Photo by Lee Woolcock
Susie Hunt - Dog Listener
Susie Hunt came to Barcelona from Zambia almost four years ago and has been a qualified dog listener for three years. Listening is a bonding technique developed by English woman Jan Fennell who has studied canine behaviour extensively. Inspired by Monty Roberts, the renowned horse whisperer, Fennell devised a “non-confrontational, stress-free and gadget-free” way for dog owners to live in harmony with their pets.
Listening is communicating, not training. It means you communicate with your dog on a daily basis in a manner that it understands.
The teaching is based around two visits to the home. A lot of people start it because they’ve got a problem and then forget it once the problem is solved, but if you do it for life, it’s just amazing and incredibly rewarding.
We teach the owner to run their household like a pack. Fennell studied wolves and translated their language into something we can use with our dogs. Once you get that, it makes training very easy; wolves don’t say to each other “Sit!” or “Come on, let’s go for a walk!” for example!
If you were a dog, I would have come in and just completely ignored you. I would have gone over here [moves to kitchen], with no eye contact, no talking, and just got on with doing something. The dog would then think “Oh, she’s confident, she knows what she’s doing, I feel quite safe” and usually lie down and relax. At that point, I would call him over and we’d ‘greet’ each other.
Cats are different. With a cat, I wouldn’t mind catching his eye. To be extra friendly with a cat, you get down to their level and you blink a lot. If you stare at them, it’s seen as an aggressive stance.
Cesar Millan [the dog behaviour specialist] has a gift. He has the right energy but he uses gadgets, like electric collars and sometimes forces the animals to do things. In our technique, we ask the dog to do something and wait until it’s ready. It’s very slow and you have to have a lot of patience, but anyone can do it with practice.
There are currently 130 registered dog listeners in all four corners of the globe. We are strictly monitored and the service we provide is for life.
The techniques work on all animals. It just depends on how traumatised they are as to how long it takes. It’s all about putting the animal at ease. I looked after some guinea pigs once and they have a flight response, just like a horse, so they wanted to run.
I grew up on dairy farms in Kenya and Zambia. It’s tough to make a living but kids have a charmed childhood. You have hugely wonderful experiences just because of where you are. If you go down to the river, you are bound to see an elephant. It’s like it’s normal.
I’ve always had pets and I definitely learnt things with them. I had a little Jack Russell that would ride with me on my saddle and she followed me everywhere I went.
There’s something very African about Barcelona. They say Africa starts south of the Pyrennees. Barcelona’s very freeing and also frustrating, like Africa.
I’m trying to start more hobbies, I love card games and I want to find some Canasta and Bridge clubs. We used to play poker all day in Zambia at Christmas time. I wouldn’t mind doing some Indian dancing and salsa.
You can teach an old dog new tricks. You just have to know how to communicate and be very patient.
If you would like to contact Susie, please email her on firstname.lastname@example.org