K9 Gavin the Labrador Retriever
K9 Veterans Day is a time to honor our four-legged friends who have made a special contribution to our country through military or law enforcement service. Those of us involved with Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan are lucky enough to have met one of these courageous, loyal, and hard-working dogs ourselves, and viewers of the show may remember K9 Gavin, a 10-year-old Yellow Lab retiree of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
His handler and adopted Pack Leader, L.A. Bykowsky, took a generous break from training a new partner to give us this month’s pack profile - an interview dedicated to his remarkable service as well as the remarkable progress he has made since his appearance on the show. K9 Gavin and all canine veterans, we salute you!
CMI: Can you give us a quick recap of the problem that led you to seek Cesar’s help?
LAB: K9 Gavin had a noise aversion problem that had progressed on a downward spiral over the course of a couple years. He would exhibit fear at the sound of thunder or fireworks going off, and it progressed from that to include high-pitched noises like smoke detectors, and he also became fearful of rain, knowing that the thunder was soon to follow.
CMI: And how did that affect his work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms?
LAB: Given the nature of our job, we are around gunfire and explosions quite often. Additionally, I live in South Florida, which has a fairly lengthy rain and hurricane season. So I could be out working, and the noises would occur and he would shut down, which would interrupt our working process. It never got to the point where he couldn’t do his job, but it progressed to the point where I was concerned about it.
CMI: How did you get in touch with Cesar?
LAB: I had discussed the problem with my agency, the K9 department, and we experimented with different techniques about a year and a half prior to meeting with Cesar. At the time, K9 Gavin would be fearful of the noises, but was able to continue working, so I would work him through it. When he would hear the noise, I would distract him and try to engage him in something. I heard about Cesar through another ATF employee who was writing an article about our work at the 2007 Super Bowl. I had told him I would be taking K9 Gavin out of service and introducing a new partner. This employee was a very big fan of Cesar’s and a follower of his methods, and he recommended I check out the website. That’s how I learned about Cesar. They happened to be taking applications for cases in the Miami area, so I submitted a demo tape and they picked it up from there.
CMI: How long did K9 Gavin work with Cesar?
LAB: Ten weeks. 70 days. It was killing me! [laughs] That was a very frustrating time, to be honest. Being a Federal Agent and not being able to have control of that was very frustrating for me.
CMI: When all was said and done, did the time that K9 Gavin spent with Cesar seem to have a positive affect on him?
LAB: Absolutely. It was definitely worth it. In fairness to Cesar, he only had Gavin for a 10-week period, and this was a problem that had developed over several years. It definitely made a difference in his demeanor and in his ability to handle the noise. I noticed it immediately when I came back home with him. The other day, I was doing a demonstration with the new dog I’m training with, and K9 Gavin was there. At different times during the demonstration there were firecrackers going off, and the S.W.A.T. team was setting off flashbangs. Several times during the demonstration, K9 Gavin paid no attention when he heard the noise. Other times, he would sit down because he was startled by it, but he recovered very, very quickly. Prior to his work with Cesar, that wouldn’t have happened. It’s fascinating to me, and my husband notices it also, that when he hears a noise now, you can almost see him thinking: “Ok, Cesar told me to sit down when this happens. I’m not running away. I don’t like this noise, but it’s not going to hurt me.”
CMI: Where is K9 Gavin now?
LAB: When any ATF dog retires, there’s an option for a transfer of ownership to the agent working with him. We just went through that process with him, and we’re trying to put together a retirement package for him.
CMI: A resolution was passed in 2000 allowing civilians to adopt military working dogs who are no longer in active service. Did that legislation affect ATF working dogs as well, or is that separate?
LAB: That’s separate, and it’s done through the Department of Defense. The ATF’s policy at this point in time is that when the dog is reaching retirement age or gets taken out of service, the handler is given the opportunity to adopt the dog.
CMI: Since K9 Gavin is at home with you these days, can you tell us a little about his home life?
LAB: He’s pretty much living the life of Riley right now! I still take him to work with me every day. My other dog, L.E., which the narrator of the episode mistakenly identified as a neighbor’s dog, was killed last year in the line of duty, and I just went back to school to train with my third dog. So I have a new partner now, but I still take K9 Gavin with me on days that we’re not on assignment, and he still proudly waves the ATF flag. He still knows his stuff.
CMI: Tell me a little bit about your new partner, if you can, and how he and K9 Gavin get along.
LAB: His name is Darel, and I call him “Dare.” They can play together, and they do play together well, but you can tell that K9 Gavin is a little bit whiter in the face. He’s about 10 years old now, so depending on which scale you use, he’s between 64 and 68 years old in human years, and Darel is not quite 18 months. He still runs around, with Darel, but he gets tired much more quickly. But he’s still a true retriever; throw the ball, he brings it back. If you give something to K9 Gavin, he’ll plop down and chew it.
CMI: Any final thoughts on the process and K9 Gavin’s progress since he spent those 10 weeks working with Cesar?
LAB: We’re very happy with what Cesar was able to accomplish with Gavin. We feel that it was a success in the strongest terms. He isn’t cured, but Cesar made a huge difference, and we’re very grateful for the work that he did. It was a positive experience all the way around.
CMI: And do you continue to work with K9 Gavin at home?
LAB: We do. We have had a few instances since he returned from Cesar’s where the Fourth of July has rolled around and there have been some truly hellacious fireworks going off. He sat out with us outside during those displays, and we would re-direct his attention as needed. There may have been one time when the noises made him very upset, but he recovered quickly. I also know that since his time with Cesar there have been many documented instances where he has heard a loud bang or boom and had no reaction at all. And that never happened before Cesar. We do believe it was a success, and it has made a big difference in K9 Gavin’s retirement.