Bring out the exceptional in your dog

WRITTEN BY: Gareth Pretorius
PHOTOS: Eytan Nafte

‘It just doesn’t listen!’ Anyone who owns a dog, or knows someone with one, has probably heard this exasperated cry at least once. But, perhaps you, the owner, are barking up the wrong tree. Because according to Karis Bryen, world-class animal behaviourist, who has heard this more times than she cares to remember, her response is always the same, “Dogs don’t speak English. Have you taught it any words?”

They’re supposed to be our best friends, so why wouldn’t one want to learn to better communicate with them. It’s really not much of a friendship without a dialogue. Bryen and her company Happy Dogs, offer private, individual, pet behaviour consultations in the comfort of your own home, weekly puppy training classes and regular 5-week dog obedience courses. And now they’re presenting you, Rover and Fifi, the opportunity to participate in the most fun you can have with your dog: Agility Classes!

“The best way to build the relationship with your dog is through training and exercise, because dogs love both. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Pug or a Great Dane, or anything in between, its what dogs love. It’s one of the best ways to channel a dog’s intelligence and energy and create an unbreakable bond with their owner. It’s an absolute joy, you never see a dog happier than when they go to agility classes,” explains Bryen with a grin that emphasises her passion for what she does.

From tunnels to jumps and figure eights, the class is like a mini-fairground of fun for your pup. And the expression on both owners and dog’s faces during the classes is truly a delight to behold. The classes are already running in Knysna and will soon be moving up to a new space in Rheenendal. So what better way to connect with your dog and allow it to show its true talent and versatility, than being surrounded by the rolling green fields of farmlands, with the Knysna forest in the background.

She is quick to point out that these classes are for everyone, “You don’t need any experience or previous prior training. You’ve got to start somewhere. We start with basic directional control – left, right, stop, start – and once that’s mastered, then we move onto the various apparatus and tricks. People are always welcome to come watch a class so as to get an idea and little dogs are just as welcome as big dogs.”

Bryen has been involved in this fascinating world of animal behaviourism for half her life, having begun training in 1996, at the age of 16 in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, which is the biggest network of animal trainers in the world. These initial years of training imbued within her the concept of ‘positive reinforcement’, which is the corner stone of her behaviourist work. But she admits that it was her time spent running a Doggy Crèche, where she learned the real hands-on skills of her job.

“There were two of us and we had 40 dogs a day in a big warehouse. People would go to work and leave their dogs with us to play with them. So learning how to manage and observe what dogs do with each other taught me as much as anything I’ve ever read in a book. You learn to catch the subtle nuances. I strive to be an absolute expert in dog body language, because it’s the only language animals have. They don’t write emails, they don’t express their concerns in any other way than through their physical expressions. For example, you can tell if a snarling dog is aggressive or nervous by what the corner of its mouth is doing. Having worked with over 5000 dogs over the last 15 years has given me enough confidence to read them. I can see the trouble before it happens and know how to deal with it. And I try deal with it in the way a dog would deal with it, rather than the way a person would try to manage it. A big part of my job is just explaining how dogs think and how they observe what you do.”

Her remarkable talents are not only limited to dogs, but she has worked regularly with a wide range of animals, from cats and bunnies, to horses and cheetahs. And she is also a licensed wrangler – a person who trains animals for the film and television industry. Part of that work currently includes training Bob, the regular dog on the Expresso Show, which can be seen on SABC3, every weekday morning. Bryen is also featured on the show every Tuesday where she provides viewers with a regular dog-training tip. Her involvement with the morning television show was recently highlighted on Top Billing, where she shared with viewing audience, her training methods for Bob

“You are always training your dog whether you are aware of it or not,” she says. “So you may as well have the tools to ensure the training is going in the right way. ” The Happy Dogs Agility School will be having its grand opening at its new location in Rheenendal on Saturday March 3rd from 9am.

For more information regarding the classes or private consultations, contact Karis at or on 0837298194. Follow her on Twitter for the latest tips and exciting animal adventures: @rogzwrangler

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