The Hand That Holds the Leash.

Training, last updated 25th, Apr 2013, Malaika Fernandes

We all as kids have dreams and know what we want to do when we grow up but some of us realize those dreams with the passage of time. Born in a family that has always loved animals, I managed to earn the reputation of having mutated genes and was known for my exceeding love for animals specially dogs.

           For many years I heard stories about my parents and family owning a variety of pets from dogs and cats, to squirrels and pigeons and even fish tanks the list was endless. However as I grew up we had no pets in my house until I turned 16 and manipulated my mother in to consenting for a pet. My choice for a pet was a dog a 5 year old Indian Pariah that stayed in my complex. I called her Sweety and she was so witty that every time I got her home she would sit in front of the refrigerator and whine till she was fed. Once she was satiated she would not stop scratching and barking at the door until she was allowed to go and live on the streets again.

         A relentless hunt for an Indian Pariah puppy didn’t go well so I just gave in and got myself an English Cocker spaniel. We all remember our first love; mine will always be “Prince” my very handsome jet Black English cocker spaniel.

Dog Training

          They say that behind every successful man is a woman in my case it was my dog – Prince. When I got him he was just 3 months old, so trips to the vet began in all earnest enjoyed by the both of us, for we not only got to meet other dogs and cats but likeminded people. We enjoyed waiting in line at the vets clinic sometimes just skipping our turn so Prince could socialize. Because of this practice he always looked forward to visits to the vet.

            The next step once his immunization schedule was complete, I began training him with nothing but books to refer too and armed with the advice of a seasoned show dog owner. Competing in dog shows as a thrill and we quit our show career once Prince was a champion.

           As I got more actively involved in pursuing my passion for working with animals specifically dogs I picked up a job with my veterinarian as an assistant and a groomer. There my skills were honed by practice of handling dogs of various sizes and temperaments.

           My biggest asset was that I never feared being bitten by a dog something  which you cannot be trained for. My first dog bite at the clinic happened when I picked up a sick pariah owned by a Mrs Perriera and kept her on the table. It was a week since she was coming to the clinic for her antibiotic shots before she was scheduled for surgery. The dog was always muzzled at the owner’s instructions. Once “Sandy” as she was called was kept on the table I noticed that she was shivering and wanted to comfort her so thought I should give her a kiss – instead I was rewarded with a bite on my nose. I had nobody but I to blame as Sandy has misinterpreted my body language. Also dogs react very differently when they are nervous or scared to a given situation.

              You can never really say that you have learned it all. A turning point in my life came about when I was not just bitten but mauled by a Rottweiler. The dog was owned by a childless couple that has spoiled him silly and had not bothered training him. Despite being advised by us. What most people fail to realize is that no matter what breed or size of dog you own training is a must just as education is a must in the case of your child. The Rottweiler had to be muzzled when he was in the clinic and the only one who could do it was the lady who owned him. When they returned after several months to the clinic on an occasion it was with a complaint of severe gastroenteritis( stomach infection) which can be fatal in puppies if not treated. They had apparently delayed their visit because the lady who owned him was now pregnant and could not travel. So now the real question was who would bell the cat in other words muzzle the dog.

                 So another technique of restraint would need to be used, so we took him in to the waiting room and restrained him with the dog leash in such a way that he could not turn around and bite or attack when the shot was being administered. The one detail however that I missed out as I stood there with the antibiotic shot in hand waiting to inject him was that he was a on a regular collar and not on a semi choke collar which would have been ideal in this scenario. The collar slipped off and as he turned around with rage, all he wanted to do was attack me since I was holding the shot in my hand. He pinned me down and bit me on my chest and was trying to get to my neck, to save myself I pushed my hands in to his mouth to keep him preoccupied. I was helpless as he tried ripping flesh from bone, so when he tugged at my hand I gave in rather than pull away. The entire assault lasted for about 40 sec amidst people screaming in the background which only aggravated the situation.

             If it would not have been for my presence of mind I would have been seriously maimed for life or not alive at all. As I was being bitten I asked my veterinarian to go fetch the bottle of water from the fridge and splash him with it. The cold water along with my synchronized shouts of “no” and a kick on his chest startled him enough to let go.

              I survived the attack with not less than 30 puncture wounds which fuelled my then dormant desire to do an in-depth study of canine behaviour. My first step was  to enroll for a 21 day Canine Training & Behaviour course( Nothern Centre of Behaviour – U.K)  conducted by world renowned Canine Behaviourist – Trainer. The course was an eye opener; we learned methods of positive reinforcement and how to modify unwanted behaviours such as aggression, nervousness, separation anxiety etc; along with tracking, scenting, explosive detection etc.

             It’s been more than 3 years now since I did the course and have launched my own pet care venture “Walk Romeo” that provides Training, Grooming, Behaviour Modification & Pet Sitting services for canines in Mumbai. As a Canine Behaviourist – Trainer I don’t just train the dog but most importantly educate the pet parent as well. Trained more than a 100 dogs now and worked with “Garnier” ads as well by training the Dalmation puppies.

               When you are passionate about your work there is no way that  you will not be good at what you do!! .