I met Carolyn Troiano in Richmond, Virginia. She and her husband Bill have trained their Rottweiler, Goliath to do some amazing things. See the video links at the bottom of the interview. This is my interview with Bill Troiano about Goliath, his training, his amazing talents, and their new books… ~Heather
Tell our readers a little about yourself and Goliath and his special talents.
Well, I grew up in Maine near a game farm, and I’ve always felt a special bond with animals. I’ve always had pets, including rescued raccoons and squirrels, and I’ve trained many of them over the years to be obedient and perform some tricks.
I first met Goliath at a local dog park that I was visiting with my American Bulldog, Angel. A gentleman came over with his 6-month-old Rottweiler puppy, and we started a conversation. He told me that he was moving out of state, and would not be able to bring his dog with him. He was looking for a really good home for him, and when I looked at the puppy, I could tell right away that he was special. We had an immediate connection. I brought him home to see how he would get along with Angel and another rescued male American Bulldog, “Spike,” who had joined our household earlier that year. The new puppy fit right in, showing great affection for our family and his new “siblings.”
After talking with my wife and son, we agreed to provide a home and much love for our new addition, “Goliath.” He was a gently puppy, and over the years, he grew to be a gentle giant.
Goliath has brought us more joy, laughter and love than any of us could ever have imagined. He is truly part of the family, and he works really hard, both in learning new skills and in building relationships with all of us.
How long did it take to train him? Did you all use any special techniques?
Dogs love to go for a ride, so whenever I would shake the car keys, Goliath understood what that meant, and got very excited. I would toss the keys on the floor and ask him to bring them to me if he wanted to go for a ride, and, of course, he brought them to me every time.
I did the same thing with his leash. I would ask him if he wanted to go for a walk, and, again, he would get excited. I would tell him to get me his leash, and he would bring it right to me.
Goliath seemed to understand that everything has a name, and if I communicated with him in that way, he would eventually begin to understand the words associated with each item I presented to him. Of course, it requires a lot of repetition, but he seems to learn more quickly with each item I present to him.
Goliath is a really fast learner, more so than any other animal I’ve ever trained. When I teach him the name of an object, or a new trick, he learns very quickly. He knows and can retrieve over 700 everyday objects, including stuffed animals, tools, sporting equipment and other household items. I’ve been working with him on these since he has been with us, and he’s now 6 years old.
I’ve also taught Goliath a lot of tricks. He can speak, stay, roll over, beg, play dead, give me his left paw and then his right paw, and then when I ask for a hug, he wraps his front paws around my waist. Goliath loves a good belly rub, and when I ask him if he wants one, he rolls over and raises his belly to be stroked.
I taught him to catch a treat that I would toss to him, which is a very common skill for animals, especially dogs. Once Goliath mastered the catch, I had him sit and then placed a treat on his nose, making sure I used a flat one, so that it would stay in place more easily. I told Goliath to “stay,” and continued to hold his head steady while he balanced the treat on his nose. Once he learned to balance it without my hand in place, I removed the treat and gave him a different treat as a reward.
Next, I taught him to flip it in the air and catch it in his mouth, building on what he had already learned. While holding a treat in my hand, Goliath learned that his job was to focus on the treat while remaining still. I then guided my hand closer to his mouth and said “catch,” with my hand close enough that he wouldn’t jump or move. The first time I did this, I guided the treat all the way to his mouth. I continued practicing the steps of catching and balancing with him for a couple of weeks before teaching him to flip the treat off of his nose and catch it in his mouth. At first, he ended up tossing the treat off of his nose, but after some repetition, and remaining positive, he eventually caught the treat.
Another important point to note is that your body language is critical to success. You have to remain calm and very positive, and never show any frustration if your dog is not catching on as quickly as you would like. Patience and repetition are key aspects to continuing progress.
I can also put a piece of steak under his paw and tell him to leave it, and he learned not to touch it or even look at it until I give him the “okay” command.
Rewarding his progress is absolutely critical. When I first started teaching him, I would give him a small piece of meat each time he retrieved an object. As the list of objects began to grow, I slowed that down and would reward him after retrieving seven items. You have to know how to balance the reward and tie it directly to his ability to focus.
When I use the phrase “bad guy,” he responds aggressively, barking very loudly. If I say “good guy,” he jumps up and gives me a hug. Every morning, I ask him to remove the covers on my bed, and he pulls them down, and then brings me my socks. If I’m wearing a hoodie, I’ll bend over and ask him to pull it off, and he’ll do that.
Goliath also loves to swim, and can retrieve a 50-pound log and bring it back to the shoreline. He’s an extremely agile dog, and loves to exercise. His breed is built for hard work, and the more you challenge them, the more they love it.
How did you know Goliath had a special aptitude or talent?
You just have to look into Goliath’s eyes and see that human quality about him, it’s just amazing. It’s as if he can read your thoughts. He seems to understand things at a much deeper level than any animal I’ve come across in my life. I think our connection has really been at the heart of his desire and willingness to learn. He always wants to please me and he works really hard. In fact, he thrives on it, as many of his breed do, as they’re in the working dog group.
