Monday, November 10, 2014

Give a dog a bone? No, give him a job says Khalid Al-Qassem of Dogdom Kuwait

The article below appeared in Bazaar Magazine in June of 2014.  It will serve as the introduction to my 2nd post on Dogdom.  (Reprinting with their permission.)

Khalid ad Phoebe, Service Canine
Photo:  Hanilens Photography Studio

It started in August 2013 when 4-year-old Aisha was attacked by a pack of dogs while on the beach in Khiran.  Her father, Mohamed Al-Mulla told Al-Rai Daily that it had been an enjoyable afternoon at the chalet until he heard the shrill scream of his little girl.  He rushed to her aid and found six stray dogs had bitten off her ear, maimed her face and dragged her across the beach. Later, a group of amateur snipers made headlines when, according to K’s Path Kuwait, they killed more than 80 stray dogs in retaliation to the attack.
Khalid Al-Qassem, a dog owner for more than 35 years was shocked at the brutal incident. He toldbazaar it wasn’t the snipers or the dogs that he was angry about.
“They [the six dogs] must have belonged to people at some point. If not then the parents belonged to someone who didn’t get them neutered or speyed,” he said. “Think of it as the cost we are now facing because of the irresponsible dog ownership implanted in this country over 30 years.”
According to Al-Qassem, there are currently more than 200 adoptable dogs in Kuwait, with many more strays on the street. Owners may discard their pets when they move away from Kuwait, or, more often, find dog ownership to be more of a hassle then expected and discard their pets. So, Al-Qassem put his corporate career in Human Resources on hiatus and decided to combine his skills with dog knowledge and philosophy to start Dogdom.
Dogdom is defined as the “world of dogs and dog enthusiasts,” in the Webster dictionary, and Al-Qassem is definitely an enthusiast. His new rehabilitation service aims to reintegrate dogs into the families they belong to, or the pack, and it has just as much to do with humans as it does with the dogs themselves.
“Our whole problem is that any issue from the dog is not caused by the dog,” he said. “Dogs do fine in the wild. Wolves have a magnificent sense of community, and bonding, their relationship is amazing. So it’s always humans that mess up the dog.”
His solution? Don’t give a dog a bone, give him a job, he says. Dogs by nature are pack animals, and are either leaders or submissive members of the pack. Specific actions define the leader: he eats first, walks in front, passes through narrow openings first and demands actions. But, being the leader is stressful for the dog and they become more territorial, experience anxiety disorder when one of the pack (you and everyone in the house) leaves and feels a general sense of responsibility for all the tasks in the house.
So how do you give your dog a job? According to Al-Qassem it starts from the moment you decide you want to add a canine to your family. He has developed a 9 point puppy test that he explains in his lectures at Petzone and with individual clients in their homes. At Dogdom he takes on clients looking for a puppy and helps them with the assessment.  First he visits them at their home to understand the environment the dog will be living in and observes the family schedule.  He sits with his clients and has them consider why they want a dog, and what it will add to their lives.
“You want to lose some weight?” he said. “Get a dog whose energy level matches yours and lifestyle matches yours in terms of size and spending. We pick the right dog and you have a running partner for the next ten years whether you want to run or not.”
Whether you are looking for an exercise buddy, home protection or therapy dog, make that the dog’s focus and you will find he barks and jumps up on your buddies less. They are patient animals that are more than happy to be submissive to the leader of the pack, otherwise known as their owners.
Sometimes dog ownership goes very wrong, and this is when Al-Qassem’s specialty truly comes into play.  Recently he was asked to help a client with a raging mix of Rottweiler German Shepherd. The dog was dangerous and difficult, and had bit a little girl just days before. When Al-Qassem arrived he found the collar was digging into its skin and they had kept him locked in the cage for the past week out of fear.
Al-Qassem did dominance exercise with the dog the first day, but left him in the cage. He went back for five days and finally placed him on the leash for a walk.  At first he was fine, and engaged in the pack activity, until he stopped to pee. Since the dog was not neutered he needed to mark his space. However, as the pack leader Al-Qassem couldn’t let him do that, so he tugged on the leash and the dog attacked.
“It was gruesome but even then you can’t stop the fight,” he said. “Then I started confronting this dog. I’m still bleeding but I cant lose. I’ve got him on a loose leash, and I loop the leash so it controls his head.  Every time I yank he is just going for my arm again and I’m still bleeding.  The minute I arch back he’s back at it growling.”
Eventually, Al-Qassem recommended the dog be put down, because it could not become a productive member of any pack due to its extreme aggression. While killing a dog is not the ideal solution to most problems, it is a difficult decision he must be able to make when attempting to rehabilitate a dog.
“That’s the price we are paying,” he said. “I’ve dealt with places here and societies that are putting dogs and animals above human needs. That’s wrong. We are doing this with a sense of humanity. This dog was a danger to society and it is our responsibility as humanitarians to put the dog down.”

To see how well Al-Qassem’s programs and training works, one only needs to look down to Al-Qassem’s side.  There, a beautiful mid-sized golden retriever will probably be sitting or standing quietly. Phoebe is Al-Qassem’s partner in Dogdom, and her job is to assist with rehabilitation, and she follows her pack leader to the letter. It’s Al-Qassem’s job to help your dog do the same.

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