‘President of Dogs’ has words for pet owners

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‘President of Dogs’ has words for pet owners


Dog trainer Kang Hyung-wook explains how people and dogs can coexist peacefully in Korea at his dog training center Bodeum in Namyangju, Gyeonggi. [LIM HYUN-DONG]

The potential dangers of pet dogs were highlighted this month when the CEO of renowned restaurant chain Hanilkwan died after being bitten by a dog raised by the family of singer Choi Si-won. To get an expert’s view on how to coexist peacefully with dogs, the JoongAng Ilbo sat down with 32-year-old dog trainer Kang Hyung-wook. Kang runs a company called Bodeum in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, where he helps pet owners train troublesome dogs. As the star of the TV show “There is No Bad Dog in the World,” Kang earned the moniker “President of the Dogs” after awing viewers with his ability to seemingly read the dogs’ minds and correct their behavior. Korea is now home to over 10 million pet dogs.

Q. You are known for promoting the theory that there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. But given the recent death of the Hanilkwan CEO and the 1,000 dog bite cases that occurred during the first eight months of this year, how should we deal with dogs that harm humans?

One big problem is that dangerous dog breeds are living in the middle of the city. In the past, dogs were bred according to people’s needs. Some were bred so they could ward off predators or become skilled hunters. In modern society, we have to gradually stop breeding dangerous dogs, and breed ones that can adjust well to life in crowded cities. People in charge of breeding strategically are called breeders, and I think Korea is also in need of a breeder culture.

What do you mean by a breeder culture?

In Korea, you can buy dogs in pet shops as long as you have the money. Most of the dogs come from breeding facilities or puppy mills, and their parents are usually unknown. But in countries that are more experienced in raising dogs, people cannot just buy dogs. Breeders choose the mating partners carefully, and before placing the puppies on sale, they accept applications from people who are willing to be interviewed to become potential owners. This breeder culture not only improves the breeds of the dogs themselves, but it also helps to prevent unqualified people from owning dogs.

Even if breeders try to breed less aggressive dogs, won’t they still be unable to change the natural instinct of dogs to bark and bite?

A dog that suddenly bites is not behaving normally. It probably wasn’t raised properly. Our society has to prevent people who raise dogs that attack humans from ever raising dogs again.

What is your opinion of muzzling dogs?

There are so many people who mistakenly believe that maximizing the dogs’ freedom is the best way to love them, falling into the mental trap of “my dog first.” There are many dog owners who shy away from the mere thought of muzzling their dogs, believing it to be too repressive. But there is no one in the world who deserves to be bit by a dog, and people should always come before dogs. At least when they are brought before groomers, trainers or vets, it is better for the dogs to be muzzled because they will become even more stressed when experts use greater force trying to prevent themselves from being harmed by unmuzzled dogs.

What do you think of owners who don’t apologize and assure others that “my dog doesn’t bite” when their dogs charge at strangers?

That is actually the biggest problem. There are some communities of dog owners out there who decide as a group to let their dogs run unleashed, scaring passers-by. The owners will gradually lose their ability to determine what’s acceptable and not. Once a dog owner’s sense of judgement declines, someone has to let them know when their actions are inappropriate.

There are many single households, including people who only live with their dogs. Do you think this is adding to the problem?

In some countries, breeders don’t sell dogs to people living by themselves who work long hours outside. Just as neglecting a child is a form of abuse, leaving a dog alone can also be regarded as abuse. Owners have to know that it is wrong to raise a dog just so they have someone to welcome them back after a long day. A peaceful culture of coexistence of man and animal can only be created when dogs are no longer considered as possessions, but rather as family.

Do you think one reason we’re seeing an increase of dogs is because owners are treating dogs like possessions they can throw away when they tire of them?

I have many concerns about abandoned dogs. Abandoning dogs is one issue, but promoting the act of adopting dogs as a “good deed” is also problematic. Of course, it is necessary for people to adopt abandoned dogs. But with celebrities romanticizing their journey of dog adoption, we might forget the real issue behind pet abandonment and mistake the means for the end. What we have to focus on is preventing dogs from being abandoned at all. I think we should plant a chip in every dog so we know who it belongs to. We have to make people take responsibility for their dogs.

There are many people who believe Choi Si-won should put down his dog. What is your opinion?

It’s something I can’t easily decide. Before, in countries like the United States, it was common to put down dogs that harmed people. But now, every country is a bit hesitant about euthanasia. Because I am a trainer, I don’t want to give up on dogs. One thing we have to do is only allow qualified and competent people to raise dogs. If a dog is aggressive, it’s highly likely that there was a problem with the person who raised it. As with children, if owners teach their dogs manners and discipline, they will grow up to be well-behaved.

What should owners do to raise their dogs well?

First, they have to throw away their selfishness and ignorance. They have to discard their theory of conditional love, and stop putting up with their dogs’ bad behavior hoping that their dogs will love them even more. Also, they should stop looking for happiness in their dogs, and look outside to fulfill their dreams and find happiness.

We have talked a lot about dog owners. What are your thoughts on non-owners?

A big part of the problem with our dog-owning culture originates from the owners’ indifference and insensitivity. But many non-owners don’t know how to coexist with dogs either. People have to remember three things when they meet a dog in the street. They shouldn’t talk to it, touch it or block its way. Sometimes people would pet, threaten or feed the dogs. When enough dog owners share these incidents online with other owners, it can widen the division between owners and non-owners, fueling a vicious cycle.

What is your vision of a mature dog-owning culture?

Honestly, it is difficult for me to make a living as a dog trainer. In many European countries, people train dogs as a side job, unless they are training specialized dogs. That is because most people there already know how to discipline dogs and coexist with them. There is a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” A local community where dogs are well-mannered and people know how to coexist with them is my vision of a mature dog-owning society.

BY YANG SUNNY [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]
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