Lone wolf trainer a breed apart

DAILY GRIND

Central Leader - - NEWS - By LAU­REN PRI­EST­LEY

Flip Calkoen be­lieves you can al­ways teach an old dog new tricks.

The 55-year-old has been work­ing in the dog be­hav­iour in­dus­try for more than 30 years and now runs a dog train­ing cen­tre at the Eller­slie Race­course sta­bles.

Mr Calkoen says he wanted to be a guide dog in­struc­tor from the age of 15 and moved to Amsterdam in 1978 to train.

‘There was just noth­ing for that kind of thing in New Zealand at the time.’’

He then went on to study dog and wolf be­hav­iour in Hol­land un­der Mar­tyn Gaus.

The wolf study started when a client bought what he thought was a pure­bred 3-month-old ger­man shep­herd from Ger­many.

At a visit to the vet, the man was told he had ac­tu­ally been sold a wolf.

Mr Calkoen worked with Luska the wolf for many years and says it was a huge change from the ‘‘cream of the crop’’ guide dogs he had pre­vi­ously trained.

‘‘A wolf is so dif­fer­ent to a dog of course. It was very in­ter­est­ing and it was so very ground­break­ing back then.’’

Wolves are not the only un­usual an­i­mals Mr Calkoen has come across. He de­scribes one client in the Nether­lands who lived with three Shet­land ponies on the third storey of a small apart­ment build­ing.

The odd­est dog he has met in New Zealand was one that re­fused to turn left, he says.

‘‘He went bal­lis­tic if we tried to turn him left but if we turned right he would walk like a lamb. It was like he had schizophre­nia.’’

Mr Calkoen says it took about a month to train the dog.

‘‘We had to teach him that no mat­ter what he threw at us, if he threw the kitchen sink at us, we would still keep walking.’’

The Mur­rays Bay man has run his Eller­slie busi­ness for 18 years.

He of­fers group and pri­vate ses­sions to train dogs and own­ers.

The first step is a one-onone con­sul­ta­tion to as­sess the needs of the dog and owner. Mr Calkoen then de­vel­ops a pro­gramme for each client us­ing con­ven­tional and clicker train­ing tech­niques.

He was a found­ing mem­ber of the Top Dog Com­pan­ion Trust which trains dogs for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

He has as­sisted with the es­tab­lish­ment of a guide dog school and worked for the Foun­da­tion of the Blind for four years.

He says it’s a strug­gle when he gets asked what breeds are the best for dog own­ers.

‘‘It would be like say­ing ev­ery New Zealan­der was the same. You can’t judge a dog by its breed.’’

Dif­fer­ent breeds do have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics but it is own­ers who heav­ily im­pact the way dogs act, he says.

‘‘We tend to hu­man­ise dogs. What comes nat­u­rally for us is not ac­tu­ally the best thing for the dog.’’

Mr Calkoen says it has been in­ter­est­ing watch­ing the promi­nence of dog train­ing rise in New Zealand since he re­turned here in 1984.

New Zealand now has the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pet Dog Train­ers and univer­si­ties of­fer de­grees in an­i­mal be­hav­iour.

All of Mr Calkoen’s train­ing was hands-on and the the­ory of­ten does not give you the same un­der­stand­ing, he says.

‘‘I’m now the old-fash­ioned guy.’’

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Top dog: Dog be­hav­iour spe­cial­ist Flip Calkoen with his dog John at Eller­slie Race­course, where he runs his dog train­ing classes. Go to cen­tral­leader. co.nz to see a video of Flip Calkoen train­ing a puppy.

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