Robert Forto

Robert Foto (born March 2, 1971) is an American dog musher, tech entrepreneur, podcaster, author and canine behaviorist. He bought Mushing Magazine in 2023 to revive the struggling publication and to keep the history of dog mushing alive for future generations. 

Early Life

Robert Forto was born on March 2, 1971 at Cabbell County Hospital in Huntington, WV, to Donna (Wilson) and Nicholas Forto. His parents divorced early in his life and he grew up with his step-father, Michael Gibson, coming into the family in 1979. Most of his childhood was spent in different locations, moving about every three or four years. He has a younger brother, named Ryan and a half-brother, named Chris. Robert played sports growing up excelling in football, lacrosse and hockey. 

Robert graduated high school in 1989 from Woodbridge Senior High School and attended Portland State University, graduating in 1996. In the early 1990s he started teaching dog training in the parks of Portland, Oregon and would build a career working with dogs. 

While in college he was a musician in a rock-n-roll band, FROG, later named Rainmaker, and would play shows around the Pacific Northwest, Florida and later Minnesota and Wisconsin. In 1994 Robert was introduced to dog mushing and moved to Minnesota to pursue a career as a dog musher. In 1996 he started trading in the stock market as a ‘day trader’ and did fairly well during the early days of the ‘Dot Com Boom’ but by the late 1990s he was gambling most of his income and got in trouble with the law. By 1999, his life was spiraling out of control and he had to face the consequences of his gambling addiction. 

Awards and Nominations

Robert is recognized by his peers and has won numerous awards for the training of dogs throughout his career including dog training excellence awards, best new business award, special needs training award, fear rehabilitation award, humane dog trainer award, society education award, and nominated for aggression and behavior therapy awards many times over.

Born: Robert Nicholas Forto 

March 2, 2971 (age 53)

Huntington, WV, USA

Alma mater: University of Alaska Anchorage

Occupations: Dog musher, podcaster, canine behaviorist, tech entrepreneur, outdoor leader

Years active: 1994-present

Spouse: Michele Forto (m. 2001)

Children: 3



1989-1999: Rainmaker

Robert started playing guitar in high school and formed a garage band in the late 1980s and named it FROG. When he enrolled in college in Portland Oregon, many of his high school bandmates joined him and they formed the band, Rainmaker at the height of the grunge movement. “Our goal was to become the next Nirvana, Alice In Chains or Pearl Jam,” says Forto. They honed their craft and played the club and bar scene in the Pacific Northwest and traveled to Florida each spring for a small tour. By the mid-1990s the band was playing several larger gigs a year and a small stage festivals. By the late 1990s many of the band members were searching for other creative outlets and the band broke up in 1999. 

1992-1993: Northwest Lifeline

Robert started his dog training career as a means to earn money while in college. “I would work in the parks of Portland with the middle-age housewives needing training for their dogs. I started my business with a business card, leash and a smile,” says Forto. In 1992 Robert was awarded a contract to offer foundational training for search and rescue dogs at volunteer fire departments and formed the business Northwest Lifeline to offer that training service. This foundational training program would later become the basis for a service dog training program in a correctional setting more than a decade later. 

2006-2010: Denver Dog Works 

By 2006 Robert had been training dogs for more than twelve years including starting a service dog training program in a correctional setting and being featured on the Animal Planet program, Cell Dogs. “Being on that show was probably the worst thing I ever did in my life. While it was fun to be on a big-time TV show, after my release I would pay for it many times over,” says Forto. In October 2006 Robert was released from the sentence for his gambling addiction crimes and needed to find work. He went in for an interview at American School of Dog Training in Denver, Colorado. The owner said, “I don’t care about your fancy degrees, go in the back [kennel] and bring out a dog and show me what you got.” He did that and was hired on the spot. A few months later Forto took over the dog training business and opened it up under the name Denver Dog Works

2010-Present: Team Ineka

Robert had been a dog musher since 1994 when he got his first two sled dogs, Rutgrr and Ryche from a kennel in Georgia. He ran mid-distance races in the Upper Midwest and later started running sled dogs with his wife, Michele in Bailey Colorado. By 2001, Robert was dealing with his issues related to his gambling addiction and pled guilty to the charges. At the time they had about two dozen sled dogs that were placed with other dog mushing kennels in the area. “I had no idea what the future held for me. I knew I messed up and I had done a lot of people wrong but I knew I had to pay for what I did. I could not worry about the dogs. At least they were placed,” says Forto. 

