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Dog whisperer seeks better pet relations

Updated: 2012-10-28 10:16
By Li Yao ( China Daily)

Dennis Schenk's mission in China is to create harmony between people and dogs.

The certified canine behaviorist from Michigan in the United States has been training dogs and their handlers for almost 20 years.

And although his family in Detroit thought it was a crazy idea, he moved to Beijing in 2009 to develop the Chinese market.

Dog whisperer seeks better pet relations

Schenk says his main goal is to educate humans to understand their dogs with a blend of discipline and affection. Feng Yongbin / China Daily

His mission is to spread the word about responsible dog ownership in a country where it is becoming increasingly popular.

Beijing has 1 million registered dogs, but 20 percent of them are not vaccinated, while an estimated 1 million dogs are unregistered. Their presence poses potential dangers to people, with injuries from dog bites on the rise, Schenk says.

"I am here because China needs awareness and knowledge in proper dog ownership," Schenk says.

He gives basic obedience training (sit, lay-down, stay, come) courses to train puppies and adolescent dogs, and makes home visits to correct behavior issues such as aggression, anxiousness and barking.

But his main goal is to educate humans, help them understand dog psychology and treat their dogs with a combination of discipline and affection.

Dog whisperer seeks better pet relations

Dennis Schenk

Schenk says he has often noticed misunderstandings among pet owners. Handlers should put dogs on the leash when going outside for the safety of their own dogs and other people, yet Schenk notes many Chinese people do not do so.

Social skills are very important for dogs. If a dog is not properly socialized, they can easily become aggressive and may continually bark and even attack dogs or even humans when they are outside, he says.

Schenk believes child analogies are useful when talking about owners and pets. He adds that some dogs, like children, can be spoiled and need positive reinforcement and discipline to form good habits and manners.

His clients are mainly middle-class Chinese and some expatriates. The dog owners and their domestic workers all receive his training, to ensure the dog gets a consistent message from all handlers.

Shanshan, his wife from Wuhan, Hubei province, works with him and helps him with Chinese translation. The couple has a Staffordshire terrier called Roxy.

"She is 3 years old, but acts like she is still 1. She is a lover, not a fighter," Schenk says.

All his life, he has been around dogs and this extensive experience has given him a deep affection for and confidence working with dogs.

He respects self-taught canine behaviorist Cesar Millan featured in Dog Whisperer, a popular US television show the on National Geographic channel.

"My approach to dogs seems similar to Millan's. That is because the laws of dog psychology are the source of both mine and his methods."

Schenk spent several years in the US army, where he learned about discipline and self-respect. "I did a lot of growing up, left as a kid at 17 and came back an adult."

Eduard Ruppel, from Cologne, Germany, became a third member of his team this year. Ruppel is younger than Schenk and they share a passion for dogs.

Doggy topics dominate their daily conversations, but that does not bother Schenk.

"If you love your job, then you will never work another day in your life," he says.

The ambitious couple would like to work more with government officials in promoting responsible dog ownership and with the military in the training of service dogs.

"It is not about the money, or I would have stayed in the US and continued to charge $100 an hour," Schenk says.

Our clients here need our help and we can put smiles on their faces after fixing the problems. It all boils down to helping people and that gives us the biggest satisfaction. Our job is to make sure handlers and their dogs will have long, happy, healthy lives, characterized by mutual respect, joy and lifelong companionship, Schenk says.