the world in cities ranging from L.A. to London and providing onsite training at his 15,000-square-foot Upstate Canine Academy complex in Halfmoon and at a separate smaller facility in Clifton Park. He’s worked with celebrities’ dogs–including Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ Cane Corso and a pit bull, and with Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Northern Inuit in the New York State Executive Mansion. Davis’ social media channels attract more than a million viewers per month. When he got married in August, he rented out a mansion in Aspen, Colorado, and hired influencer Logan Paul’s private chef to cater the event, according to Rob Murphy, who was at the wedding and has known Davis since the time Davis moved from Indiana to upstate New York in middle school.
But when Davis was a kid, his path seemed far less certain.
“My mom always said that Tom was my one friend that she worried about the most,” said Murphy, who is now the owner/chef at Craft on 9.
Davis said he felt lost from an early age. But he always felt an innate connection to dogs.
“My parents split up when I was young,” he said. “I was a latchkey kid, and it was me and the dogs for my whole life.”
When attending college at what’s now SUNY Adirondack didn’t work out and jobs like a fry cook felt meaningless, Davis had a conversation with his brother.
“He looked at me and said, ‘What would you want to wake up and do for the rest of your life,’ and I was like something with dogs for sure,” Davis said. “But I was like how am I going to make a living off of working with dogs? What does that mean?”
While living in the tent, Davis started his own dog-walking business and would travel from South Glens Falls down to Albany. He subsisted on Stewart’s coffee and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Davis walked dogs for about five or six years until a client called him up one day.
“He said, hey, you’re really good with my dog, and I was wondering if you could help me train my dog.”
Davis wasn’t a certified trainer–in fact, he still doesn’t hold any certification–but he was confident he could help address the client’s dog’s behavioral issues.
That single dog training client quickly led to another, with Davis using his natural connection to the dogs to identify their issues and help create a unique approach to improving their behavior.
“That’s the misfit thing that we have. I grew up not really knowing what I wanted to do,” Davis said. “I resonate with dogs at that level where if they have a problem I see it through their eyes. I’ve been there. I’ve been that person that people don’t believe in, that people think is going to fail. I have an innate ability to understand them.”
Davis started sharing his dog-training work via social media and continued to grow his client list, which eventually led to him taking on Major League Baseball pitcher and Latham native Jeffrey Hoffman. Davis’ work with Hoffman gave him an avenue into the world of elite athletes, celebrities and politicians. From there, Davis continued to grow his online presence, hiring a professional production team in the past several years to improve the quality of his content. That effort is what ultimately led him to Wednesday’s appearance during the 8 o’clock hour on Today, where he’ll appear for up to 5 minutes during which time he will be introduced to three dogs and discuss what specific strategies the owners can use to improve their relationships with their dogs.
The morning before the national television appearance, Davis said he felt ready.
“Somebody can bring me a dog from anywhere in the world with the biggest, craziest behavioral problem, and not only do I feel comfortable working with that dog, but I feel confident and excited to get in the ring with that dog,” Davis said. “It’s almost second nature to me. It’s an artform.”
Davis focuses on helping owners connect with their animals rather than on party tricks like “paw” or “shake.” His motto is “no bad dogs,” meaning all dogs can behave well if they have the right training.
One of the pointers Davis plans to discuss on Today is to teach owners how to instruct visitors to greet their dogs. Instead of getting dogs riled up and then scolding the dog for jumping and barking, begin a visit by having guests initially ignore the dog, Davis suggests.
This sort of behavioral guidance is especially useful now, when dog ownership has grown during the pandemic, according to the American Pet Products Association. Now, 54% of American households have dogs, according to the 2021-2022 APPA National Pet Owners Survey.
Patrick Francis, of Coeymans, said his 110-pound German Shepherd, Bane, is very well behaved because of working with Davis as a rescue puppy.
“He looks intimidating because of how big he is, but I could take that dog to any store, any dog park,” Francis said. “He is a great dog, and it’s because of [Davis].”
National Puppy Day, apart from taking the opportunity to gush at the cuteness of puppies, is also designed to raise awareness about puppy mills and help prospective pet owners consider adoption. About 30 to 40 animals enter the nation’s roughly 10,000 puppy mills each day, according to numbers on the National Puppy Day website.
Davis takes his work very seriously precisely because it can help keep puppies from turning into disobedient dogs that ultimately lose their way, leading to abandonment or other tough situations. In fact, some of the dogs that come to Davis have been court ordered to receive obedience training because they’ve bitten or attacked someone.
“So I have a responsibility not only to keep the dog alive in some circumstances but to make sure the public is going to be safe with this dog around,” Davis said.
Even with “problem” dogs, Davis said he doesn’t focus on the prior issues. Instead, he views dogs as individuals and assumes the best in them–just like how he’d want to be treated.
“I think a lot of dog owners hang onto the past. The dog owners get lost in the emotion about those things,” Davis said. “I look at them for the dog that they are.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.
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