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Pressed-for-time pet owners are turning to special schools to train their dogs to behave. Shi Ying-ying reports
How often have you been offended by the incessant barking, or other unruly behavior, of your neighbor's dog?
As more people opt for apartment-style living in crowded metropolises such as Shanghai and Beijing, dog problems can be a big issue.
While raising dogs can be a huge commitment for pet lovers, training them is emerging as a lucrative business.
The idea of putting his dogs through training came to Marc Alessandro Quoadt, a German living in Shanghai with his two Labrador retrievers Charly and Marli, when he and his girlfriend moved to "an apartment in a highly frequented area on the riverside".
"As a lot of people (living nearby) are afraid of dogs, we wanted to make sure that our dogs would be obedient and not scare or harm others," Quoadt says.
The vice-president of a manufacturing company decided to send Charly and Marli to Paradise Kennel, a dog boarding and training school, for one month when he went back to Germany for a holiday.
He was impressed with the results. "As both of them are Labrador retrievers, they are constantly sniffing and picking bits and pieces off the ground. But they do that a lot less now," Quoadt says.
The duo also learnt to obey basic commands such as "sit", "come" and "heel".
"Our training courses have three levels - one for basic commands, another for off-leash training and advanced lessons aimed at dog shows or contests," says Tony Qu, founder of Paradise Kennel.
Qu tells China Daily that more than 70 per cent of the dogs in his class are only there because they are deemed "problematic", that is, they bark unnecessarily or don't heed commands.
"A dog is a pack animal, with a strong sense of hierarchy.
"If the dog thinks you're the leader, he will follow you. But if you, for example, let him sit on your sofa - where you sit - he will challenge you by 'behaving badly'. The first step in dog training is to take the lead."
Monique de Kruyff, another Shanghai resident, realized that when she started training her Labrador, Sam, on her own. "Sam will sometimes challenge me, but instead of punishing him, I put my hand around his mouth and squeeze just a little, like how the dominant male dog lets another know he is in charge," de Kruyff says.
She also imposed other rules such as "leader goes first" and "leader eats first" to reinforce her position.
The participation of both the dog and his owner is necessary during training in certain countries, especially in Europe. However, this is not the case in Shanghai.
"It would work better if both attend the classes. But Shanghai has special regulations that dictate that large dog kennels cannot be located in the center of the city and restricts them to the outskirts. As people have less time for their pets nowadays, most urbanites choose to board the dogs for training," says Qu.
Edmond Kan, head of the Guaigougou Dog Training center and an experienced trainer, says the best time to train your pup is when he is 4 to 8 weeks old.
"It is important for your puppy to learn how to be sociable at a very young age, both with humans and with other dogs," says Kan. "You could start with getting your puppy familiar with loud sounds such as the telephone ringing and the microwave beeping, as these sounds are unnatural for dogs."
A basic training method, according to Kan, is to replace negative behaviors with positive ones by applying click training. He does this by offering the dog something more interesting than what he is currently doing. It is usually easy for dogs to recognize, for example, that eating chicken is more rewarding than barking.
"Clicker training helps the dog realize that he has done something right; it trains the dog to associate the clicker sound with getting a treat and a pleasant experience," says Kan. "It slowly builds his confidence to do the right thing."
Kan believes all dogs are trainable. "Sometimes but very rarely, a gene can lead to a really bad-tempered dog. However, most dogs are trainable."
It is also important to choose a breed that's right for you and affordable, says Qu.
"I'm not talking about how much you pay for your dog, but how much time and effort you're willing to spend after you bring him home.
"Labradors and golden retriever are good with children, easy to train and have an average protectiveness trait and require little grooming," Qu says.
"Breeds such as husky, on the other hand, require much activity and exercise and tend to be more difficult to train."