Shannon McKay

Shannon McKay trained her first dog (a Staffordshire Bull Terrier) at the age of nine and ever since has had a profound interest in the communication potential that exists between man and dog.

In the late 90’s Shannon gave up a career in public relations and advertising, and turned her hobby interest in dogs into a fulltime profession. After receiving accreditation as a canine behaviour consultant with the Animal Behaviour Consultants of SA ©, she opened the McKaynine Training Centre, based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
 
McKaynine currently has four branches servicing the Johannesburg and Pretoria areas. The centre is primarily focused on puppy classes and domestic obedience but also offers a number of social dog sport classes. By South African standards the centre is very large and despite working with approximately 250 dogs per week, the centre maintains a very warm community spirit. The emphasis of the centre is on educating owners about their dog’s needs and appreciating and enjoying their “dogness” to the benefit of both dog and owner. 
 
Shannon has also trained a number of detection dogs used in conservation with subject species including cheetah, lion, wild dog and leopard. The detection dogs are trained to find scat of the subject species, which is then used by researchers to identify ranges, diet and general health. In some cases individuals of the subject species are darted and then relocated into areas where they can roam freely without persecution.

Subsequent to the success of these projects, Shannon developed a unique detection dog application which enables minimal disturbance of the environment and remote sampling by combining traditional detection dog protocols with forensic scent collection vectors.

She writes extensively for various magazines and websites and also lectures on obedience instruction and basic canine behaviour. In 2009 she implemented a trainer association, Super Pup, which has since become firmly entreched as the premier trainer's association in South Africa.

Shannon holds a MSc degree and a BSc Hons cum laude as well as a certificate in companion animal behaviour and has completed various courses in Biopsychology, Psychology, Physiology and Anatomy.

Leisure time used to involved competition in agility and the breed ring but due to time constraints and a gruelling schedule Shannon now enjoys just hanging out with her numerous animal companions (dogs, cat, sheep and poultry) on her beautiful farm on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

Blog posts by Shannon McKay

Trainer’s Souls & Chicken Soup

Twas with great shock and horror that I see my last blog was over two years ago! *hands head in shame and vows to be more diligent in future* In my defence though I can honestly say the last two years have been, without a doubt, the most trying of my life – think lovechild of The Bold & The Beautiful and Jersey Shore and you’re halfway there…

 

2009 - The Year Of Empathy

I am very lucky to have a wonderful bunch of dogs that are all friendly, biddable, low maintenance and easy to manage. Of course they weren’t born like that, but having raised them I have been able to “practice what I preach” – the end result being really nice dogs.

 

I recently gave a home to an 80kg rescue dog with issues. Wow. What an eye opener. I have found it very tiresome to cope with him despite his massive progress over the last week. It has made me wonder how utterly horrible this situation must be for a person with less experience.

 

Asking For Obedience Is Not Being Unkind

Today one of my Danes had to have a lump on her leg removed. It turned out to be quite a nasty lump so to be on the safe side the vet took a wide margin. As a result she has a large incision in a really awkward spot across her elbow. It can’t be bandaged so she has to stay still and quiet for a couple of days (she is ideally suited to this job having recently attained her PhD in The Evolutionary Significance of The Coach Potato Mechanism).

Anyhow, when I went to collect her she was very excited to see me. She was still groggy from the anesthetic and I was concerned that she would hurt herself. Without thinking I asked her to Down and Stay while I settled the account, got her meds etc. Even though the dear was not quite “with it” she complied quite happily.

 

You say potato, I say…?

Leading on from Nicole’s post takes me into an area I just love exploring. Owner’s needs. “They” would have a hissy fit if “they” heard about some of the behaviours I am quite happy to condone with my client’s dogs. My motto is: “If nobody is getting hurt, then there’s nothing wrong with it!”.

Frankly I don’t care if a dog “walks” while being held in his owner’s arms. Is anybody getting hurt? No. Is the dog developing a problem because of this? No. Should “they” insist that the dog adopts a heel position instead of being carried, because it’s the “right” thing? No.

I respect my client’s wishes to no end – it’s my client’s needs that are important. My job is to help them achieve their objectives and as long as these objectives cause no harm, then we are good to go.

Why “they” insist on a cookie-cutter approach irrespective of the owner’s needs beats me.

 
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Lessons from a donkey

I have trained many dogs over the years and have helped so many people train their own dogs. While I am very patient and understanding there are times that I just think “This is not rocket science. Why don’t they get it!? Is there something wrong with them?”.

When one has been doing this for a long time it is so easy to forget what it is like to be a “newbie”. So I advise my crew to take up new hobbies to feel what it is like – this gives them great empathy for the owners in their classes. However, I have not followed my own advice of late. All that changed with Friday.

 

"Qualifications" - The eye does deceive?

I suppose in any industry that is not subject to statutory regulation, courses that tout supposed qualification will prosper. It's a sad fact that the public are not aware that a "qualification" is not necessarily so and that they appear to be impressed with any piece of official looking paper.

I would guess that the answer is making dog training and behaviour consulting a statutory profession and people operating without the legally required licence are in fact breaking the law. However the problem is that many trainers and behaviourists are part-timers. This is not their fulltime profession and if they had to comply with all the legalities of statutory regulation they would more than likely not bother. Many of these people are realy good at what they do so this would be a profound loss to the industry.

 
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Very silly, very useful

This past weekend was our school’s annual fun day and prize giving. The highlight of the event is no doubt the fun events, which included a number of very silly games like sack races, wheelbarrow races, egg & spoon races etc.

Year after year it astounds me how much the handlers enjoy these games, even though their dignity takes a mammoth nosedive! I suppose for the handlers it’s really nice to forget about job stress, traffic, people issues and budgets and concentrate all their efforts on keeping an egg on a spoon while they dash toward a finish line.

 

CONFRONT OR AVOID?

This evening our school had our term end gradings. One of the handler and dog teams was a lovely young girl with a very sweet Border Collie. This dog's progress has not been smooth due to a number of different handlers bringing the dog during the 3 month course and the fact that the dog is unsocialised. To be perfectly frank I was not very optimistic about the dog making the grade - 80% minimum, but we proceeded.

As we started gradings a storm started brewing. I noticed that the dog became anxious and so I questioned the owner about this. Their reply was that the dog had severe thunder phobia. Hmmmmm - decisions, decisions....

The dog was clearly stressed and did not want to be there. So, do we train and run the risk of a negative association with the storm or do we try work the dog through it and hopefully give him a new persective on storms? In other words do we avoid the "uncontrollable" situation or do we flood?

 

Bubble Wrap & Pet Chickens

The advent of positive reinforcement has been an incredible leap forward in how we train our dogs. However as with anything in life, there are drawbacks. In my opinion the drawbacks in this training system are not the system per se, but rather the implications of human perceptions and personal beliefs.

Ask anyone what a “reward” is and the answer is more than often one of following: food, toy, petting etc. Yes, these are certainly all rewards, but we should be thinking more laterally. A reward is anything that the dog would perceive as desirable, at that point in time.

If I work my little crossbreed on a hot day he is more likely to find a swim more rewarding than playing with his ball. Common sense, but all too often overlooked.

 
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