Lone wolf trainer a breed apart

TOP DOG: Dog behaviour specialist Flip Calkoen with his dog John at Ellerslie Racecourse, where he runs his dog training classes.
TOP DOG: Dog behaviour specialist Flip Calkoen with his dog John at Ellerslie Racecourse, where he runs his dog training classes.

Flip Calkoen believes you can always teach an old dog new tricks.

The 55-year-old has been working in the dog behaviour industry for more than 30 years and now runs a dog training centre at the Ellerslie Racecourse stables.

Mr Calkoen says he wanted to be a guide dog instructor from the age of 15 and moved to Amsterdam in 1978 to train.

‘There was just nothing for that kind of thing in New Zealand at the time."

He then went on to study dog and wolf behaviour in Holland under Martyn Gaus.

The wolf study started when a client bought what he thought was a purebred 3-month-old german shepherd from Germany.

At a visit to the vet, the man was told he had actually been sold a wolf.

Mr Calkoen worked with Luska the wolf for many years and says it was a huge change from the "cream of the crop" guide dogs he had previously trained.

"A wolf is so different to a dog of course. It was very interesting and it was so very groundbreaking back then."

Wolves are not the only unusual animals Mr Calkoen has come across. He describes one client in the Netherlands who lived with three Shetland ponies on the third storey of a small apartment building.

The oddest dog he has met in New Zealand was one that refused to turn left, he says.

"He went ballistic if we tried to turn him left but if we turned right he would walk like a lamb. It was like he had schizophrenia."

Mr Calkoen says it took about a month to train the dog.

"We had to teach him that no matter what he threw at us, if he threw the kitchen sink at us, we would still keep walking."

The Murrays Bay man has run his Ellerslie business for 18 years.

He offers group and private sessions to train dogs and owners.

The first step is a one-on-one consultation to assess the needs of the dog and owner. Mr Calkoen then develops a programme for each client using conventional and clicker training techniques.

He was a founding member of the Top Dog Companion Trust which trains dogs for people with disabilities.

He has assisted with the establishment of a guide dog school and worked for the Foundation of the Blind for four years.

He says it's a struggle when he gets asked what breeds are the best for dog owners.

"It would be like saying every New Zealander was the same. You can't judge a dog by its breed."

Different breeds do have different characteristics but it is owners who heavily impact the way dogs act, he says.

"We tend to humanise dogs. What comes naturally for us is not actually the best thing for the dog."

Mr Calkoen says it has been interesting watching the prominence of dog training rise in New Zealand since he returned here in 1984.

New Zealand now has the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and universities offer degrees in animal behaviour.

All of Mr Calkoen's training was hands-on and the theory often does not give you the same understanding, he says.

"I'm now the old-fashioned guy."

Go to flipstopdog.co.nz for more information.

Auckland City Harbour News