Westminster resident Susan Bulanda has been training dogs since she was in high school. Now, she writes books to help others with their training.
Two weeks ago Bulanda released her newest book on obedience, called “K9 Obedience Training: Teaching Pets and Working Dogs to be Reliable and Free Thinking.”
“I grew up basically loving animals,” Bulanda said. “We had animals and, I don’t know, I guess I’m one of those rare kids that knew what I wanted to do and be ever since I could remember — writing and … training were two of the things.”
Bulanda initially started training dogs for free while she was in junior high school, and by the time she was 17 she was making money training dogs for people. She is now 72.
Bulanda started writing while in a B.C. (before computers) generation, she said. She came into writing about dogs by first publishing a directory.
“My first venture into writing was a directory called ‘The Canine Source Book,’ ” Bulanda said. “That was a directory of everything related to dogs. I kept a list and the contact information for everything related to dogs. I don’t even remember how I found all that information out, but I did. It was a big hit.”
While searching for her niche, Bulanda tried multiple activities, such as drug detection, criminal apprehension, personal protection, hunting, dog sledding, obedience, competition, confirmation showing and more.
“The thing that finally struck me was search and rescue,” she said. “Search and rescue back in those days, there were maybe 20 units nationwide. It was not something that was accepted, understood. My husband and I were with a unit for a while and then we formed our own unit. We moved and then what happened was we were doing so many searches with the dive squad as a fire department, they said ‘Why don’t you just join the fire department?’ So, we became the land search unit of the Phoenix fire department in Pennsylvania and we did that for about 20 years.”
Before working with search and rescue dogs, she became known in the field by working on dogs with behavioral problems.
“I believed in rehabilitating problem dogs and using psychology, rather than coercion and getting to the cause rather than treating the symptoms,” Bulanda said. “I became quite well known in that area and then the field became recognized and then I was invited to become a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.”
Then Bulanda became known worldwide in the field due to her and her husband Larry’s search and rescue work in Pennsylvania, which led her to write her books.
“Quite a few people said, ‘Sue, you should write a book because you know you have really quick methods and you understand this,’ ” Bulanda said.
Bulanda’s latest book is about training dogs to be free-thinking.
“You see, working dogs cannot be robotic,” she said. “Competitive dogs, if you go to obedience trials, they have to be robotic, they have to do exactly the way they’re told, a certain position and do the exercises in a very certain way or they get points off. In working dogs, they can’t be like that, they have to have the freedom to think. So, my book, ‘K9 Obedience Training’ is geared towards working dogs and pet dogs, that allows them to think or do what we call intelligent disobedience.”
About seven years ago Bulanda and her husband moved to Westminster, where she continued her work with animal training and her books. Other than writing, Bulanda also still trains and consults one-on-one with clients — even though she claims she is supposed to be retired.
Bulanda also helps people with their cats with behavioral problems. Cats can’t be trained the same way dogs can, according to Bulanda, but they can be worked with and must start young. She owns two dogs, a cat and a few birds.
Bulanda’s latest book can be found on her website at sbulanda.com, along with other books she has published on dog training.