Wagging tails and happy handlers

2009-12-21 00:00

A TOWNSHIP dog-training programme in Mpophomeni is growing and the organisers are looking for volunteers to help with the demand for tuition.

The programme was started in July by professional dog trainer and animal behaviourist Adrienne Olivier, who has worked with the uMngeni SPCA outreach programmes, including initiating the Township Dog Show in Mpophomeni near Howick. After seeing what a group of disadvantaged youngsters were achieving in Bruntville, Mooi River, with weekly dog-training classes conducted by trainers from a caring local security company, Olivier drew together a group of volunteers with interpreters from the uMngeni SPCA and they conducted their first class at Zamathuli School, Mpophomeni.

Bemused dogs and their uncertain handlers trickled in until there were a dozen dogs in all and Funda Nenja was born. Loosely translated into “learning with the dog”, Funda Nenja aims to teach owners how to train their dogs in a kind and gentle way using positive reinforcement in place of old-fashioned, harsh, coercive methods. It is very much a case of handlers and dogs learning strange new concepts together. During the course of training every opportunity is taken to include general animal welfare education. The health needs of the animals are taken care of by the uMngeni SPCA and the benefits of sterilisation are constantly emphasised.

Olivier has been amazed by the success of the project. Numbers have grown steadily and there are now as many as 70 handlers wanting to take their dogs to training each week.

As every dog is initially given a collar and lead and takes 750 grams of dry dog cubes home as training treats for the week’s “home work”, it is obvious that resource requirements are high. After the first issue, leashes are “lent” for training each week and returned as the students go out of the gate. For those who lose their original collar or lead, replacements are available at a nominal fee.

Depending on the number of volunteer trainers, classes are divided into young puppies, older puppies, beginner adult dogs, intermediate dogs and the advanced class where dogs and their handlers are learning to retrieve, tackle jumps and other obstacles and to drill for Funda Nenja’s own demo team.

Recently, the team put on a very creditable performance at Piet Retief School in Pietermaritzburg. When one remembers that these dogs had never been in a vehicle before or seen anywhere beyond their immediate home environs, their performance was all the more amazing. There were a couple of hundred children watching them work and the public address system was blaring out a running commentary. Olivier and her trainers felt like the proud parents of A- grade students.

Asked what he has learnt from Funda Nenja dog training, a young dog handler, Bright, responded: “I have learnt that it is better to be kind to my dog and other animals. My dog now loves and trusts me, and we both enjoy training together.”

It is a well-documented fact that violent criminals and serial killers usually have a history of animal abuse. Therapy involving giving prisoners caged birds or shelter dogs to raise and train has been shown to develop the caring side of these tough characters. Learning to take care of a creature that develops trust in its handler, is nonjudgmental and loves unconditionally can open up a world of new beginnings when these men are released.

Working with their dogs and learning care and compassion can instil those same qualities in the handlers at Funda Nenja and these traits can permeate into their community life. Goal setting, discipline and responsibility are all learnt attributes which help youngsters grow into reliable, caring and balanced adults — potential community leaders of tomorrow.

Funda Nenja needs volunteers for Friday afternoons. Some dog training or handling skills would be an advantage but are not essential. Some level of Zulu would be a help but is not essential. This is truly an uplifting experience and any willable (willing and able) volunteers would be most welcome.

Sponsors are also sought for the weekly ration of dog food for training treats (about 50 kg/week), for collars and leads (small, medium and large leather collars), for anti-rabies vaccinations for the volunteers who are working hands-on with animals that may not yet be vaccinated. Unfortunately, the volunteers do not qualify for free vaccinations and the risks are real.


If you can help, please contact Adrienne Olivier at 083 636 0891 or 033 330 6276 or adrienne.o@mweb.co.za

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