Dog trains man

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Fearful Dog Therapist Strikes Again

Do you notice the little figure in the middle of the photo? It is Kenzo on the beach we visited in Holland. He is looking at a path that leads down from the sand dunes onto the beach. From this path his pal Joska the Viszla - and my dad - usually appear.

But they were late for the beach that day. Kenzo decided to sit down in front of the path and waited, in his best imitation of Hachikō. He sat down for 10 minutes, letting other dogs pass by, until they arrived.

They have not always been that happy to see each other. Joska is very competitive towards other males, but fearful of them at the same time. It is like his testosterone is pushing him to act in a way he doesn't feel confident about. When Joska and Kenzo first met two years ago, Joska was not amused and very nervous. He only allowed Kenzo to showcase a full display of every calming signal in the book.

Somehow, during some of those meetings in the past, Kenzo discovered Joska's soft spot. Joska and my dad love to play fetch above anything else. Even though Kenzo has a game of fetch low on his fav list, body-checking is still his uncontested number one, he recognized fetch as the key to forge a closer relationship with those two. And decided to favor the game's company over the game type.

At first Kenzo was calm. Trying to appear not interested, as not to annoy Joska. Nowadays he is a fully accepted member of the fetch team. It took Kenzo more than a year in the smallest steps possible to get there. Desensitization carried out in perfection.

To give you an idea of how they play today, in their own version of fetch, watch this short video:

Did you notice the mutual play bows - even my dad - and how they play with two balls in the game?

Watching the three of them greet when they reunite after a long period of living apart in different countries and see how they engage in their own private game is a joy. For Joska it is very special that he can bond with another male dog.

Kenzo does try to introduce the body-check into the game and he made a fine demo once. As soon as Joska was on his feet again he decided to avoid further demos, and give this new play concept some further thought.

Like before, Kenzo never ceases to amaze me how he can make any dog feel good. Even if it takes him more than a year to achieve it. But a year is a small prize to pay for obtaining a real friend, as I realized when I saw him sitting on the beach, waiting for his new BFF.


Related post: The Small Fearful Dog Therapist


  1. That's a lovely story. Have you ever thought of having Kenzo certified as a therapy dog or somehow getting him involved in a more formal way with helping dog trainers work with fearful dogs? He clearly has a special talent -- and the additional quality of patience -- that makes him ideally suited to help others. Maybe his role in life was never as a show dog but as a therapist!

  2. That's so cool that Kenzo knew just how to work his way into Joska's heart. :)

  3. Oh this is great! I love how dogs are able to sense what will work to calm another down.

    Also a Hachiko reference is always amazing and lovely.

  4. @Edie
    The whole show thing was never planned, but it was a nice and entertaining distraction. Now that I have to get to know that "world", I have to admit to have enjoyed it a lot.

    But you are right, we have room for another project, the contact with the trainer before never materialized, but I should not give up and let Kenzo explore his talents to the fullest.

    He is a charmer :)

    Not that I wanted to imply Kenzo to have Hachiko capabilities, but he DID do 10 minutes. Hachiko would think that is a nice start :)

  5. I just spent a happy half hour researching Hovawarts. I had not come across the breed before today, They look fantastic and Kenzo is very talented.

  6. That's a great story., Kenzo! Its good to hear that Joska has at least one good friend. I like the way you're playing with him, but still keep your distance. A bit of respect for Joska's space perhaps?

    And btw, do you have your ball in your mouth while you're running to pick up the other one? LOL. There's a dog here that can carry up to 3 balls in his mouth!

    On an unrelated subject, are dogs allowed on all beaches in Netherlands? I recently saw some incredible wind driven beach sculptures by a Dutchman, Theo Jansen? I think that was his name. There were dogs in some of the videos and they were so calm despite the huge moving "beasts"! They wouldn't be anywhere near you, would they?

  7. Oh Leo. Seeing that picture of Kenzo and then reading the story behind it just touched my heart. How sweet is that? He waited for your Dad and his friend. Love!

    Kenzo is such an amazing dog. To think that he found a way for Joska to feel comfortable around him. He is a doggie therapist! So amazing really. I wonder if he would have done just as well as a human therapist?

    I loved the video of him jumping around with his ball. Just like a puppy. :)

  8. Lovely story about increasing a dog's comfort levels. There's a lot of great information here.

    I'm dropping by on the pet blogger hop today - cheers!

  9. I actually really enjoyed this video for another reason - I got to see a hovawart at all angles! I know what they look like from pictures, but I haven't seen one in the flesh, and videos reveal so much more. Thanks for sharing. :)

  10. @Dexter
    Glad you were introduced to Hovawarts, hope the information you found was helpful. Thanks for the nice words for Kenzo :)

    You are a great observer. The space is kept because they both have a ball trying to dare the other. With one ball they come close. And the running for a second ball is actually Kenzo going for the body-check. He always tries to body-check Joska when he races for the ball, if he has one himself or not. Joska has got very savvy in avoiding that :)

    They have those sculptures in "Scheveningen" not far from where we stay. Too busy there for us :) It differs from place to place if and when dogs are allowed on the beach, but on this place, "Kijkduin", they are allowed all year round, although in the summer, only on the nudist part off-leash :)

    Thank you. They have being doing great together now for a while. But I first realized what it meant for Kenzo when I saw him sitting down waiting. I dont think he could be a human therapist. He is suspicious of new persons and he only likes to cuddle with people he knows very well.

    Thank you!

    Ha! you are welcome :)

  11. On the nudist part, off leash. BOL. Does the dog walker have to be under too? What a fun country :)

  12. Oops. Intuitive spelling check error...that should have read nude, not under :)

  13. @GLP
    In Holland there is a place for everybody (not necessarily room) :)

    Thanks :)

  14. This is such a beautiful video. Kenzo is full of so much joy and kindness. I almost laughed out loud when he shook his head with the ball in his mouth. There is a dog who knows how to enjoy the little moments! I agree with Edie - he would make an amazing therapy dog.

    It's great to see two dogs so thrilled to be playing with each other. And what a gorgeous spot!

  15. I am so impressed by Kenzo! To be that determined and patient for the reward of a solid friendship...that is just awesome!

  16. @Prudence

    It is fun when he does that. We also have balls on a string, and sometimes he shakes the string, hitting himself on the head with the ball.

    @When ... vet
    Thank you!


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