I should thank Zaira, my daughter’s rescue dog, and its educator Sara di Nepi, if I’ve come to know another Artisanship sector truly unknown to me: the canine educator. Handedness, creativity are only two of the major aspects of this profession, that often lead to extraordinary results.
For “Fatto a Mano” we have met Francesco d’Errico, a young artisan, who had left a career in the economy field, logistic and data analysis of foreign currencies, and turned to the profession od canine educator, in particular to the research about the “Dog Mental Activation”, designing and realizing games that engage the intellectual capacities and the emotions of our 4‑legged friends.
Good morning Francesco, I know your job is canine educator: have you ever had a passion for dogs?
“Good morning, I’ve always felt a great love for nature and animals: this inspired me in working with dogs. The decision of starting studying the dogs’ behavior and their education came a few years ago when I adopted Dora, a half-breed of German Shorthaired Pointer. I needed to go into that, in order to better understand her necessities, then, a bit for a challenge, a little to change my life, this passion turned into my job.”
It is right to call “games of intelligence” the ones you make for our 4‑legged friends?
“Yes, absolutely. The Dog Mental Activation is a discipline born about 20 years ago from the work of Paolo Villani, a canine educator with a commitment to Civil Protection. His work is now being continued by Jessica Ciminnisi. What we see as simple games, often become true challenges for dogs, which put themselves to test their capabilities. In order to win the challenge, the dog has to manage its emotion, and furthermore, it has to be able to reason and develop solving strategies. A specific work plan brings the dog to grow its self-esteem, confidence, self-restraint, and problem-solving abilities.”
For sure at the basis of this work, there is research about the potentiality of the animals, diverse from one breed to the other…
“Learning about the different dog breeds is important, as each one has peculiar physical and attitudinal characteristics, which they convey in the games’ solving. For example, the Basset Hound will show a higher attitude to using its paws, being a den hunter.”
So, different games for different breeds, but can they be personalized also for a single dog?
“The paths are studied considering the individual characteristics of a dog, in order to offer the most correct and adequate possible experience. Besides the breed, other environmental factors contribute to the individuality of the dog. I often ask: ‘Have you ever seen a dog behaving in the same way as another one?’ After a little wait, the answer is always the same: ‘No’.”
Can you describe by words some of these games, maybe the funniest ones?
More than the games it’s funny to see and good to live those moments in which the dog change the expression, finding out the solution, or when it takes courage and decides to tackle the problem. If the path is well constructed and designed those instants come after suspense during which the owners, and I too, keep the breath not to ruin the magic!
Do these games have something similar to those of children?
They have something in common, if we consider the cognitive level, as they are adequate to the age of the individual and, furthermore, we have to specify that dogs exploit their senses in a different way from men. For example, speaking about the olfactive sense. The dog nose has a more complicated, sensible, and strong structure. It has the capability to recognize smells 100.000 times greater than that of man.
Therefore, a canine educator is an artisan, too…
Yes, definitely. To educate or solving behavior issues are the results of great work, sensibility, and expertise. Each educator builds his own art and work over the years.
Your workshop is surely rich in creations…
Yes, there is always something in the pipeline. Realizing new ideas gives me much satisfaction.
Where does your inspiration come from?
The proverb says “appetite comes with eating”. From the single sessions of Dog Mental Activation, I always find new needs, there is always a new detail to be added or improved. At a certain point, the problem is space.
Has the pandemic lockdown penalized your job, too?
The lockdown has generated both positive and negative situations. On one hand, it has allowed the owners to spend more time with their dogs and, consequently, they have been stimulated to make some activities together; on the other hand, this fairly unstructured and tied co-habitation has caused some troubles. For example, cases of separation anxiety have increased.
Do you have any projects for the new year?
I’m dedicating to behavior re-education and I’d like to integrate more and more the Dog Mental Activation into the cases I follow.