SEVILLE — Dogs are teachable, said Belgian trainer Nino Drowaert, who works with police dogs in Antwerp. It’s their owners who have trouble.
“With some people, it takes 20 to 30 years for them to believe that there’s another way to work with their dog,” Drowaert said. “For dogs, it can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes.”
That’s because most people’s idea of how to train dogs is not the most efficient method, he said.
“When you have people who have owned dogs their whole life, for example, those behaviors have been reinforced and are more difficult to change,” Drowaert said.
Drowaert visited Seville on the second stop of his U.S. tour with his dog training service, STS K9. He and STS K9 director Leigh Bianco arrived Tuesday evening after a 2½-day workshop in Chicago. His tour will conclude later this week in New Jersey.
“Nino is one of the world’s best trainers and probably the best puppy developer,” Bianco said.
In Belgium, Drowaert works as K9 supervisor with Antwerp police. For the past decade, he has monitored the development of the department’s 10 full-time police dogs, which require high levels of control with many enticing distractions in urban Antwerp.
In Antwerp, “I give them homework to work on in between sessions and can always tell whether or not they’ve done it,” Drowaert joked.
But on the road, Drowaert rarely has more than two to three days to work with clients.
“First, I show them that there’s another way to train dogs,” he said on the first day of his two-part visit. “That’s what I want people to learn here tonight.”
He spoke to an audience of 12 Tuesday at Von Lindesfarne Kennel, 3775 Greenwich Road.
“If you’ve ever seen someone yelling at their dog, that’s it,” Drowaert said. “To us, it makes sense. The dog is doing something bad and we punish it because we want it to stop.”
To the dog, however, it’s a different story.
“He doesn’t think about things in the same way that we do,” Drowaert said. “In his mind, he’s getting corrected for something he doesn’t understand. So when he doesn’t make the connection, that’s where problems and stress begin.”
Drowaert does not blame owners. He believes that popular culture and the pet industry have led people to view domestic animals as accessories and companions.
So what does that mean for man’s best friend?
“People think of (the dog) as loyal or as their friend,” Drowaert said. “I don’t know, maybe because it can console them when they are alone. But that’s not right.
“It’s been shown that if someone else comes along offering something better, a dog can completely forget about its owner in 10, 15 minutes.”
It’s a harsh reality that “no one wants to hear,” Drowaert said, but a necessary thought in order to train dogs.
Instead of correctional training, Drowaert’s Puppy University program teaches owners about the psychology and thinking patterns of dogs. His theories rely on models of conditioning proposed by 20th-century behavioral psychologists B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov.
“Some people hear it and think it’s too simple to be real, which is why a lot of trainers will take the same old ideas and give them a new name,” Drowaert said. “But that’s really all there is to it.”
Participation in Puppy University with a dog was $175 and $85 to audit the course. For information, visit STSK9.com
Messages may be left for Lucas Fortney at (330) 721-4065.