Jon has spent 35 years as an exotic (tigers, cougars, leopards) and domestic animal trainer (you name it, he's trained it) for film and television, where he deftly achieves key performances while maintaining the absolute well-being of all animals involved in the production. His animal-first advocacy work in Hollywood has lent itself to many lovable and memorable moments in iconic films and shows. His projects include ER, Frasier, Ellen, Friends, Thirtysomething, L.A. Law, Lambchop's Playhouse, and Doogie Howser MD, as well as the feature films Lethal Weapon 2, Terminator 2, Twister, Little Nicky, Click, Crazy Beautiful, Two Days in the Valley, Point Break, Iron Will, Frankie, and Johnny and Mars Attacks. In addition, he's worked with Mel Gibson, Adrien Brody, Antonio Banderas, John Malkovich, Patrick Stewart, Al Pacino, and Michelle Pfeiffer, to name drop a few.
My name is Jon Van Dyke. I have spent nearly four decades as an exotic and domestic animal trainer for film and television. I also wrote and directed a feature film about human trafficking in the U.S. and India. My movie, "Not Today," received a limited theatrical release by Lionsgate Films. I also ghostwrite blog posts, articles, and training manuals, and I even ghosted a bestselling book. But mostly, I just love working with, hanging out around, and talking to my dogs.
I started my career as an animal trainer for the world-famous magic show Siegfried and Roy in Las Vegas. While gaining knowledge and making friends, I quickly realized I needed more than just knowledge. I also felt the pull to chase my bigger-picture goal: working with animals for the film and television industry. After shifting gears, I ended up working big cats for the film industry for another few years, where two unfortunate nibbles (a cougar almost bit the end of my finger off - with a molar no less - and a spotted leopard left me in the hospital for four days with four drains sewn into the matching four teeth holes that he graciously left in my neck) left me with a newly discovered clarity on my mortality. It was at that point in my career that I found dog training. An animal way less likely to try and eat me.
As fate would have it, alligators and birds of prey of all shapes and sizes became my next niche. I obtained my falconry license and had the good fortune to apprentice under some incredible master falconers. Namely my mentor, a man named Dennis. This teddy bear of an old timer had forgotten more than most people could ever know about falcons, falconry, and birds of prey. At the same time, I began learning what I now sadly consider a dying art: dog training specifically for movie and television work. A specialty I continue to work in. My mentor was the guy who trained the dogs in movies like The Lost Boys and Overboard.
Along the way, I also started to dabble in the arts of writing and directing. My dog training mentor told me that the more I knew about everyone else's job on a film set, the better I'd be at my job. I took that advice to heart and ended up with a few directing gigs (main and second unit) and a few animal action coordinating gigs on some smaller budgeted films. Then, somewhere in the middle, I ended up working for the director Tim Burton. A job I kept for the next nine years. He was then, and to this day, remains one of my favorite directors, so to meet and get to work with him was a thrill.
"An interesting side note is that I worked for Mr. Burton for almost the duration of his relationship with his then-girlfriend, model Lisa Marie. As I said, an interesting side note that is not relevant to anything; it's just how I mark the term I was blessed to be hanging around in his universe."
An interesting side note is that I worked for Mr. Burton for almost the duration of his relationship with his then-girlfriend, model Lisa Marie. As I said, an interesting side note that is not relevant to anything; it's just how I mark the term I was blessed to be hanging around in his universe. One of the many highlights was training his personal chihuahua Poppy to work on his film Mars Attacks. We shared a love of dogs, film, and art; for whatever reason, we hit it off. I understood him. I understood his quirks and enjoyed working with and being around him. I was at his apartment when he received the news that the Superman project, the one he'd been working on for a year straight, the Nic Cage version, had gotten scrapped. He was devastated. I would later read that he had a play or pay deal which, simply put, meant he made 5 million dollars whether the film was made or not. Mr. Burton was clearly not in this for the money. He was genuinely crushed that his project would never get made. He was, and I'm sure still is, a great guy to work for and with.
Animals have always been my love. Dogs have always been my life. The simple truth is, on most days, I would rather talk to one of my dogs than anyone else. My dogs have always been my best friends beyond the definition of a simple companion or playmate. I've worked a stack load of land mammals, and out of all of them, I've always found my way back to working with dogs. They offer the best return on investment and are the definition of love. They give and receive it like no other creatures on God's earth. They bring us joy when joyless, hope when hopeless, relief when overwhelmed, and peace when stress threatens to tear us apart. They are comfort. Notice I didn't say they offer comfort; I believe they are designed to comfort us. It is not an offer we can choose to refuse or accept; it is, by nature, who they are. Probably not by active choice, but still.
It's almost as if God knew that humans would be stressed, overwhelmed, overworked, overstimulated, and need a calming presence that we could rely on. It's interesting to me that dog spelled backward is God. At first glance, that seems like a cosmic inside joke. But on deeper reflection, God is love; dogs bring love. God is peace; dogs bring peace; God is faithful; dogs are faithful, loyal to a fault, some would say. God is hope; dogs exude hopefulness. Coincidence? I doubt it. I've worked in the film and television industry and the detection dog industry; I've even spent time working in the basic obedience and agility disciplines. More importantly, I've spent way more of my life with dogs than without them. Life is decidedly better with them. Regarding training, I am a teacher who knows what he doesn't know. When I feel like I'm not sure, or that I can't correctly advise, I have decades' worth of friends who are all ridiculously intelligent in all things dog, each a master in their discipline, that I can ring up.
This way, instead of needless posturing, we can all grow. That being said, "I'd rather talk to my dog" exists for you, my fellow dog lover and, hopefully, my newest long-term client. You learn, I grow, and we share and enlighten each other through our everyday experiences with these amazing creatures. It's no accident that dogs have forever been labeled "man's (and woman's, of course) best friend." I wholeheartedly believe they can be that and so much more.