There is a reason I’ve never been a huge fan of documentaries. Besides feeling as though I’m in school being force-fed information I could really care less about, with stats and figures that bore me to sleep as they attempt to shock me with human travesty, I truthfully just have more of an emotional connection with fictional narratives that allow me to escape from real life. Every once in a while, though, a documentary will arrive to show a subject I wouldn’t normally seek out, giving me information in a biographical way rather than a cold, calculating, statistical format. Nicholas Goodman’s Canine Instinct is just such a film, not looking to tell me how many deaths are attributed to dog bites, or the ratio between professional training and violent incidents in America concerning different breeds of dog, but instead show an inside look at the life of Kyle L. Warren, a self-made lover of canines—don’t call him an animal psychologist or behaviorist—and the importance of earning your dog’s respect. He shows us how to diffuse aggressive tendencies and make animals listen and hold a ‘stay’ command above any other impulse they might have, without treats or abuse.
Anyone who knows me is aware that the idea of pet ownership has never been thought of as an appealing endeavor. I just don’t see the benefit of, what I feel is, the one-sided relationship with a pet. For all the things you must do to take care of and clean up after your dog, cat, whatever, the prospect of seeing it after a hard days work does nothing for me. That said, however, Canine Instinct does its best job to make me appreciate the kind of intelligence and capabilities these beasts contain within them. People love their dogs—I have tons of family members in that camp—and you can see the emotional attachment in the owners’ eyes as Kyle comes to help teach them how to control their pet. So many times he’ll come in and say ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ in a forceful yet quiet manner, watching the dog obey to the dismay of his clients wondering what they are doing different. Kyle isn’t afraid to say that training the dog is the easy part; it’s giving the owner the canine instinct that’s so tough to get across. When he gets a dog to understand that staying is more important than getting the Frisbee flying across the sky—a stand-in for any distraction, such as a gopher or deer—he proves the pet isn’t confused, but finally aware that what it wants isn’t what it’s supposed to do.
Warren is the kind of man I can respect in his achievements and supposed unorthodox path, as far as current societal views dictate, to get there. Looked upon as a kid with fierce sensibilities and an unceasing drive to succeed—his father speaks about how Kyle would wake up at 6am to study before going to school—he decided to forego college and pursue his passion for dogs. A wrestler at school, his day job was at his aunt’s pet supply store. He began to make contacts with coaches, teachers, customers, and neighbors across town, helping them better understand how to achieve a symbiotic relationship with their pets. Watching him with his own dogs shows how effective his techniques are. To see Rogue sit and stay during a training exercise for an intensely aggressive animal is unbelievable. Kyle knows that the dog wants Rogue and would snap her by the neck and shake if given the opportunity. He also knows that if the dog realizes the other canine isn’t close enough, he could turn around and attack him with relative ease. But just as Rogue sits silently as the German Shepherd barks in her face, Kyle also shows no fear, working as long as it takes, yanking the collar and commanding to sit and calm down. It is truly an amazing thing to experience, especially since all the pet owners I know rely so heavily on treats, the object he maintains only works so long as the other option is less appealing.
But Canine Instinct isn’t solely about Kyle’s tactics in training dogs to co-exist peacefully within human society. If you want that, go purchase his book delving into the secrets he teaches his clients. Goodman’s film concerns the man himself and his extreme dedication to the animals in his life. It’s not all about dogs, he also trains and races homing pigeons as a way to have quiet time away from work. A hobby that stemmed from his grandfather’s passion, it’s just one more way to stay in constant motion outside and with nature’s creatures. And while helping others build better bonds with their dogs Kyle discovered he wanted more. So, along with girlfriend Jana Martin, he began to put his energy into training search and rescue dogs, bridging his love for the animals and enjoyment in helping people to its ultimate convergence point. His dream was now reaching a level where he could take two superb specimens and create a family of K-9 hunters with the ability to save lives in peril. We watch him from the beginning, through the trials and tribulations, and to the success of all the hard work with his rise through the ranks of the Eagle Valley Search Dogs organization.
The film is only around sixty minutes and as a result never loses your interest, especially with the change of pace from dog training to pigeon racing to search and rescue to breeding. More about the man behind the dogs than the animals themselves, I really was able to invest myself in Kyle’s tale and his outlook on life. Goodman does a wonderful job editing everything together, constructing a coherent look in his evolution as a trainer; throwing in events from his past and family history that helped shape the man he has become amongst the “Cops”-like testimonials on the way to a job. If anything stuck out as odd and unnecessary, it would be the weird night-vision type filter on some of the search and rescue footage. It becomes distracting and I’m not exactly sure why it was included in the first place since everything else is shown in full clarity, including other moments of the dogs in the woods. Besides that, however, I really can’t fault the film anywhere else. Kyle is a personable, intelligent man that captivates his audience with fascinating stories, that shy kid he says he was all but disappeared. And even I, the self-proclaimed guy with a complete indifference to pets, can’t help but look upon these creatures and want to take one home.
Canine Instinct 7/10