Francesco D’Errico, A Creative Canine Educator

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.