2007-03-07 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Jeff Kolbjornsen, works with dogs with special needs. Jeff Kolbjornsen, works with dogs with special needs. Jeff Kolbjornsen, founder of Elite Animal Trainers, says that the "true dog whisperer is someone who understands and can help your dog achieve freedom to be the dog he was born to be". Whether showing a family how to apply his insight to their pet or defending a dog's behavior before a judge, Jeff, with his sixth sense of canine cognition, is a hero to many the under dog.

Jeff specializes in working with problem (or as he prefers- "special needs") dogs and in advocating for dogs wrongly accused, most publicized- the 2 doomed Dukes. He rescued and trained Duke the Bulldog pup who just tagged along when Rottweilers attacked a boy last spring, and is still maneuvering through legal channels to spare the life of Duke, the red Pit bull, a victim in a maze of mistaken identity and judicial snafus.

For over 3 years the second Duke has been incarcerated at Islip Shelter by the court under an erroneous dangerous dog law for an "alleged" attack on a neighbor's dog. Adored by the shelter staff, affable Duke aced all Jeff's temperament tests and has weathered his jail time stoically. The Pit just got a stay of execution. Everyone hopes that Duke's latest hearing will send him home soon.

Kitchka, declawed cat Kitchka, declawed cat With keen vision into the subtleties of canine body language, Jeff "reads" dogs like a world class poker player. Take "Gigi" the Westie, for example- the food aggression/ cage guarding tiny tornado terrorized everyone who approached her. "She was bluffing," said Jeff. He could detect the flinch in her eyes and body, and had no problem with her. Now with Gigi's behavior under control, her caretakers are learning how to handle Ms. Smoke n'Mirrors.

Jeff, who has earned the title "New York Dog Whisperer", has been studying dogs his whole life. Since 1975 he's researched the behaviors, drives, and social dynamics that make "man's best friend" tick. As a certified animal behaviorist with over 30 years experience in all aspects of dogdom, from Schutzhund to Westminster, Jeff has developed his own "realistic style" of training. His canine graduates perform demos at the LI Pet Expo.

Besides using his expertise to de-program and re-train aggressive and difficult dogs, Jeff has many missions: to educate the public about dog safety and choosing breeds that fit their lifestyle, rather than an image; to encourage breeding only dogs with sound temperaments; to rescue and place shelter dogs; and to convince owners not to give up on their pets. He feels too many dogs are surrendered or euthanized despite "fixable" issues. He urges owners to seek professional help from a qualified behaviorist as soon as problems arise. Think from a dog's perspective: Biting is a natural response. It is the canine way of correcting us. Therefore, basic obedience training may not be enough.

Dale, Chihuahua mix. Dale, Chihuahua mix. Although Jeff's talents conjure comparisons to TV's Cesar Millan, Kolbjornsen's varied methods are more positive, less pack oriented; plus his NY canine clients can be tougher than laid back California dogs. Jeff teaches to a dog's comfort zone. First he reads the dog to understand what this particular dog needs - in general terms- nutrition, health, exercise; and then specifics drives, socialization, routine, sensory acumen ( is the dog cued by sight, smell or sound ), and the job the dog was bred to do. Medical causes of behavior problems must be ruled out first.

De-programming gives a problem pooch an alternative belief system. The process can take from a day to a year, depending on the dog. The longer a dog has gotten away with an unacceptable behavior, the deeper that behavior is entrenched within his psyche. Elite's approach is multi-faceted. Jeff believes in touch therapy and keeping a difficult dog near him. The leash and collar convey energy between the dog and handler.

To Jeff there's power in the leash walk that builds bonds and teamwork. Presently he's working with a fearful Canaan Dog who has bitten her family. She is gradually relaxing, stepping closer to Jeff. Her breed from Israel has thousands of years of conflicting history- serving people; banished by them. It takes patience to get a frightened Canaan to trust. More advice from Jeff: "Anticipate everything a dog does and the dog will anticipate what you are going to do".

A dog must submit to control before formal training can begin. Jeff says "handlers need to use intelligence, not ego. A good trainer has 3 hands- a soft, medium and hard hand and knows when to use each". The dog need not be wrestled to the ground. At times he employs leash techniques, rocking, a push, or gentle pressure points. Then he tests the dog to see what the dog allows him to do, so he can implement an appropriate plan to phase out the old behavior, and reinforce the new. He trains with kindness and consistency. The dogs respect him, not out of fear, but because he projects an aura of caring leadership.

Jeff and the Elite trainers consult for many rescue groups such as Little Shelter, Save-A-Pet, LI Bulldog Rescue, Mixed Breeds in Need, and Last Hope. Elite (631- 277-5278) usually has several rehabilitated foster dogs to place, f u l l y t r a i n e d , with ironclad adoption policies.

The Leonards, long time dog lovers, found Jeff when they were about to give up on Cassie, their d y n a m o Hound mix, adopted from North Shore. Susan Leonard agrees that Jeff has an innate rapport with the canine kind. He used behavior mod on Cassie with remarkable results. No treats, merely intermittent, sincere praise. She says his passion for dogs makes the difference. He came through as a lifesaver in a time of crisis -Cassie freaked when she got stuck in a collar. To this day, Cassie wants to please her trainer. She looks at Jeff as if he were her god…. Many dogs gaze at the New York Dog Whisperer that way.

Oyster Bay Shelter (677-5784) Miller Place Syosset has some new adoptable pets on their Petfinder website. "Dale" #0121 is a sweet long haired Chihuahua mix. He came in as a stray from Farmingdale wearing an Earnhardt collar. Hence, the name "Dale". Since before Christmas "Kitchka"#1182 a declawed black & white beauty has been waiting in the cat room for someone nice to notice her.

+Dogs: "Marmaduke"- a young Shepherd/ Bloodhound; "Trula"- a Lab/Bulldog.

+Cats: "Chips"- a tabby and "Foo"- his gray and white brother. Poster Pets of the Week

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