A unique series of workshops will be held in the Okanagan this week as a learning opportunity for dog trainers.
More than 50 dog trainers will participate in the sessions, which will consist of three workshops in Kelowna and a three-day dog shadowing safari in Osoyoos.
Wayne Dorman, a Kelowna dog trainer and rehabilitator, will be making workshop presentations along with Sarah Fulcher, from Trail, and Ted Efthymiadis, from Halifax.
Dorman said the trainers will be encouraged to share ideas and learn from each other on different techniques to train and rehabilitate dogs.
Dorman said each trainer will be dealing with about seven dogs for each session, some they bring with them and others that belong to Dorman’s clients.
“This is a whole new concept of trainers working with clients which doesn’t often happen,” said Efthymiadis. “Usually that doesn’t happen unless a dog trainer was to shadow with me for a number of days. So this is a really cool concept.
“The best dog trainers are the most versatile dog trainers who come at it with an open mind. I come at my practice with hundreds if not thousands of tools and techniques I have learned from other trainers. We want to enable more dog trainers to get to that next level to train more people and to rehabilitate dogs that have otherwise been given up on.”
“We are trying to motivate dog trainers on how to help motivate dog owners,” Dorman added.
Dorman started the Dogzies Canine School of Excellence in Kelowna over a decade ago with the philosophy of teaching dog owners how to make their pets happy and harmonious members of their family by following certain training goals.
He refers to those goals as creating a balance for a dog, living in a structured environment rather than acting impulsively which can prove harmful to other dogs and people.
That balance is created by loving your dog, proper nutrition, providing a stable home for your dog and creating a relationship based on structure and obedience.
“If you don’t have balance or structure in your own life, that is going to be reflected in how your dog behaves,” Dorman said.
Efthymiadis said problem dogs can be turned around quickly with the proper rehabilitation efforts because canines tend to live in the moment.
“Dogs are so resilient regardless of what they have been through. Proper training, affection and exercise and good nutrition—put that together and a dog can change in a heartbeat. It’s a beautiful thing to watch,” he said.
“They are different from people. I know someone who had a girlfriend cheat on him when he was 16, and he’s 42 now and still not over it. The proper foundation in place can change any dog’s behaviour issues.”
That’s why Dorman and Efthymiadis both feel banning breeds, as is often publicly debated about pitbulls, is a false premise. How vicious the dogs are is reflected in how they are looked after, while one dangerous breed can be replaced with another.
At some point, they say, we have to start looking at how dog owners raise and care for dogs, and better legislative measures on how to choose an appropriate canine for their home.
“You can bring a dog into your home that could literally kill someone when it’s full grown, without requiring any certification or training. You could have a 160-pound Mastiff in your house and it’s your first dog. That is wrong. That is not right.”
Dorman cites a country like Switzerland, where dog training courses are required before you can purchase a dog, and notes that Germany is now beginning to adopt a similar regiment.
“All puppies are cute but when they grow up are you equipped to handle larger dogs and provide the balance they need in their life? “
Efthymiadis compares the renewed interest in dog training techniques of recent years because of social media similar to how parents today take a greater interest and awareness in how their kids are schooled.
“In the 1950s, parents sent their kids to school without really worrying too much about what behaviour science tools or techniques were applied to their kids in the classroom. That’s not the case today, and it’s very much the same kind of shift in thinking happening today with dogs,” he said.
“Dog owners are looking to be more involved in training their dogs, looking for the newest and fastest techniques, and the most humane tools by which to achieve those goals.”
Efthymiadis says while tales of abused dogs regularly cross his doorstep, he also feels as a society we often coddle dogs for a sometimes false perception of enduring a bad life. “Dogs don’t need coddling, they need structure.”
He tells the story of a pitbull named Dewey who landed on his doorstep after a dog rescue friend of his asked if he could do something to help the dog’s aggressive behaviour.
“Dogs live in the moment and can progress and change at a rapid rate, but we hold them back,” he said. “Dewey had been given up for adoption at 10 weeks of age after being bought from a breeder. The owner couldn’t handle him; Dewey exhibited lots of energy and was chewing on everything. He was placed at an animal rescue centre, and bounced from foster home to foster home. During that process he began to become more aggressive. Nobody put the dog in line, nobody gave him structure.
‘”They just felt what a sad life Dewey had and coddled him left, right and centre. It was to the point where the dog was going to be euthanized, and the animal rescue centre owner who was a friend of mine asked me to take a look at him and see what I could do.”
Just 48 hours after bringing Dewey into his home and bringing discipline to his routine, he was socializing both with his and other clients’ dogs, was running around off-leash under control and his disposition had radically changed.
“My friend came to pick the dog up five days later and decided to adopt him. He now lives with three or four of her other dogs in a boarding facility. But that dog came that close to being euthanized.”
He is frustrated that many people buy large breed dogs and look at how cute they are as puppies, not thinking that at some point that little puppy will grow up to be more than 150 pounds.
“If you don’t raise a dog like that properly it can cause a lot of damage,” he said. “A dog that weighs 140 pounds with a head full of teeth can do a lot of damage. If you had a (dog as big as) a bengal tiger in your living room with behaviour issues, you aren’t going to fix that bengal tiger by throwing pieces of hot dog treats at him.”
He said while everyone hears tales of abused or ignored dogs, the knowledge to rehabilitate them is there, and the willingness for a dog to change its ways under structured direction exists.
“There is not enough of us out there with the skills to rehabilitate these dogs,” said Efthymiadis. “The more people we can get trained in seminars and workshops like this, the more dogs that can be saved. There are a handful of people across Canada that can do rehabilitation work on dogs, and we need more of us.”
Dorman says plans to host a similar series of workshops are already underway for Whistler next year and Banff in 2016. As well, Dorman hopes to see the annual convention for the Canadian International Association of Canine Professionals take place in Kelowna, which would bring some 200 dog trainers to town.