I consider myself more a trainer of people than dogs!” says Hamish ‘The Dog Dude’ Young. “I teach people how to communicate with their dogs.”
I meet with the legendary Waikato dog whisperer in his new Auckland base at South Paws Doggy Daycare, where he also works with canine rehabilitation and rehoming charity, Chained Dog. Nearby are is his personal pack of pooches, ranging from mastiffs to toy breeds and plenty in between.
“All dogs,” he continues, “are born to instinctively follow.” Humans, he laughs, are the only species on the planet willing to follow a weak leader (“Or a stupid one!” I interject) but dogs simply won’t do that: “They don’t understand the complexity of our thought process, they just pick up on energies and body language.
Dogs, says, Hamish, fall into three main energy groups: low, medium and high, and they generally want to hang out with dogs with matching characteristics.
As for interactions with humans, it’s important for people and their pooches to “get on the same wavelength”. One of the reasons so many people have issue with their pets is because puppies are taken away from their mums too soon.“This means that they miss out on the number one lesson mum teaches them, and that’s how to limit the excitement,” says Hamish. “When one of the puppies is playing and starts to take things a little too far then she’ll come and take them away to calm them down. They miss that.”
And so the problem is then further compounded by inexperienced dog owners who over-excite their new pups, leading to behavioural issues further down the road as they release energy destructively—whether it be through chewing or digging or even biting. (One of Hamish’s energy expending tricks is to pop them on a treadmill!) Other common mistakes include treating dogs like humans which drives them “completely insane”, and allowing them to lie on top of you which they interpret as being in a dominant role: “Your dog doesn’t relate to any of that. It comes back to that basic principle that every dog is born to follow.”
Progress made by Hamish with the hounds can soon be undone if, upon their return home, the owners fall back into the same old routines: “The dog will always behave itself with me because, from day one, I’m consistent. But as soon as it goes back that environment, then it becomes unsettled.”
That’s why it’s essential owners hang out with him too.
“Too many owners think that they can just throw a load of money at the problem, drop the dog off, and be done,” laments Hamish. “Obviously I provide them with a blueprint for them to follow with their dog—and they have my support along the way—but they need to come and spend time with me and their dog so that they can mimic what I have done. It’s about empowering the human. A lot of the time people arrive in a state of anxiety, and so the first thing I do is address that. Usually when that happens there’s a change in the dog straight away.”
Are all dogs trainable?
“If anyone were to ever tell you I failed, I didn’t fail the dog, but failed to break through to the human because of ego and things like that. Eighty percent of the time, it’s not a dog related issue, but a human one, and it’s sending the dog crazy because no one’s relating to it.”
Are some people just not equipped to own dogs?
“Unfortunately, yes, I think some people shouldn’t have dogs. Part of the reason I’m so successful is because I’m honest—but there’s just no helping some people, and I’ve learnt to spot them!”
Hamish’s impeccably behaved pack comprises several dogs that were simply deemed too risky to release back into the homes of incapable handlers. His canine crew also serves as his staff, helping to rehabilitate new hounds with behavioural problems.
“Everyone thinks that they should choose the puppy that runs and jumps all over them, but they’ll likely be high energy, so I recommend getting the one that ignores you or stands to the back,” says Hamish. “And I also highly recommend going out and doing basic obedience stuff immediately—it’s important to teach dogs to stay and to sit and that sort of stuff. But they should also delve into dog psychology, how their brains works and what drives them.”
Though Hamish grew up around dogs—he had a neighbour in Cambridge who bred and trained sheepdogs and “taught me everything I know”—becoming The Dog Dude was never his intention. He’s previously practised martial arts and worked as a chef, and it was while walking groups of dogs that people would stop to ask how managed to control them so well: “It happened so many times that I realised there was a real need for help out there.”
However, for all his whispering wizardry, it’s sobering to hear that Hamish has, on occasion been bitten. “There’s only a certain amount you can learn in a classroom when it comes to behaviour—especially when dealing with extreme dogs,” he reveals. “You need hands-on experience, and at some point you’re going to get bitten, maybe quite badly, which puts a lot people off.”
Such strikes are usually the result of “redirecting”, an instinctual redirection of energy should Hamish, say, get it between a pair of scrapping hounds.
“My job is to limit that, to teach them how to release the energy constructively,” says Hamish. “So Jed for instance—that black kelpie over there—whenever he gets too excited, he’ll run over and jump on the treadmill then look at me to tell me to turn it on! It’s just so satisfying, helping these dogs, it’s a magical job.”