Dog Training No Act for Thespian

Written by Annie Beckman
Photography by Lindsey Wasson
August 9, 2011

Over breakfast at a popular West Seattle haunt, David “the Dog Trainer” Hogan, ’00, shares animated talk about the reinforcement necessary to motivate dogs—and even chickens—to behave. 

Enter, stage left, Terence and Sarah Cardinal, who approach the trainer with noticeable enthusiasm. The Cardinals are more than a little appreciative that Hogan’s visit to their West Seattle home resulted in big changes to the soiling habit of their boxer.

Theirs had been a happy history with boxers, although this particular one turned out to be a challenge.

“David just came to the house once,” Terence notes, “and it gave us a foundation that really helped.”

“Our dog is so much better,” adds Sarah. “Now he’s excellent.”

It’s a dream testimonial for the dog trainer, yet not unusual for Hogan. What at first was a way to support his acting career soon matured into a successful business that now employs his actress wife Angela DiMarco as operations manager and four others part time. When he’s not cast in a Seattle theatrical production, Hogan routinely meets one-on-one with his 30 dog clients, a little clicker in hand and freeze-dried liver or jerky treats in his pocket. He branded David the Dog Trainer—from the jacket he wears to his business cards—in Seattle University colors: black and red.

The dog act began when Hogan and DiMarco moved to Los Angeles for a short time in 2003, to see if Hollywood was in their future.

“Bad timing,” he says, “but we did adopt a dog while we were down there.”

Vida, then a two-year-old boxer mix, lured Hogan to what he describes as the often confusing and contradictory ideas about dogs and their behavior. A dog groomer at first, Hogan later became a dog walker before he picked up the scent for dog training.

Living and working with dogs made him curious.

 “Vida inspired me to want to learn more,” he says. “She made me wonder. When a dog is just growling, is there intent to do harm? Or is the dog simply communicating?”

By then, Lily, a Lhasa Apso, had been added to his family.

Hogan trekked to Legacy Canine Behavior and Training in Sequim, Wash., where he began his groundwork with…chicken training. “If you can learn to train a chicken, you can clicker train a dog,” he says.

The clicker’s sound is conditioned reinforcement to a dog, or a chicken, a little like cash is to people. “If money couldn’t buy anything, it wouldn’t be exciting, but it leads to other stuff. That’s what a clicker does. It’s the stimulus that leads to food,” he says.

Hogan’s hunger to understand more about dogs took him to San Francisco for a six-week seminar with author and dog behaviorist Jean Donaldson at the Academy for Dog Trainers of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Ian Dunbar, the British pioneer in lure reward training, also became a mentor along with other leading experts in the field. In no time, Donaldson described Hogan as “spectacular at both training and communicating.”

“You don’t need to have a license to train a dog,” Hogan says, “but I didn’t have the tools to be as good as I wanted to be. I quickly learned the dogs that are easily food motivated are by far the fastest and easiest to train.”  

David Hogan, “The Actor,” is the dramatic flip side to the dog trainer.

Hogan caught the acting bug when he had an opportunity to sing “Mack the Knife” in “The Threepenny Opera” at SU. Until that first time he auditioned, though, Hogan figured he’d become a cop and chose criminal justice as his major.

He says his family was a lot more inclined to support his artistic endeavors than a dangerous career in law enforcement.  

Hogan took a few acting classes, was cast in more productions and a class from Fine Arts Professor Ki Gottberg helped him develop a passion for Shakespearean drama.

Before he graduated, Hogan knew he wanted to explore his passion for theater. The summer after graduation, he worked for Empty Space Theater as a stagehand. Then he started to audition and began to build a substantial resume in theater productions around Puget Sound, including the Washington Ensemble Theatre, Village Theatre, Theater Schmeater, Repertory Actors Theatre, Arts West and Seattle Opera. In 2002, he won a Seattle Times Footlight Award for his lead role in the Book-It Repertory Theatre production of If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, based on the Vietnam War autobiography by Tim O’Brien.

Shakespeare continues to inspire Hogan, who appears frequently in the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Wooden O Theatre productions and will again this summer as Dromio of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors. This will be the fourth summer Hogan travels with the company when it takes that show to Walla Walla’s Shakespeare Uncorked Aug. 10-14 at the Fort Walla Walla Amphitheater.

John Bradshaw, managing director of the Seattle Shakespeare Company, describes Hogan as a remarkably gifted actor with a phenomenal range and adds: “He has the charisma of a leading man combined with the acting chops of a character actor. Added to that, he has an incredibly positive presence in a cast because he's such a good person."

Last year, Hogan says he chose to think of acting as a career when he joined Actors’ Equity Association. Then he became a member of the American Guild of Musical Artists earlier this year during the Seattle Opera’s production of The Barber of Seville. Opera? Hogan played Ambrogio, a non-singing role.

This actually was his second non-singing role with Seattle Opera. The first was as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Opera’s young artists’ program two years ago. Both were directed by Peter Kazaras, who says Hogan has the right attitude to be a successful performer.

“I knew when I was looking for an actor to do the role of Ambrogio in the Seattle Opera mainstage production of Barber of Seville that David was the right person for the job,” says Kazaras. “He gave it 100 percent every time, and carefully worked out all the appropriate physical bits I requested, and then some. He is the real deal.” 

Hogan with his boxer mix, Vida, at Alki Beach.
Davig Hogan as Ambrogio in Seattle Opera's production of The Barber of Seville. (photo by Rozarii Lynch)