They kept one dog from all that went to other kennels, a male Siberian Husky named Ineka. “This dog was my driving focus while I was away. He was the holder of my dreams. I knew I had to get back to him and my family,” says Forto. By the time of his release in 2006 Ineka was there for him and became his constant companion as he started Denver Dog Works. By 2010, Forto knew he wanted to get back into dog mushing and wanted to explore the possibilities in Alaska. In July 2010 Robert and his daughter, Nicole (then 12) flew up. “I left it in the hands of a 12 year old if we were to move to Alaska. Nicole texted her mom on a Saturday morning saying, ‘Mom, we are moving to Alaska,'” says Forto. 

Robert Moved to Alaska in August 2010 and bought two Siberian Huskies, Bodhi and Raegan. Sadly Ineka passed away just before but Robert knew he wanted to pay homage to this special dog and named his kennel, Team Ineka. Robert worked with several mushers in the area but quickly found out his past was a problem in the sled dog world. “Everywhere I would turn, people would be talking about me. I knew I did wrong. I served my time but the rumor mill is rampant. The dogs I had in Colorado before my arrest were placed because I had no idea of my future. But to those in the community it was different than that. It wasn’t. Yes, I wronged a lot of people. I promised a lot of things that I could not deliver, I was in the full throws of a gambling addiction. I was chasing the next buck,” says Forto. 

When Robert and his family moved to Alaska he knew it would be an uphill battle and he knew it would be tough to regain the trust of the mushing community but over the next fifteen years he has worked hard to build a sled dog kennel that is well cared for and has serval trusted colleagues that ‘know the full story.” Over the years Robert and his dogs have competed in many sprint, mid-distance dryland and other races throughout Alaska and maybe one day he will run the Iditarod. 

2009-Present: Alaska Dog Works 

As soon as Robert moved to Alaska he opened Alaska Dog Work following the model of the Denver location without a large training facility. The new dog training company would offer a program called Peak Performance, along with other basic obedience courses to dog owners in the state. Alaska Dog Works also offers service dog training, therapy dog training and other canine sports. The company trains about 200 dogs a year and more than 2000 to date. 

2009-Present: Dog Works Radio 

In October of 2008 Robert was a guest of the podcast Your Brand Plan to talk about his company, Denver Dog Works as part of a Chamber of Commerce event. By January 2008, Robert had hired a producer for his own podcast and launched the show in the lobby of his dog training center. ‘The vision was to hold a Q&A with our dog training clients on Saturday mornings and record it as a podcast,” says Forto. With his background in music, podcasting became natural for Forto and the show continued to grow. The podcast has won numerous awards and has more than 1000 episodes and more than three million downloads to date. 

2020-Present: First Paw Media 

Harnessing the success of Dog Works Radio and other podcast ventures that Forto was involved in, he started First Paw Media in 2020 to offer podcast production, launch assistance and coaching for small businesses that want to start their own show. First Paw Media has evolved to hold several properties including Mushing Magazine, Team and Trail, two YouTube channels, e-commerce, web design, and many co-produced podcast projects. 

2018-Present: University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University

While still attending courses at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Robert developed a course, the Winter Multi-Sport Expedition in 2017. This course would be used for his internship and included a week-long trip in the Alaska backcountry with a group of outdoor leaders using sled dog teams, snow machines and fat tire bicycles. He also taught several courses in Outdoor Leadership and Recreation and continues to teach dog mushing each winter. 

Robert also teaches dog mushing at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. In this course he uses sled dogs as a metaphor for team building and leadership skills.

2023-Present: Mushing Magazine

In June 2023, Robert was in Maine working with a dog training client when he got a message asking if he was interested in purchasing Mushing Magazine. Over the following months a deal was worked out to acquire the magazine from Diana Haecker and Nils Hahn. The deal was completed in December 2023 and the first issue (#197) was published in May 2024. The goal is to become historians of the sport of dog mushing and create a place where the next generation can learn about the history of the sport and keep it alive. 

Personal Life 

Robert Foto was married to Michele Forto on March 12, 2001. Michele had three children from a previous marriage, Kyle, Tyler and Nicole, and Robert later adopted them. Robert and Michele currently reside in Willow, Alaska with a team of sled dogs. They own several acres that they call Forto’s Fort that includes their home, sled dog kennel, bee yard and walk-in smokehouse. 


Robert graduated high school in 1989 from Woodbridge Senior High School in Virgina and attended Portland State University in Oregon, graduating in 1996 with a Bachelors of Science. In 2002, he enrolled in now defunct correspondence school, Madison University (see herein). 

