“You Become Responsible, Forever, For What You Have Tamed.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Motivated by the desire to bring people and animals closer together, I embarked on a new career in 2010 and started my biology studies. Humans and dogs have always lived together in a multitude of ways and so I wanted to study the human-animal relationship in more detail. Soon into the process, I realized that dogs are my greatest passion.
Canines have always been a part of my life and I wanted to learn more about them as animals, and our human connection to them. Wherever there are people in the world, there are domestic dogs. This forever evolving and unique relationship completely captivated my attention. I wanted to understand what happened during the process of domestication (taming an animal and keeping it as a pet) and what shapes the mutual relationship between dogs and humans today. Humans and pets are from two different species and yet we collaborate and communicate with one another and live in common spaces.
This is how I eventually I ended up at the Wolf Research Center (WSC), Austria in 2014.
Here, I conducted a collaborative study with dogs and wolves where I gained some fascinating insights into their social and learning behaviors. I was particularly impressed by the dog trainers and their work. I quickly realized that, although I enjoyed my project, my heart was beating faster when I got involved with animals directly. Instead of just documenting how dogs and wolves performed in a study, I actually wanted to have direct contact and interact with them. Inspired by the animal trainers, and after graduating in behavioural biology, I started a dog training course in 2017 and have been working, since 2019, as an animal trainer at the WSC.
“Patience and compassion are essential, as well as mutual respect and a pinch of flexibility”
Dogs and wolves soon made me realize, that having theoretical knowledge about them is not enough. Patience and compassion are essential, as well as mutual respect and a pinch of flexibility. In recent years I have learned a lot about them. But most importantly about myself, which made living with my own dogs much easier. I have two dogs, Zazu (a Husky Pointer mix, 7 years) and Haida (European Hound, 13 years). Zazu in particular has continuously pushed me to my limits and got me to the verge of insanity at times. This made me realize, that conventional training methods don’t always work. Nevertheless, my dogs are like my ‘compass’ and I am truly convinced that many people feel the same way or are capable of feeling that way. Through my dogs, I’ve learned to have more awareness and be more mindful of myself and others. No one knows me as well as they do. They act like a mirror when I have lost my inner balance and help me to become stable again.
“Our thoughts, feelings, experiences and their consequences have an impact on our interaction with the dog and influence significantly the dog's behaviour (and vice versa).”
But how can I establish a harmonious and happy relationship with my dog? What do I need to know, which things should I pay special attention to?
These are exactly the kinds of questions I would like to further explore in the future. There is plenty of literature on dogs and many different training methods and programs. It can be a real challenge to find your own authentic way with dogs and what works best for you. At least, that's what happened to me. But isn't that the whole point? I might know everything about a dog's expression, but how do I know why he behaves in certain situations the way he does? What do I contribute to his behaviour as the handler? Each of us, including our dogs, have their own individual personalities.
Living with a dog is influenced by a lot more factors than you would think at first. Our thoughts, feelings, experiences and their consequences have an impact on our interaction with the dog and influence significantly the dog's behaviour (and vice versa). Social interaction is not a one-way street, what we give - we receive in return. Humans and dogs depend on one another.
For me, becoming aware of this, along with the relevant knowledge, represents an important aspect of living together with dogs, which I would love to share with others. Likewise, I don't want to leave out my personal experience as a dog owner and rather focus on meeting a dog at eye level.
I am looking forward to our journey together!
All the best, Corinna.