This Week's Poll

Comments - bottom of page


New dog training facility opens in Madison

Equipping man’s best friend – And man to be dog’s best friend

By Tami Stevenson

People love their pets. If there is any doubt about how much pets are loved by their owners, one just has to look at the statistics. According to the American Pet Product Association (APPA), Americans spend more than $60 Billion a year on their beloved non-human besties. It is estimated that approximately 65 percent of U.S. households own pets and most are regarded as family with dogs being the number one pet and cats following in the number two spot.

But what does one do, for instance, when that tiny, adorable little puppy – that bundle of joy you brought home grows into a 50-70 pound dog that keeps getting into the garbage and eating things that could potentially kill them – or won’t stop jumping on people or even worse – begins to growl at you when you try to make them do something they don’t want to do?

Above: The Minders, with their military background, do not know the meaning of the word quit. Brian Minder survived active combat duty in the military, only to take a bad fall that broke his neck just last year in the states. His goal today is to help other people with severe disabilities understand the value of a service dog. -Courtesy Photo: Top Tier K9

There is now someone local that can help. Celebrating their grand opening with the Madison County Chamber earlier this month, Top Tier K9 is a unique 20 acre training facility, located just south of I-10 on CR 360, (formerly Lunch Box) just a few minutes from the City of Madison. They not only train the dog, but the owner as well, using live interactive internet classes along with the hands-on approach at the facility.

“The biggest problem we find is there are people that believe their dogs are there babies. Instead of treating the dog like a dog and understanding how dogs think, they actually try to treat the dog like a kid, like one of their children. That doesn't

Jeff Minder training a search and rescue dog – a lost child in the woods or an Alzheimer patient that wonders off, for example. -Courtesy Photo: Top Tier K9

work and creates the majority of problems people have with their dogs,” says Jeff Minder, CEO and Founder of Top Tier K9. In other words, pets can be family members without being given human status. “If (pet owners) would step back and understand how dogs think, most just want to please their owners. So being clear with communication, proper corrections and proper rewards, it quickly teaches the dog how to please you (and to have self control). Now the dog is happy and you’re happy,” he said.

A retired veteran, Minder received recognition as one of the top Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Instructors in the US military. He has received multiple awards as an entrepreneur, working with organizations as a business consultant and universities across the country as an adjunct instructor teaching students his unique approach to project management and how to succeed in business. He is also a Master Dog trainer. Along with training regular pet obedience, he specializes in advanced puppy imprinting, tracking, scent detection and protection. He holds degrees in computer science, mathematics, and search & rescue. His latest award was the James Blair Constitutional Award from the Madison County REC last year for his work in mentoring individuals in entrepreneurship.

Among all the awards and accolades, Minder and his family have seen their fair share of tragedy. He suffers from PTSD and his son, Brian Minder, who also is a combat veteran, suffers from PTSD as well. Brian survived the military, physically, but had a fall last year that severed his spine and left him a quadriplegic. His son’s accident fell on the same day he began a new radio program that airs Mondays at 6 p.m., talking about capitalism and starting your own business, called The Undefeated on Jasper’s He was live on the air when the accident occurred.

“It was really a shock. Not only to the family and my son but for the business and business plans as well.” Some plans were changed. Nevertheless, with the help of some Vietnam Veterans and others, setting up the facility for Top Tier K9 was accomplished in spite of the accident. Brian’s goal today is to help other people with severe disabilities understand the value of a service dog.

Top Tier K9’s new facilities located just south of I-10 on CR 360 in Madison. The building is the former location of the Lunch Box. -Courtesy Photo: Top Tier K9

Although pinch and E-collars (shock collars) have a negative stigma among some pet owners, according to Minder, it is one of the most humane forms of correction, when done properly. He explained there are a lot of people out there where the dog owns them, not the other way around, and that can sometimes be dangerous. They train the human as much as they train the dog.

Every dog has what he calls a bank account, which is their ability to handle correction and reward. So with each individual dog, he said you figure out what their bank account is. They comprehend a command through rewards then if they make the decision to break the command, for instance, you have to find that dog at the exact level of correction that stops the bad behavior without devastating the dog. “And it’s usually just a nick, basically.” So they use either a pinch collar or an E-collar and it is the most humane form of correction out there in his opinion.

“You’re basically getting the dogs attention the same way the mother did in the litter. So the younger we can start them, the better off (the faster they learn).”

He says they are what is called ‘balanced’ dog trainers. That means they use positive rewards to reward proper behaviors and to teach behaviors, and they use corrections to fix bad behaviors.

Minder’s training techniques and practices are endorsed by one who many consider one of the world’s leading dog trainers, Duane Pickel.

Pickel has trained dogs for 33 years, including eight as a sergeant in Vietnam and 22 as head of the K-9 unit of the Tallahassee Police Department. He also trained his Schnauzer, “George,” who has won over 400 obedience awards, to detect melanoma cancer cells on people. According to an article from the Tallahassee Democrat that was also featured in the Los Angeles Times – A dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer, Dr. Armand Cognetta, and dog trainer watched as George circled a patient, sniffing until he came to a suspected cancerous mole.

The dog sniffed hard, then sat down. “Show me,” ordered trainer Duane Pickel. The dog lifted his paw and gently touched the spot. A lab test confirmed it was cancer. –

Today, Pickel works with Top Tier K9 as an adjunct instructor and conducts seminars on scent detection and advanced training principles.

Every Tuesday evening Top Tier K9 is at the Bass Pro shop in Gainesville where they do evaluations, pick up and return dogs and conduct seminars. It is basically a satellite location where Minder and his team also perform demonstrations of the dogs trained to protect and more advanced abilities from the working dog category. Each Friday evening they are in Tallahassee’s Bass Pro Shop doing the same thing. Minder said they are now looking for a satellite location in Jacksonville.

Compared to the statistics that say pet owners spend over $1,600 per year and nearly $20,000 over a lifetime on their pets, the cost to have one’s dog trained seems very reasonable. Minder said although many trainers ask twice as much, because of the light overhead from Bass Pro Shops satellite locations and other things, the cost is $1470 for the 3 week course in basic obedience. That price includes boarding the dog and 3 private lessons with the owner and a DVD program the owner gets to study, which they test them on. They actually learn how to train their own dog from there and can apply that knowledge to future pets.

Top Tier K9 also offers certification for professional trainers and more advanced training for your dog. Visit their website at to see all the opportunities they offer.

Advanced protection training - They stress the need for the dog to respond to verbal commands even under the heavy load of a threat. Otherwise you have what Minder calls a junkyard dog.
-Courtesy Photo: Top Tier K9