Serving Los Angeles for 90 Years!
If there is hallowed ground for Hollywood four-legged movie stars , it would be Hollywood Dog Training School is hallowed ground for several four-legged movie stars, including Toto, Rin-Tin-Tin and even Lassie, among some other well-known “furry lovelies” from the 1930s - 60s.
The School’s Background
The school was established in 1927 by Carl Spitz, Sr., a German immigrant who had learned dog training from the man many consider to be the “Father of Dog Training,” Colonel Konrad Most. Spitz found work in Hollywood, training dogs for the movies. He is best-known for training his family dog, Terry, to be Toto in the Wizard of Oz.
The first location of Spitz’s school was a ten-acre parcel near Laurel Canyon Blvd. Since he was housing Hollywood lovelies, the accommodations were grander than most kennels. According to the school’s website, the property boasted two oversized kennels with southern exposure, long runs, a large grass playground, showers, porcelain bathtubs, an electric dryer and a special kitchen where vegetable and beef bone soup was cooked for dinner for “distinguished boarders.”
In addition, dogs used by the Pinkerton Detective agency were trained there, and Spitz was among the dog trainers who stepped forward for the U.S. to help train the canine corps that was newly formed during World War II.
Spitz had to find a new location in the 1950s when the Ventura Freeway was being built. As it happened, the property owned by another famous trainer, Rudd Weatherwax (Lassie's trainer), became available. Weatherwax was in discussions about a television series starring Lassie, so the time was right for him to sell his dog kennel on Vanowen Street in North Hollywood.
The Lassie Connection
The Vanowen property, where the school now sits, actually figured into the creation of the Lassie TV series! It was here that Lassie chose her Timmy. In Rudd Weatherwax’s obituary in the Los Angeles Times (2-26-1985), the reporter cites an interview from 1979 with Tommy Rettig, the boy star of the show. Rettig says, “It was narrowed down to three of us. Each spent a week at Lassie’s house (the Vanowen property). Whoever got along best with the dog got the part. It was Lassie’s choice.” Shortly thereafter, Weatherwax was ready to sell the property to Carl Spitz since the television show would be his full-time focus.
Spitz bought the property, but maintained the Weatherwax connection. In fact, we still have Lassie’s paw prints that were embedded in cement that was poured for new kennels at the time.
The Legacy Continues
Rick Karl attributes his interest in a dog training career to a German shepherd he owned during college. “She was a really special animal,” he said. Karl graduated from Southern Illinois University with a double major in psychology and sociology and decided to see if a career as a dog trainer was a possibility. “I could always go back to finish training for my original career in rehabilitation counseling.” Karl knew he needed to work in several types of animal-related positions to expand his knowledge. In Chicago he worked at one of the largest veterinary centers, and then he began traveling to take jobs at kennels and with trainers to learn more specifics. These jobs ranged from a German shepherd kennel in Westchester, New York to the Willy Necker School for Dogs in suburban Chicago. He also gained certification to train sentry dogs.
Eventually he moved to California, stopping first in San Rafael for three years, where he trained guide dogs for the blind. He then moved to Pacifica, California where he began his own training school based at Linda Mar Kennels.
When Carl Spitz Sr. died, Carl Spitz Jr. began to explore new options. Rick Karl heard the property they owned, the Hollywood Dog Training School, might change hands, but Karl could not afford to buy it. As a result, the two struck a deal. Karl leased the school in the early years until he could afford to purchase it outright.
Today, Rick Karl and his staff continue to build and maintain Hollywood Dog Training School, ensuring that our four-legged friends are happy in their "home away from home."