Mischievous, neurotic dogs need to be brought to heel with training

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am

All dog owners have expectations of their pet. If we love, feed and care for man's best friend, it should love us back and treat us with respect. But what happens when your dog is less like Lassie and more like a Tasmanian Devil?

Victoria Chow Ka-yue envisioned owning a friendly and dutiful dog named Jack, similar to her sister's dog, Daisy, when she took home a Shiba Inu almost two years ago. Instead, Ms Chow was left with an incredibly wilful and determined dog that always wanted his own way.

'If I had done my research, I would have found that Shiba Inus will never give up when they want something and they have a stronger will [than people],' she says.

As a puppy, Ms Chow says Jack was so hyperactive that a veterinarian described her dog as 'obsessive with neurotic tendencies'. Another problem with trying to train Jack was that Shiba Inus can make screaming noises in addition to barking and whining.

'We tried to house train Jack, but within a week all the neighbours complained. It sounded like a small child being tortured; people were shouting from the building for us to leave the dog alone,' she says.

As Jack matured his behaviour became more aggressive. The last straw was when Ms Chow and her partner returned from a week's vacation. At eight-months old, Ms Chow says Jack was territorial in the apartment and attacked her late at night as she emerged from the bedroom. 'We needed to call a trainer after that, and sort it out,' she says. '[The trainer] showed us techniques to re-establish the house as our own.'

Ms Chow hired Jack Suen Kong-chun, a professional dog trainer with more than 30 years' experience. 'Some dogs can be trained, but some can't. They might have mental problems and aren't friendly; they really suffer,' Mr Suen says.

'I have to tell owners the truth about their dogs. We live in a wealthy city and people spoil their dogs. They don't do it on purpose, they cuddle, kiss and take good care of their dogs, but these are animals,' he says. Mr Suen, who received his training certification in 1985 at the US Canine Academy in Connecticut, says dogs are closely related to wolves, so it is the nature of the dog to hunt, fight and socialise. Dogs can also become stressed or hyperactive if they live in cramped spaces, or don't get enough exercise.

One of the biggest dog training mistakes is offering treats. 'Most people believe giving a treat will guide their puppy, but when it grows older at around eight to 10 months, it will try to dominate the owner by jumping and [lightly] biting your hand,' he says.

'Using a treat can't solve a problem. If your baby is crying, you won't give him ice cream.'

Mr Suen recently trained two terriers who constantly fought with a neighbour's dog. The situation became so unbearable, the owners had to move to a different neighbourhood.

Mr Suen's first step is to calm a dog with a quick snap of a choker. Then he corrects the bad behaviour using a method that is strong enough for the dog to remember forever. 'Everybody, even dogs, would rather be corrected once than five times. You can't be too soft, nervous or grumpy. Your dog will know and be able to feel [your confidence]. I love dogs and I don't want to hurt them. Training helps the owners and makes the dog happy.'