Emmanuel Gwabeni believes he has his canine companions to thank for all that he has achieved, writes Shirley le Guern.
As much a dog’s best friend as a dog owner’s, Emmanuel recounts how he grew up with a single mom on a small farm surrounded by animals. When his grandmother disciplined him for being naughty, he escaped to the nearby Mazarat Kennels. There he not only fell in love with the residents, but also got to watch how handlers trained the police dogs that lived there. He tried out what they did, and has been working with dogs ever since.
Emmanuel worked for various kennels over the years, but in 2015 decided that it was time to open his own business. He says he has never looked back.
A natural entrepreneur, Emmanuel started out by handing out pamphlets offering a free half-hour consultation to potential clients. He now has clients extending from the Upper Highway area to uMhlanga. Although he is active on social media, the adage of success breeding success applies, and he constantly adds to his customer base through word-of-mouth.
He is often called in to deal with problem dogs and says that, just as every situation is different, so is every dog. Even a group of pups that share a single owner will learn differently. They can each have different problems, he explains.
When meeting a problem pooch, he needs to assess the dog and then work at that dog’s level. Then it is a case of also working closely with the owner to change the mindsets of both.
Emmanuel believes that his system of doing house calls and training dogs at home is particularly important. “Dogs are not the problem, the owners are,” he smiles. Home is where the bad habits are and owners usually stop doing the things they have been taught during training just as soon as they arrive home.
As a trainer, he says the two most important things are to never use fear and to work with each unique animal, one step at a time. Hitting dogs is out. Dogs disciplined in this way end up conflicted because they fear their owners but still feel called to protect them.
He also doesn’t believe that dogs should be smothered with love. Avoid spoiling a puppy and put in place the boundaries that will make for a well-behaved and healthy adult dog from the outset, he advises.
Emmanuel uses his voice to communicate with and reward a dog for the right behaviour, and prefers not to resort to treats.
Along the way, he admits that he also gets to hear about pet owners’ problems and often adds some advice here, too. “Believe it or not, owners’ insecurities and personal problems often manifest in their dogs’ problems,” he points out.
“During phone calls, owners tell me about their problems. The minute I meet the dog, I realise the situation is completely different. I feel that this is a gift from God. As soon as I take the lead, I get this feeling that the dog understands that I am not a threat, that I am there to help,” he explains.
He says that post Covid he is dealing with a great deal of anxiety and aggression. Dogs that have been confined at home with their owners fear being left alone, and many struggle to socialise with strangers and other dogs.
In addition to helping suburban dogs, Emmanuel has a passion for educating owners in poorer communities to properly care for and appreciate their dogs. He has worked with a demonstration dog to take his message to learners, and has helped the Department of Agriculture to vaccinate dogs against rabies.
His focus is now on improving his business skills so that he can train and employ others as his operation grows. He is also keen to provide therapy dogs to help the disadvantaged.
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