Goliath has an unusual ability to memorize the names of objects. It all started with a couple of stuffed animals. I noticed how incredibly fast he learned the names of them. My wife gave Goliath a Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animal that talks and vibrates when you press its belly. Goliath loved this, and the next day, I asked him where Winnie-the-Pooh was, and he immediately ran downstairs and retrieved it. The other amazing thing is that he never forgets what he learns. I can put away an item he knows for several months, and, sure enough, when I take it out again and ask him to retrieve it he does so perfectly and without hesitation.
Most dogs will identify a few favorite toys, but as I said earlier, Goliath has learned the names of over 700 items. I’m always at garage and yard sales looking for unusual objects to bring into the mix. In fact, this week I taught him to retrieve a man’s roller skate. He loves this one, in particular, because I send it rolling across the floor, and he chases it and brings it back to me. With toys, I usually let him play with each one for a while before teaching him to retrieve it by name. He always gets excited when I bring home something new.
I also continue to challenge Goliath and test his skills. He knows I believe in him and he trusts me implicitly. Just as with people, dogs have talents that will remain hidden unless you unleash them (pardon the pun).
One big fallacy is that dogs can’t see colors. Goliath has proven that he can distinguish objects by color. I have six golf balls in different colors, and if I ask him to get the green one, or the yellow one, and so forth, he gets it right every time. The same is true with some other items, such as combs in different colors, but which are otherwise identical.
Then I started testing him on colors using objects he had never seen before. I have an orange cone that I use for teaching tennis, and he knows that it’s a cone. So I brought in cones in several other colors and asked him to get the yellow cone, the green cone, the blue cone and the red cone. He retrieved every one of them correctly, just based on knowing colors.
Goliath has two toothbrushes, a yellow one and a purple one, and he can pick them out by color. He also has a bunch of different footballs, and knows the red one, yellow one and black one. He knows the football that’s half blue and half orange. Goliath also knows two different NFL team footballs with the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers colors and logos. He knows them all by name and never misses.
I have a number of stuffed animals and other objects that are identical in every way except for size, and Goliath can retrieve the big one and the little one of each character correctly every time. I have three stuffed reindeer that all look very much alike, but he knows the difference because one I call “Rudolph,” a second one is “Talking Rudolph” and the third is “Coach,” which is the character who plays the reindeer coach in the old “Rudolph the Reindeer” TV movie.
Tell us about some of Goliath’s adventures. Where has he visited?
Goliath spends most of his time locally, in parks, on trails, and in ponds, enjoying the outdoors with his “siblings” and other dog friends. He has traveled to many locations in the region where he performs at Pet Expos and SPCA events. Goliath has a lot of trophies, and also comes home with a lot of “SWAG” from these shows. I often laugh that he brings in enough snacks and other items to support the rest of our pets.
How long has Goliath lived with you?
We’ve been blessed with Goliath for the last 5 ½ years.
Do you have any other pets?
Yes. We have three more Rottweilers, all rescues, along with Angel, our American Bulldog, a one-year-old cat, and two very large parrots. One is a Military Macaw and the other is a Double Yellow-Headed Amazon, and they both speak. They all get along and are respectful of each other. We’ve had as many as twenty-one pets at one time, mainly rescues, covering seven different species: dogs, cats, rabbits, parrots, ferrets, raccoons and squirrels. They were introduced to each other at a very young age, and forged relationships that would defy conventional thought. They always had fun and it was incredible to watch them devise games to play with each other. They learned from each other in ways that confounded us, and as “siblings,” they often teased each other. I often think that we, as humans, can learn so much about how to relate to other people just by observing animals and the relationships they build and nurture.
What’s your funniest Goliath story?
Goliath learned to close the door after coming in from outside. If someone leaves the refrigerator door open for too long, he’ll come by and close it. He even opened up the front door for my wife when she locked herself out. She stood by the latch, asking him to give her a hug, and the neighbors, who were out on their front porch, kept asking if she wanted help, assuming the dog would never open the door. Lo and behold, within a couple of minutes, Goliath flipped the bolt open to everyone’s amazement, but my wife knew he could do it, and I’m sure Goliath sensed that she had complete faith in him. He truly can sense that you’re rooting for him and I think that’s just an amazing quality that differentiates Goliath from other dogs.
What is your favorite place to visit with your dogs?
There are a couple of ponds that we take Goliath to swim in, and we meet up with friends and their dogs for a play date. Goliath loves to see his dog friends, and he absolutely loves the water. I think the water exercise is a really important thing for animals to keep them healthy and even psychologically happy.
Years ago, we had a female Rottweiler, “Venus,” who lived to be 15 years old, and I attribute that to the fact that we lived on Lake Anna at the time, and swimming was part of her daily regimen. In fact, one morning I let the dogs out and forgot the gate to the dock was open. Venus leaped off the dock and right into a bass fishing boat. One of the guys in the boat jumped overboard out of fear, while Venus jumped in the other guy’s lap and started licking him. When his friend surfaced, the guy in the boat was laughing his head off. I’m sure he’ll be telling that story for years to come.
