Meet dog trainer Ian Harris, he provides training for both ends of the leash
“Bad dog! Don’t pee on the couch! Stop biting my shoes! Don’t poop there!! Bad dog, bad dog! Argh!!!” Any of these sound familiar? Perhaps, then, Ian Harris is here to your rescue.
Ian Harris was born in Southhamilton, England, and ever since his childhood living along that southern coastline, he knew he wanted to do something with dogs one day. He didn’t know exactly what, so he also dipped his toes as a “blacksmith and farrier, making horseshoes and shoeing horses,” as he eloquently states. His first experience working with dogs was as a dog walker in England.
A case of the travel bug bit him, and he left home, and he moved to London and various parts of England, as well as Nice in France and Sydney, Australia. He also visited Central and South America (once on a bicycle). He wanted one more grand final trip before heading back to England: To traverse throughout Asia.
The plan was to start from Cambodia, to Vietnam, heading up to Hong Kong and throughout China, and finally to Russia. However, there was a hiccup in Vietnam as he fell in love with Ho Chi Minh City, and has been here since January of 2017. He loves the bright lights, the sights and sounds, the hustle and bustle, the warm climate, the energy, and even the smells of the vibrant cosmopolitan city.
Ian is a certified dog trainer, having received his credentials from the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers in England. There are only two other certified dog trainers in Ho Chi Minh City that he knows of, so the opportunities and growth potential are there to carve out a business. Even so, Ian spends most of his days as a volunteer for ARC (Animal Rescue & Care) in District 2. A typical day for him is 8am-11am, and 4pm-5:30pm, Mondays through Saturdays, where he tends to dogs who are abandoned and/ or mistreated. Most of the dogs ARC receives are injured and/or have bad skin conditions. Besides tending to them and training them, he also walks them twice a day.
Whatever time he has left is for his private business of trying to help dog-owners raise more understanding and awareness of our favorite canine companions. “My private business includes obedience training, correcting behavioral issues and aggression, separation anxiety, and house training,” says Ian. He accepts dogs of all ages and sizes. No matter the issue, Ian only “trains through the positive reinforcement method, which means absolutely no punishment.” He uses the clicker training method, which uses a clicker to make a sound and reinforces with a treat when the dog does something desirable or in the positive direction. This style is a science-based and proven method and is one of the most effective. Ian is trying to teach dog-owners to be aware of being a loving owner without punishing their furry friends. He says “the key is to get the dog to want to do what the owner wants.” Sounds simple enough, right? A usual housetraining program takes an owner only two weeks after an initial hour-long session with Ian to teach them. More serious behavior issues may take longer. Here are some tips and advice Ian would like to impart on you:
• “Dogs don’t literally understand words, but they do understand gestures and reinforcements,” explains Ian. If you want to teach them something, use your hands or with gestures. Then reinforce positively with treats. You can then further reinforce using words, and your dog will associate the word with the gesture.
• Dogs learn best without distractions. Therefore, don’t teach them somewhere outside or noisy. “The best place is your kitchen—simple, uncluttered, and no distractions,” he says.
• When meeting a dog for the first time, if it is happy, it will turn its head on you to allow you to pet or rub it. If it applies big licks to its nose, it is under stress. And if its ears are perked upright and gives you a stare, then it is showing aggression. A growl would be the ultimate indicator. When meeting a dog for the first time, Ian advises to “crouch down to the side of the dog and extend your hand low with your palm up to allow it to sniff you. Turn your head away from it to show you mean no aggression.” You should not extend your hand in an overhand motion on top of its head, as this mimics a striking motion.
In addition to helping dog-owners understand and communicate with their four-legged love ones better, Ian hopes to raise awareness and help change people’s mind of the dog culture here in Vietnam. Some of his challenges are a certain mentality by many people that dogs are no more than a security device for the home, or worse yet, a delicacy. Animal rights laws in Vietnam do not exist, so the change must start from within each of us. The ultimate goal would be achieved when Vietnam progresses to the point of treating dogs as a member of the family as many Western countries have done. Other obstacles include a lack of leisure space for dogs to enjoy, and our sidewalks were not made for walking dogs in mind. And never mind dedicated dog parks, just finding any park for walking dogs in Ho Chi Minh City can be a challenge.
“My life is dogs, dogs, and more dogs – dogs 24/7!” Ian exclaims. He even attends to dogs in his dreams. So it is a challenge to find free time. Past hobbies include white water kayaking and mountain and wall climbing. He also used to be a chef in England, and tries to cook when he has some free time. So perhaps one day if he opens up his own pub or bar, you should request the fan favorite spotted dick special. For more info on dog training and obedience classes, visit “Ian Harris Dog Trainer.” on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/buddygoodboy2.
Images by Melissa Agustina