Five hundred dollars.
That’s all the money Mike Pennington had to begin his business, Storm Dog Training LLC, back in 2006. Ten years later, dogs that he’s trained on working all over the country.
Pennington, a Sunbury resident and a former K-9 deputy with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, had to retire early due to an injury he sustained during a SWAT training exercise. Not one to sit still, Pennington wanted to find a way to continue to serve the public without aggravating his injury.
“The K-9 training business allowed me to stay where my heart was at, which was dogs and law enforcement. So even though I wasn’t in a cruiser anymore, I was still associating with those guys and being able to make a difference.”
Pennington said starting the business took a lot of hard work and determination. All of his clients have come to him through word of mouth and it wasn’t long before he began to build a reputation of a top K-9 trainer. In the beginning, many of the dogs he trained were for obedience for civilians. Eventually Pennington got his first police department client and his business began to grow from there.
What separates Storm Dog Training from other dog training businesses?
“The biggest thing is we don’t train to a system,” he explained. “What I mean by that is a lot of people start with their dog at A and then progress to B, then they go to C, and it’s a system style. So every handler and dog goes through the same routine. So we don’t train to a system-style training. We evaluate each dog independently. We figure out what we need to do training-wise for that specific dog to have high trainability and high retention.”
The motto of the company is “K-9 Control, Focus and Commitment.” According to Pennington, if you have those three things, the dogs will be able to handle distractions, such as people yelling or other dogs barking.
“We want those dogs to react in the same way that we want the handlers to react under stress. We want them to react under control, with focus and commitment to do what they have to do to protect the citizens or to do their job in a sufficient manner.”
Pennington has trained well over 100 dogs in law enforcement and military but, due to non-disclosure agreements, he said he can’t discuss anything about their training or where they’re located or what they do. However, dogs are trained for narcotic detection, explosive detection, suspect apprehension, tracking, search and rescue, mold detection, bed bug detection and cellphone detection.
He said that his company works with about 50 to 70 law enforcement agencies in Ohio alone, and has dogs all across the country.
Some examples of the successes of the dogs he’s trained include the dogs sniffing out large quantities of pot, cocaine and guns. He said that the first dog he trained for a department in Ohio was a dual-purpose dog trained in narcotics detection and suspect apprehension. Within two months of hitting the streets, the handler made a traffic stop. When he suspected drugs could be in the car, he got his canine partner to do a narcotic sniff of the vehicle. His partner gave a positive alert for drugs. Upon searching the car, he found a hidden compartment that contained $1 million in cash.
Besides training police and military dogs, Pennington has trained personal protection dogs for musicians, professional athletes and attorneys, to name just a few. The same philosophy is used for training personal protection dogs, he said. He evaluates the risk to the client and the lifestyle of the client and family. Placing the correct dog with each client is key to his success, he said.
Some of the more unusual training he’s done is training a dog that travels on the client’s yacht. Other dogs need to be comfortable flying on a client’s personal jet.
As Storm Dog Training has grown, so have the number of trainers. Pennington said he now employs seven trainers, not including himself.
In the last two years, Pennington’s business has increased at a rapid rate, leading him to divide his company into two divisions. Storm Dog Training is now dedicated to civilian dogs. That includes training personal protection dogs and basic obedience training. He has now created Storm Dog Tactical that is dedicated solely to law enforcement and military operations.
To learn more about Storm Dog Training and Storm Dog Tactical, go to www.Stormdogtraining.com and www.stormdogtactical.com.
Laurie Sickles is a free-lance writer for The Gazette.