What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?
“Marley and Me,” by John Grogan, is a book about the lovable Labrador Retriever and his time spent with his family. It was filled with joy and sadness. We’ve had many dogs, and reading the book, I could only think of all the laughter and passion we felt for these animals as they enriched our lives. There is no greater love than that which an animal confers on his master, and no greater gift than the loyalty and love they return so selflessly and so eagerly. All of my dogs exhibited the same characteristics and I could really feel that sense of loyalty and unconditional love that Marley gave to his family. We’ve truly been blessed by the animals that have come into our lives, depending on us for their existence and trusting us to treat them with respect. It’s a bond you can’t explain in ordinary terms.
What are you reading right now?
Actually, I’m reading an old book about a raccoon. It’s called Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, written by Sterling North about his childhood in Wisconsin. He writes about spending a year of his childhood raising a baby raccoon, during WWI, and the story also chronicles the changes in his family and the area around him during that time. It speaks to transcending loss, and finding humor in the small things in life. It reminds us the importance of taking care of those around us who need that special care until they can take care of themselves, and the lessons of life that we can learn from each other.
There was a raccoon that used to come to my window when I was younger, and I named him “Bandit.” In the 1990s, my wife and I raised three orphaned baby raccoon brothers, “Huey,” “Dewey” and “Louie,” in the 1990s, as part of an animal rescue program. Watching them grow for two years, before introducing them to the creek behind our house, was an adventure. It was sad to let them go, but life has its cycles and everything must be done in its time. We loved having them with us for that time, but they were ready to migrate up the creek and join the rest of the raccoons. They were ready to mate.
What advice would you give to new dog owners or folks interesting in adopting a new, four-legged family member?
Ask yourself why you are contemplating bringing a pet into your life, and remember, it’s not just coming into your home, but into your life. A pet is a living member of your household, not an accessory to your home. With dogs, the breed is also crucial to your decision. Make sure you understand what kind of dog you’re thinking about bringing home and how they would fit in.
Are you home a lot, or do you travel? Do you have someone who can look after your dog if you do have to travel or be away from home? Do you like to be outside in the yard or take walks in the park? Are you willing to spend the time and patience to train your pet to obey?
You also need to think about potential allergies when selecting a pet. How much work are you willing to put into cleaning up after them? Some dogs shed a lot during certain times every year. You also need to think about unforeseen veterinary bills, as you never know what it will take to keep your pet healthy throughout its life.
What advice would you give folks about dog training?
You must be patient. As with any living creature, they all have a certain level of ability and you have to set your expectations accordingly. Know your dog’s breed and what their typical strengths and weaknesses, but don’t automatically box them into those categories. Just be aware of them. As with children, you have to encourage them and guide them, and praise all of their work. Don’t set unrealistic expectations or get frustrated if they don’t deliver according to your needs or desires. It’s not about you. It’s about giving your love to a creature of the earth, and not expecting anything but love in return. Animals are individuals, and you have to find out what makes them special and makes them thrive, and focus on those talents.
Does Goliath have any upcoming events?
Well, a story about Goliath will be in “The Total Rottweiler Magazine” which is published in 134 countries.
He has done a number of shows at local and regional SPCA events and Pet Expos, most recently at “The World of Pets Expo” at Hampton Coliseum, in Hampton, VA, on February 18, 2019. Goliath won the talent contest.
That was Goliath’s 6th birthday, and he celebrated in style with his “sibling” Rottweilers. You can see some of the video and pictures on Goliath’s Facebook page, showing the gang in their party hats, waiting to dig into the birthday feast.
Goliath’s next appearance will be at the “Dog Gone Dog Show,” sponsored by the Animal Welfare League of the Northern Neck, in Kilmarnock, VA, on April 20, 2019.
Goliath is also a YouTube sensation, with many videos showing his ability to retrieve items by memory, and to do tricks. Most recently, I was contacted by someone who would like to do a documentary on Goliath, so that will be very exciting!
Goliath is usually very busy with shows through year-end, and he is especially fond of the “Southside SPCA” events in Farmville, VA, doing a charity show for them every year in December. We definitely like to do the shows that will benefit other animals and promote the idea of providing homes for those animals in need.
Tell us about your books.
We’re putting together a series of children’s books called “Goliath Loves to Learn.” Each book is based on a particular theme for learning. Children will love to learn about colors, shapes, sizes, and other themed topics, alongside Goliath, who is always eager to learn about new things. I think kids will really appreciate these books, as they’re based on a real dog and his capabilities. If Goliath can learn, then hopefully they’ll realize that they can learn too. I think it will be very encouraging for them, and show them that anything is possible, if you just give it your best. Goliath loves new challenges, and we hope he can convey that “can do” attitude to children.