Wednesday, 23 May 2012

interview with a dog trainer: Geert van Staeyen

This month the interview with a dog trainer is with a fantastic trainer from Belgium . A clicker "master" trainer for dogs and horses . He with his wife is the owner of the Tanaina Lik'a , a combination between, vet, dogtrainers, fysiotherapist center... Read the interview below and you will know more about him and his way of life...

Geert and the warm up questions...

Your favorite actor?
Steve McQueen, Glenn Close

What was the last thing you ate and drank?
French fries with a tipical Belgian meatgoulash

What profession would you not like to do?
The one that doesn't give me any challenge

Well, never mind .Though I like to do these type of questions . Let's move to something more serious …

Could you tell our readers a little about yourself
I live toghetter with my lovely wife Helena Potfajova in Wuustwezel a small town in the nord of Belgium near Antwerp. We are very lucky to live in the countryside so we have space to keep al our dogs and horse close to us. I am 44 years old and freetime dogtrainer. Even we lived in a big city as Antwerp as we were children, we always had animals from cats to hamsters, fish to birds. We travelled alot around Europe and had a countryhouse were we spent al our summers toghetter with our grandparents. This gave me an open mind to confront myself with problems, this was very important later to work, play and help dogs.

How starts your way down this road, there was someone that has motivated you? Tell us about your beginning
My beginning with dogs starts with a dog called Jacky, a Scottish Collie, We lived still in the city. He was found on the street during a storm when he was 3 months old. My parents were on hollyday and didn't know anyhting about it. The evening they arrived at home it was a complete surprise,we had at that moment already 2 cats, 3 hamsters an aquarium and birds in the appartment. But it worked well out with Jacky. The day I started to work I went to live in our countryhouse with him and later in our own appartment in a small village Brecht, were we have now the vet./fysio practise. I speak here about 26 years ago, so the only way to train a dog in that time was with force. But I was raised in a way to respect life. So I was always in conflict with myself. I moved in that period to Italy. Because of my job in the furniture industry there I travelled to the USA and learned to know the clicker. This opened all doors to training a dog and later horses. In a way a slept again in the night without thinking if my dog was happy or crying silently in his bench because he did not understand why his partner was pulling on him. Unfortunatly I had to leave Jacky with my parents in Belgium, but everytime he heard me in the hall he was freeking out, even sometimes there were long times that we did not saw eachother. This was my motivation to take the street of clickertraining and positive rewarding. He was happy to see me again and not afraid.

You and Helena are the owners of the Tanaina Lik'a ,that isn't a normal veterinary practice and not a dog school. Tell us more about this project.
Tanaina Lik'a comes from a small indian tribe in Alaska and it means 'people of the dogs'. Tanaina was also a horse that Helena knew when she was little. So the name was picked. What we try to create is an idea, a filosophy, a way of life. What we noticed over the years is that there is alot of times no comunication between, vets, dogtrainers, fysiotherapist. We try to combine these things within Tanaina Lik'a.
You notice it immediatly when you enter at the practise or rehabilitaion room. Lot's of colours, friendly atmosphere. Not a tipical white and grey, get your vaccinplace. Owners and animals need to feel good and relaxed. Helena got some time ago a nice compliment of a customer that discribes good the feeling. 'A place and persons with just that little extra that changes your mind'. Towards dog training we are trying to get a field for training dogs, but regulations are very tight and difficult. At this moment we go at the peoples home or in a hall near Bergen op Zoom in the Netherlands. This year will use to expand more the fysiotherapy as Helena started to follow a course of accupuncture for dogs and horses at the Chi Institute in Madrid (Spain). Also we hope to place finally a watertredmill. What we want to achieve is that people look at there animals not as animals but as partners in life with the respect it brings with it. Latest part is that we are settign up a projekt toghetter with people from Switserland to teach children on how to behave towards dogs.

The most common reason for which people come to you ?
The approach towards human and dog/horse I think. For me it is fundamental to understand the owner and dog and their combination. For me the dog never has the problem alone it is the result of the combination of his life toghetter with us. I stay calm, relaxed, observe and most of all I listen to both of them. Then I try to give the people the correct attidute towards the animal. Being clear that nothing can change fast that it can take along time before it works. But with good will and enthousiasme it will work.

