MARTINEZ, Calif. – Famous in the world of dog care and training, John and Kate O’Connor are one of Martinez’ best-kept secrets. John revealed some of his insights on dog training, based on lifelong work with canines that began in Ireland.
With John’s award-winning dog training work in the Irish Police Force, Royal Parks Police Dog Section and British Kennel Club Obedience & Working Trials competitions, and Kate’s experience as a veterinary nurse with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and exotic animals at the London Zoo Hospital, the couple founded their training, boarding and grooming business in Portugal, where British-born Kate grew up.
John focused on his deep interest in canine behavior modification during that time and by 1990, the pair moved to Martinez, where they continued their mutual interest in animals.
While John trained dogs for police departments, qualified them for American Kennel Club (AKC) and Schutzhund competition and became a licensed Canine Good Citizen evaluator for the AKC, Kate managed the of City of Antioch Animal Control before accepting a position as Director of Animal Services for the City of Berkeley in 2000, retiring in 2015.
John and Kate have developed training programs, and written books for all breeds of dogs, but John’s work with German Shepherds has made him the trainer of last resort for dogs with aggressive behavior.
According to John, the three causes for serious behavior issues are related to genetics, fear, and abuse or trauma. By genetic, John means some dogs are dominant by nature.
“That’s not a fault, and cannot be eradicated, but it can be modified and managed,” he commented. “Those dogs will never be Rin Tin Tin or Lassie. They will challenge you for leadership.”
O’Connor explained that aggression from fear of the unknown is the most common cause. Exposing puppies and young dogs to all kinds, ages, and sizes of people, and to different environments is a way to head off problems with aggressive attitudes later.
“This is especially true for working dogs, Shepherd, Doberman or Border Collie types of dogs,” he remarked. “These dogs are really aware. They go by scents.” There is a common belief that dogs can smell eight different scents among people, according to O’Connor.
Separation anxiety or defense of the owner are related to aggressive behaviors caused by the dog’s sense of danger. The trauma-caused aggression is also related to fear, but a good trainer can help the dog overcome, or at least moderate and control the behavior.
O’Connor said training the owner is just as important as training the dog. “It’s all a mind set. You have to remember, ‘This is a dog … I am in control.’ It has to be mental and physical,” he said.
Owners sometimes think the dog’s misbehavior is their fault, according to O’Connor. “It’s not,” he said. “But people think they can rationalize with a dog or bribe them into good behavior with rewards. It doesn’t work.”
Rewards are useful if you want to bring a dog to high-level precision performance, but O’Connor points to the fact that you live with the dog, and “the reward is only as good as the distraction. You could give a dog a steak in some situations and it wouldn’t make any difference,” he said.
Choosing the right dog is important. “If you see a perfectly behaved dog at a dog competition and think your dog (same breed) can perform like that, you could be mistaken. Performance dogs are chosen with great care and when a well-chosen dog does not perform at top level, trainers will sell that dog and find a better one.”
The type of dog has to fit the owner. “I ask people who plan to buy a dog, ‘Why?’ What are you going to use if for?” O’Connor commented, suggesting that people select a breed that fits into their lifestyle, personality, and purpose. Not just because they have always liked the looks of a shepherd, for example. “It’s like the Irish saying, ‘Horses for courses.’ You pick a horse for the course they will run.”
The O’Connors are winding down the classes and boarding part of their business but still work with individual dogs when time is available. Check out www.Euro-Training.com for more about the couple.