Schutzhund master to unleash German-style dog training skills to Hong Kong

Expert in German sport Schutzhund says local owners must stop treating dogs like humans

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 July, 2015, 6:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 July, 2015, 6:01am

A top dog trainer is planning to bring to Hong Kong a century-old sport that tests canines on how well they can serve and protect their master.

Felix Ho Fei-yin, a leading athlete in the German sport of Schutzhund, which puts guard dogs through challenges that include chasing after aggressors, tracking hidden objects and performing tricks, will arrive in December to teach the first group of aspiring dog trainers.

"I'm trying to open the door for Hong Kong people," he said. Originally from Hong Kong, Ho emigrated to Belgium in 2005 to pursue a career in dog sport. "This city is very advanced in many ways, but definitely not when it comes to dog training."

Those who join the seven-day course in December - for a fee of HK$10,500 - will take an exam that can put them on the first rung of the Schutzhund accreditation ladder.

Ho hopes this will lead to establishing a Schutzhund club and bring about the first generation of local dog sport athletes.

Ho, who has competed in numerous world championships, hopes to raise the bar in dog training in a city where canines fail to get the exercise and stimulation they need.

He believes Hongkongers should stop treating their dogs like humans.

Cooped up for days in tiny, air conditioned apartments, dogs might leave the house once a week for a leisurely stroll. They are dressed up in jackets and boots and gorge on gourmet human fare, Ho complained.

"To treat a dog well you must look into its world, not just give it what you value most, because for him it means nothing," he said. "A dog needs good leadership."

Dog trainers have multiplied across Hong Kong, cashing in on a boom in the pet trade. But many lack accreditation or awareness of animal welfare.

Poorly educated trainers can resort to beating dogs who don't comply with their demands, according to Fiona Woodhouse, a veterinary surgeon at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

She said training can go "horribly wrong" and a dog that learns by being punished will not be well socialised and could endanger society.

"There are no bad dogs, only bad owners," she said.

Dog owner and policeman Idol Woo Kin-yuen is aware of the difficulties of finding a trainer who refrains from using negative reinforcement. Woo, 52, grew up on Hollywood Road playing with strays and always wanted to retire to a life training dogs.

"I realised Hong Kong needed a professional standard of training when I went to a trainer who was using brute force to get the dogs to do what he wanted them to," Woo said, adding he found the experience of taking his three-year-old Belgian Malinois to a local trainer "deeply saddening".

"He was literally throttling the dogs," he said. Woo contacted Ho, and spent a month learning from him in Belgium this year.

"You can either force a dog to do what you want, or you can try and understand how it thinks and how to make it happy," he said.

The sport Schutzhund - meaning "guard dog" - was devised 114 years ago by an army captain so as to test the protective skills of working breeds such as Rottweilers and Dobermans. Competitors must teach their pups to pass a stringent set of assignments that would qualify them as supreme working dogs.

The dog's temperament, trainability and physical soundness are all held up for scrutiny in this sport that originally came about to determine which hounds were worth breeding.

Ho believes the rigorous training makes for happy and well- behaved dogs.

"Schutzhund makes the dogs more balanced in the head as they receive plenty of exercises and directions from the handler, so the dog has leadership and an opportunity to release his energy instead of using it for unwanted behaviour," he said.