What training techniques do you use when training your dogs?
Even I am addicted towards the clicker, sometimes you cannot us it. It is important that you as trainer can find a method that is good for the owner and dog. They have to feel comfortable within their training system. It is up to me to find it and train them in this. Of course always based on rewarding good behavior. It is based on mutual respect not ‘I am the pack leader’ idea. Dogs have been breed over generations from a worker towards a social partner. Still there are some breeds that are near their origin but also there is the social training important. Mutual respect I would say. You trust me I trust you. You help me I help you. Not you DO as I tell you. No this will not work even a lot of people and dog trainers see it this way. We give our dogs the possibility to make mistakes so that they can learn from it and perform the good behavior for wich they get rewarded. They get the possibility to think and decide what’s best. It is like this the dogs we train (or our students) are happy to do things and they perform it by themselves even without asking because they know out of experience that there will be a reward. With some other trainers the dog does the behavior otherwise he gets punished.

What are the achievements you are most proud of?
To see people and dogs working/living toghetter again and understanding each other. Getting 'lost' dogs back were they belong even it is in a shelter with agressive dogs.

What do you think to those that have dogs only as working objects and they build their carrer on them ?
I have nothing against it. Dogs always have been breed to work or to perform for us humans since thousends of years. What for me is important is that the dog is then also treated in this way. You keep him healthy, give him freetime, treed him as your partner in your work/hobby and not as an replaceble object when he doesn't do the job anymore. Sometimes I think that topsportdogs are treated better then alot of home-garden and kitchen dogs. Let me clear one thing and that is that I am absolute against genetic breeding for shows, it brought already to much sufference into certain dogbreeds. This must stop.

What are your views regarding Cesar Millan and his dog training techniques?
Mmmmm, this is not easy to answer. I would say that everybody is free to teach people and dogs in the way they think it is the good way, but this doesn’t mean you can pull or kick your dog to show him how it is done. Mr. Milan works only with aggression/repression against any kind of behavior. He is great in show with good looks and his famous Colgate smile. I retrained dogs that if he would use his methods with these dogs, there would be uncontrollable aggression from the dog out. Strangling on a leach to hope that he would not bite you is wishful thinking. The ‘pack leader’ theory is old and gone. Besides his training, which on a stage and show are looking very revealing, it is as old as a dinosaurus and therefor ready to extinct. At his shows we laugh with our daily problems we have at home with our four legged partners. It is normal that dogs stay behind a human being on a walk if they know that if they try to pass they get kicked. Our dogs go free in the field, everywhere are they, but we yell one time STOP and they all lay down at the place where they are even in the mud and dirt. But you can see at them that they are happy with it as they know the faster they lay down, they get as reward a big run al together. In the meantime people, cyclers, cars can pass them. This is what I call control over ‘the pack’ :) . In the end I think that Mr. Milan will change his trainningtechniques with time. When people at home notice that there is nobody or descend dog trainer that uses the ‘back kick’ between legs to get a dog under control, he will stop to. Or at least I hope. The biggest surprise for me is also that National Geographic supports these ideas. But yeah money you know.

What are your major strengths and weaknesses? 
My major strength I think is that I stay calm in any situation. My biggest weakness is my wilfulness, ones I believe in something nothing can change my mind.

What are your goals and aspirations for the future? 
That I can raise my son to become a person with respect for all what lives and make Helena happy.

Who or what had the greatest influence on your life?
Who: For sure my grandparents. I will always remember there stories about the wars they lived in, what it brought. It gave me a base for my own vision on the world and how to deal with people.
What: I don't think anything as I am not a materialistic person. Or maybe the small things in life with big meanings like a kiss in the morning from Helena, makes my day.

The favorite toys of your dogs?

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview! Do you have anything else you would like to add?
I hope from the bottom from my heart that people with or without dogs start to understand each other better. If we want to change the world we have to start it at home.



Joshua Jannink said...

Better 1 dog in your hand.. than 10 in the sky!

Jan Petr Vonášek said...

Dog + Geert = meatgoulash

Joshua Jannink said...

No Jan, please don't get old cows out of the ditch.

Joshua Jannink said...

Barking dogs don't bite, right Geert?

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