Canine Expert Takes Hard Cases
By K.C. Baker
Daily News Staff Writer
Celest Guda's husky mix, Chelsea, doesn't much like people, often baring her teeth and charging at strangers. But when the 7-year-old dog met trainer Kevin Behan, she sidled up to him, wagging her tail as she let him slip a leash around her neck. "There's just something about this guy," said the Brooklyn resident. "He can get into a dog's mind like I've never seen before. He has a sixth sense." Behan is known as a "dog whisperer", a trainer who can read dogs and knows what they need. Like the rugged cowboy who tames a recalcitrant horse in the best-selling novel and film, "The Horse Whisperer," Behan runs a training retreat in rural Newfane, Vermont, where frustrated owners send delinquent pups.
Behan has spent the last two months working with Chelsea on his 60-acre farm, teaching her how to get along with people and other dogs. "Dogs are telling us what we need to know," said Behan, author of "Natural Dog Training" (William Morrow, 1992, $18.00). "We just have to listen." Behan eschews traditional dog training, which he says suppresses a dog's natural instincts. "Everything people think about dogs is wrong," he said. "Most trainers believe dogs must be dominated. There's no need to dominate. The nature of a dog is good, and if we can release his good nature, then we can use it to train the dog to be what we want." Behan rechannels the dog's natural impulses, helping the pup to learn socially acceptable behaviors while still letting him be a dog. A central tenet of his theory is that dogs are evolved from wolves and have a strong prey instinct. Behan starts working his magic by getting a dog to trust him. Behan takes problem dogs on long walks in the woods to bring them back to nature and relax them. Then he teaches the pup how to deal with its instincts. Instead of commanding a dog to stay when it sees a deer in the woods and wants to give chase, Behan pets and praises the dog.
"This shows the dog I understand the pull he has for the deer and that it's in his nature," Behan said. The whisperer makes positive use of the adrenaline flowing through the dog's body by playing a game simulating a predator chasing quarry. "I teach him how to play with me in a way that will feel as good to him as hunting deer," Behan said. While doing this, Behan starts to teach the dog traditional commands. When the pup is ready, he introduces him to angst-provoking situations, allowing the reformed pup to react in an instinctual yet socially acceptable way. Behan also teaches owners how to redirect their dogs' impulses. He taught one woman whose dog lurched into attack mode everytime it saw a stranger to distract the animal by running. That way, the dog could use up his aggressive energy. Behan told the owner to let the pup meet the stranger on his own terms. It worked. "She couldn't get over how a simple 10 seconds alleviated the tension," he said. Clients come in droves, impressed with the results. "This is often the last stop for people," he said. Behan's retreat was the last recourse for Gudas, who will bring her much-behaved dog home in a few weeks. "We didn't know where to turn," she said. "We had done basic obedience training ... but felt this ... was deeper. He's put her in provocative situations with other dogs and horses ... which would have sent her through the roof." "It's amazing," said Gudas.