In 2014, on a ‘dare from his daughter’, Nicole, Robert enrolled for a second degree at the University of Alaska Anchorage and graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Health, Physical Education and Recreation (Outdoor Leadership) in 2018. He then enrolled at Liberty University (Virgina), graduating with a Masters of Science in Sports Management (Outdoor Adventure Sport) and later enrolled (and still attending) in a Doctor of Strategic Leadership with a research focus on family business leadership. 

Gambling Addiction and Fallout

In the late 1990’s Robert was a day trader in the stock market and an up-and-coming dog musher living in Northern Minnesota. He would run his sled dogs all night and be on the computer making stock trades by day. He would buy and sell some of the early-Internet’s hottest stocks, sometimes making thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes.

“It was very addicting and soon I was so caught up in the game that it became compulsive. It was the only thing I thought about and it consumed me. Before long I was losing way more than I was making and it cost me everything including near bankruptcy and a slew of civil complaints and even criminal charges,” says Forto. ” Even though I have been training dogs professionally since 1994, I let this new fascination with fast money and the thrill of the stock market take over my life. My dog training business quickly took a back seat when I started gambling with more money than I had. I no longer wanted to meet with my dog training clients,” exclaimed Forto. 

He served almost six years in minimum custody facilities in Colorado and was granted release in 2006 after paying restitution in full. He has been  ‘clean’ from his gambling addiction and has remained as an upstanding citizen since his release. 

Correspondence School Controversy 

In 2002 Robert enrolled in Madison University while he was incarcerated in a minimum custody facility in Colorado. “I enrolled in the school, and my family and I did our research. Remember, even then the Internet is not what it is today. I enrolled in a graduate degree program in good faith and started my studies. It was a Ph.D. program in Communications and had a bevy of course work to do before a student was required to write a dissertation. I worked my way through these courses. I took proctored exams and wrote countless papers,” says Forto.

Madison University, was a school that promoted itself as an online university and was set up very much the same as Capella University is today. It allowed students to pay for courses in a manner that Capella calls its “Flex Path” where you could pay for a couple courses at a time and when you finished you enrolled in a couple more. “I had no reason to believe that this was not the way other schools did things. I didn’t see anything wrong with it at the time.

“I started working on my dissertation in 2003 and conducted my research using a variety of methods including surveys and interviews. I ended up writing a 306-page paper and when it came time to ‘defend’ the dissertation I did that too, almost two years later in 2005 while still at the minimum custody facility,” says Forto.

“I was sent a fancy looking diploma, “official” transcripts and everything. I worked hard for almost three years. I thought I was going to a legitimate school. In fact, it was a condition of the court for me to finish this program” exclaimed Forto. 

By 2006 Robert was proud of his accomplishments and started using the title of PhD. “With everything that had gone on in my life in the past decade I was making what I thought was the first step in building a successful career as a canine behaviorist with this education credential, along with the countless other schooling over the past twenty years in dog training. Even though I had trained thousands of dogs over the years, I thought going to this graduate school and getting this degree would set me apart from other training schools in the area,” says Forto.

“This degree from Madison has caused me nothing but problems. It has become the basis for many allegations on the Internet about his qualifications as a dog trainer, and along with his  gambling and associated convictions, it is the first thing that people mention,” says Forto.

He quit using the title behind my name as soon as he did his research about Madison University but it was too little too late. The damage was already done. “I have done my best to scrub any article I wrote online using that title, but as they say once it’s on the Internet it’s there forever. I even enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage in a bachelor’s degree program, which I am proud to say I have worked very hard at over the past three years and will be graduating with honors next spring in 2018. Update 2020: I went so far to correct this wrong from the faulty education credential that I went on to earn a Masters of Sports Management from Liberty University which I completed in May 2020 and now enrolled in a Doctorate of Strategic Leadership program at Liberty as well. I choose to do this to correct one of the most glaring wrongs to my public persona. It will take years to finish my schooling and to finally have a terminal degree but it will be worth it,” says Forto on an interview on YouTube.


Podcast Coach 

Public Speaking 

Serum Run Expedition 2025

Doctorate Project

Community Involvement

Robert donates a lot of his time for dog mushing related organizations and clubs including serving as vice president of the Chugiak Dog Mushers Association. He also served as the media coordinator for the Why Not Tri triathlon in Wasilla, Alaska. He is also the webmaster for the South Central Beekeepers Association. He is a long standing member of The Association for Pet Dog Trainers, Association of Outdoor Recreation and Eduction, Association of Experiential Educators.

External Links

Robert Forto’s official site

Team Ineka

Alaska Dog Works 

First Paw Media