Who's the Dog?

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Trainer to share the secrets of a solid dog-owner relationships

By Becca Owsley



By BECCA OWSLEY bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com ELIZABETHTOWN — Usually, Fido is man’s best friend. But what if Fido doesn’t play well with others? Is there hope for the most aggressive dogs? Sam Malatesta of Canada believes there is. He will visit Elizabethtown Aug. 2-3 for a dog training seminar at Freeman Lake Park, where he will help dog owners understand and develop a better relationship with their beloved pets. Malatesta was introduced to the dog world as a child through his neighbor’s German Shepherds, but he didn’t have his own dog until he was 15. He took his dog to several types of training seminars, but later customized his own methods when he concluded that dogs shouldn’t be deprived of being free and happy. Malatesta uses what he calls the whelping box theory, which is modeled after the way a mother dog treats her pups. Unlike the Alpha dog theory, in which dominance is the controlling factor, the whelping box theory focuses on establishing the owner as a leader. Malatesta’s method does not require instruments like leader collars, prong collars or clickers. Instead, it focuses on the relationship between the owner and the animal by modeling the owner’s behavior after the mother dog. That relationship is based on patience, benevolence, self discipline and understanding how a dog sees things.   It is important to set a good foundation in the dog’s mind, Malatesta said. If the owner doesn’t have the dog’s respect, no training method will work. “In order to be followed you need to be someone they would want to follow, and you need to understand what that is for the dog,” he said. The majority of a dog’s behavior is a reflection on the owner and the dog acts on its handler’s actions, Malatesta said. According to his theory, a patient and calm expression toward the dog will give the owner better dominance since the relationship is based on emotions. It is also important to know the dog’s breed characteristics and personality, Malatesta said. “If you don’t understand the subject, how can you handle it?” German Shepherds, for instance, long to be with and protect their masters, but they have to be trained to function within that parameter. “People make the mistake of trying to humanize their pets and denying them who they are,” Malatesta said. “Harnessing (your dog’s natural behavior) and understanding your dog will help.” Malatesta has trained police dogs, drug dogs and aggressive dogs — numbering close to 4,000. Of that number, he found only two he considered beyond saving. “No matter what problem the dog has it is not incurable — even a dog that bites or is aggressive,” Malatesta said. “It’s who the dog trusts.” Sometimes, when a dog is problematic, the problem is not the dog at all, but the owner, he said. The real problem may be that the owner has given the dog the illusion that it is in control. Malatesta addresses this in his training. But, he said, correcting your dog’s aggressive behavior takes more than a 10-week training coarse; it takes a lifetime. Dixie Terrell of Rineyville has taken her small female pinscher named Duchess through a training camp since April. Terrell, who coordinated the Elizabethtown seminar, is a Kentucky representative for the All Miniature Pinscher Service, the nonprofit rescue organization sponsoring the event. “Duchess was the leader of the pack. She would not come to me if I called her and she would only come to me when she wanted to,” Terrell said. Instead of trusting Terrell’s leadership, Duchess would become the leader influencing Terrell’s five other miniature pinschers. They became overweight and refused to be taken for walks, chewed up everything they could get to and would bolt out the front door, requiring Terrell to spend hours chasing them. “Just completely out of control,” Terrell said. The whelping box theory has helped change that, she said. Although Terrell knows there’s still work to be done with Duchess, she now can take her anywhere and know that she will stay right by her side, on or off the lead. “Sam has a saying, ‘Your dog will look at you when you are worth looking at’ and I totally understand that now,” Terrell said. Registration for Malatesta’s training seminar in Elizabethtown ends Monday. Those attending the seminar should bring a chair, and if the dog comes along, provide a crate with something to cover it. There will be a silent auction during the event to raise money for the All Miniature Pinscher Service.   The Theory The whelping box theory is based on 25 years of Sam Malatesta’s research into the bond that develops between the mother dog and her puppies. The theory is named for the whelping box, which is a place or box where a female dog delivers and cares for her newborn pups until they are weaned, usually for four to eight weeks. Malatesta’s theory incorporates the use of the four distinct drives a dog has — food, prey, pack and fear or aggression —and how a mother dog uses them to achieve an indestructible, focused and non-obsessive bond with her puppies.   IF YOU GO: A dog training seminar featuring Sam Malatesta will be Aug. 2-3 at Freeman Lake Park in Elizabethtown. Preregistration is $175 with a dog or $80 without a dog. The deadline to register is July 28. Contact Lauren Howard at (502) 889-7068 or Lauren@whosthedog.net for more information or go to Sam Malatesta’s Web site, www.whosthedog.net.   Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.