Yaneysis González: Havana’s dog whisperer 
 by Victoria Alcalá
It would take a long time to guess what Yaneysis does. She is elegant and well spoken, passionate and sincere. Maybe an advertising and marketing director, a professor or environmental lawyer At a dollar a guess without any tips I would become a rich woman. She is of course one of Havana’s best dog trainers with an affinity for the canine hounds, which is both endearing and consuming. She teaches and coaches, leaving a trail of well behaved pooches (at least until the owner gets home). Our woman in Havana, Victoria Alcalá, sits down with Havana’s dog whisperer.

Victoria Alcalá writes about Cuban culture. She has won several prestigious writing awards.
Photographs by Yadira, © All rights reserved.

“Some dogs can be difficult, but their owners can be more difficult still”

This curious statement from dog trainer Yaneysis González caught me by surprise while the beautiful Rhodesian ridgeback of a friend, whose enthusiastic licking minutes earlier contradicted the description of "reserved in the presence of strangers" and completely ignored the orders of the owner, obeyed her without a protest: he sat, lied down and held up his paw with only short commands from the young handler.

Although I am partial to cats—and it would never enter my mind to "train" mine—I wanted to know how Yaneysis manages to achieve such good results with dogs.

Growing up in Camagüey where I was born, instead of playing with dolls, I would play with pets and at the age of eight I was already training my own dogs. Years later, in college, I majored in Biology, which was a natural choice for me, and after fulfilling my mandatory service for two years, I began to train dogs on a full-time basis and this is what I have been doing for four years now.

Do you prefer any breed in particular? Do you follow an established set of procedures or do you have your own personal system?
I train any breed, although right now I am focusing on ridgebacks, as I have entered some of them in different dog shows and their owners have recommended me to other owners. Of course, I dedicate a lot of time to my own dogs—five greyhounds, one boxer and one Doberman. Like many trainers, I follow a positive reinforcement technique, which consists in rewarding desired behavior and ignoring or correcting undesired behavior, which is just the same thing that is recommended in children. A dog is always ready and willing to please their owner or handler, especially when a reward or positive reinforcement is given.

What do you try to achieve when training a dog?
You have the basic obedience training which tests the ability of dogs to obey a series of commands like sit, down, stay or recall (“come”). Depending on what the owner wants and what the dog is willing to learn and obey, you teach the dog different tricks. On the whole, training helps dogs to be well-balanced and obedient. Dogs that have attained certain skills may compete in dog shows and if they qualify they may work their way up towards receiving a title in their competition category. Another important purpose in training dogs is to obtain quality specimens that may perpetuate the different breeds in Cuba.

What do you mean by "quality specimens"?
These are the dogs that come very close to fulfilling a breed’s standards and show their best behavior in dog shows.

Do all dogs assimilate the training?
Generally speaking, because there are exceptions as everything in life, some breeds are more independent than others and some dogs are more obedient than others. Greyhounds, for instance, are very independent. Dalmatians are very energetic and have a harder time focusing.

“Something like hyperactive children,” I comment and she nods with a smile.
Cocker spaniels are always willing to learn and do so quickly if they’re of a quiet nature. The ridgeback learns easily, but they are not very obedient. They like to test you and see how far they can go. Some are very smart but not very affectionate, like the greyhound, chow-chow or Afghan hound. But the bottom line is that dogs recognize authority and affection, too, which should not be confused with pampering.

As I said, some dogs can be difficult, but almost always it’s their owners who can be more difficult. They do as they feel and not what we recommend in terms of exercising, treating and feeding the dog—preferably pet food, which meets all the nutritional requirements, and in the case of cooked food, rice, cornmeal and meat. When a dog does not achieve good results, the owner usually blames the trainer. One principle regarding training is that “it’s not the dogs that make mistakes, it’s the people.”

How long does the training last?
The basic obedience training takes from three to six months, three times a week. Training for competitions takes three months on a daily basis, but, of course, that depends on the owner. Anyway, it should be at least three times a week, and during competitions, the dog should continue training to keep in shape. I prefer to exercise the dog everyday: walking, playing, going to the beach... Some trainers intensify training before a competition, but I prefer to let the dogs rest a few days prior to the event. This way, they are more alert and more anxious to go out and compete.

What’s a day in the life of Yaneysis like?
I get up early in the morning and around 6:00 or 6:30 am, I'm already taking my dogs out to exercise. We walk 4 or 5 km every other day and the rest of the days the dogs run distances for speed. At 8:30 am, I start training my clients’ dogs for an hour or 45 minutes each, depending on what I want to achieve, and finish around 2:30. I walk 10 to 15 km every day, and thanks to that, I can eat pastas and sweets without fear of gaining extra weight.

How did you do in the past dog show held in Havana?
In November 2011 one of my dogs received a prize for best in the competition. In other competitions, I have won several first and second prizes with hounds, Rhodesian ridgebacks and German shorthaired pointers, so I can say that I am happy and ready to continue working hard as usual.

Yaneysis González: Havana’s dog whisperer
January 2012
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