Marika Koncek was inspired to get into dog training through her own experience with a rescue dog she and her partner Nathan got from the Canmore SPCA in 2012.
Sierra, a Rottweiler-sheppard cross, “came with a whole wack of problems,” Koncek told me.
She was aggressive with other dogs, very anxious and would lunge at people — not aggressively, but defensively.
Marika and Nathan consulted with a dog trainer from the SPCA but they struggled to figure out what was wrong with Sierra.
“It was a new world. I had no idea it was going to be this hard. I was getting so frustrated with this dog and not knowing what was going on,” said Marika. “You get this attitude as an unknowledgeable dog owner she should be able to do this, why can’t she?”
Koncek spent a lot of time trying to find out what caused Sierra’s issues. In the meantime, she and Nathan had moved to Revelstoke, where she took up a job in a local cafe. As she considered career options – she worked as a teacher in her native Australia before moving to Canada – Nathan suggested she get into dog training.
“He saw how interested I was in trying to help our dog,” Koncek told me.
Koncek now holds a Master Trainer certificate from the Canada West Canine Centre, a statement of attainment in dog training from TAFE Australia, and is a Certified Canine Behaviourist from the Companion Animal Behaviour Institute.
She is the owner of Balanced K9 Training, which does dog training, dog walking and dog sitting. This summer, she couldn’t be busier, and when we met on Saturday, she mentioned how many calls she’s getting from tourists looking for someone to take care of their dog while they ride the Pipe at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. She walks anywhere from five to eight dogs at a time, and up to 50 over the course of a busy week. She offers puppy training courses and obedience classes for older dogs.
Koncek’s story isn’t typical of the life-long love affair with dogs you’ll get from most trainers. Her first dog as a child was a kelpie that ran away after a few months.
Her family’s next dog was a sheppard-Doberman-whippet cross named Angie that she grew up with. Still, in between living home and moving to Canada, she didn’t own any dogs.
Sierra changed that. As Koncek became a dog trainer, she also learned more about her dog. She realized the problem was that Sierra was never properly socialized around other dogs and became extremely stressed. It took a move to the rural area for Sierra to relax, and lots of training for her to walk on a loose leash.
The stress Sierra exhibited is common amongst many dogs, Koncek said.
“So many people put their dogs in situations where their dog is too stressed, like taking them to the farmers market. They can’t handle other dogs or crowds, and they act out,” she said. “The big misconception is people think its an obedience thing. What’s really going is is these dogs are super stressed. They weren’t socialized properly, they weren’t taught how to handle this scenario, so now they’re acting out.”
Socialization needs to begin when the dog is a puppy, between the ages of 10 weeks to five months old, Koncek told me. That’s when a dog needs to be taught how to act around other animals or people.
“Through reading and through learning, the problems aren’t obedience related. This dog wasn’t prepared as a puppy to handle life,” said Koncek. “It all comes down to those first few months of life — who they let their dog be around, how long, did they intervene when the play got to rough, or did they punish their dogs when they got into fights when it was just play?
“It’s unfortunately lack of education and understanding.”
Koncek said its crucial to start a good routine when the dog is very young so they know how to behave around adults, children and other dogs. They need to be rewarded for good behaviour when they’re young, so they repeat that when they’re older.
I asked Koncek about some of the major training issues she saw in Revelstoke. A big one was getting dogs to walk with a loose leash. Once again, she said that starts as a puppy. She did stress the importance of walking your dog on leash in the city, for the sake of your own dog and others. The big issue is that an off-leash dog approaching an on-leash dog can trigger aggressive defence mechanisms in the latter animal, causing it to lash out.
“The other owner gets mad at you because your dog is barking and growling or lunging at them. The dog on the leash is scared for their life and they’re trying to protect themselves,” said Koncek. “Just because someone thinks their dog is really good, doesn’t mean they can’t have an incident. Every dog has a potential to bite when in that situation, no matter how socialized or friendly they are.”
Koncek’s own dog is now more relaxed, but she still gets stressed around other people. She said it was important not to force your dog through stressful situations, but instead go the other way so they can relax.
Dogs can be trained to overcome their fears, but it takes a lot of time and effort.
“It’s not so much about teaching obedience, it’s about teaching the owners how important socialization is,” said Koncek. “If your dog is already fearful, lets try to help them and move them forward instead of waiting until they’re a year old, and then its too late.”
Find out more about Balanced K9 Training at revelstokedogtraining.com.