SCMP Saturday, September 1, 2001

Going to the dogs proves a trainer's dream


Name: Chan Hi-hing.
Job: Dog Trainer, Tan Kwai Yuen Dog Training Centre, Kam Tin.
When did you decide to become a dog trainer? I have loved dogs since I was a child. I used to play with the neighbour's dogs, and when I was older I was allowed to have my own. But it wasn't a conscious decision to take on the job, I just fell into it.
Where did you go to school? I went to Ying Yin Catholic Primary School in Yuen Long until I was 12. I did not go to secondary school - I was eager to start earning my own money. For about four years I was an apprentice for several tradesman, but when I turned 16 I decided to work in a kennels. There were several dog trainers there and I learned a lot from them. When I was 21 I went to Taiwan, where I worked in a pet shop and several kennels.
What happened next? After a year I returned to Hong Kong and learned that the army ran a dog unit, so I joined. It was there that I gained my formal qualifications.
What was it like in the army? In those days all the dog trainers were British, but that changed when they began offering a course in Chinese. I was among the first six Chinese to benefit. More than 100 people applied but only six were chosen. I worked as a dog handler for six months and then started the course. The training lasted a year and then I was sent to the UK to learn how to control sniffer dogs. I served as a dog trainer with the army for 10 years. In 1991 I began working for Tan Kwai Yuen kennels, training dogs to be good pets.
How long does it take to train a dog? Most dogs take about two months, but the length of time depends a lot on the breed and character. I have come across stubborn dogs that are hard work and refuse to eat. In those cases you have to take time out to become friends with them first.
Do all dog trainers work in kennels? No, a lot offer private sessions at the dog owner's home. The advantage of freelance work is that the trainer doesn't have to look after the dog on a daily basis.
What are the highlights of the job? Winning a competition is always a big thrill. Last August my German Shepherd picked up first prize at a dog show. And sometimes my dogs are picked for TV shows, like Gods of Honour which is on at the moment.
What courses would you recommend? Hong Kong kennels do offer courses, designed for pet owners, but they tend to gloss over the basic skills. Those working as trainers need certificates from the Hong Kong Kennel Club or Hong Kong and Kowloon Kennel Association. Courses offered by the police are thorough and tailor-made for professionals - usually to work with sniffer dogs.
The best way to learn is by getting hands-on experience before taking formal training. Any tips for would-be dog trainers? You have to really love dogs, mere enthusiasm is not enough. And you need to be patient.

Courses in Hong Kong:
Tan Kwai Yuen Dog Training Centre, Kam Tin: Tel 2488 4887 (courses for dog trainers: one hour a week over three months).
Pet Field Dog Training Centre, Hunghom: Tel 2362 9168 (courses for dog trainers: held once a week over three months).
Hong Kong Police Force Dog Unit: Tel 2659 0432 (courses only open to police officers).