Pet Life

The Poker project: From dog walk to human talk

Selya Anahaw Guzon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - You feel the rush as Poker breaks to the sea and goes after his ball. He happily speeds alongside a bicycle or pulls a skateboarder. He pads on different terrains and tastes the air of the countryside. He leaves you in awe after a splendid job, throwing and catching bread from his nose at his handler’s command. Poker’s adventures won the “2013 EzyDog Worldwide Video Competition,” and what’s more amazing about it is that his handler, Sixto, is not a dog trainer.

Sixto’s black Labrador is catered with these activities to give him the chance to be a real dog by letting him play to his natural instincts. The video is not a show of tricks. It demonstrates a dog’s response to the environment.

The beginning of their journey was not all smooth. Sixto recalls that he had not been around during Poker’s crucial months as his behavior was developing. Shortly after getting Poker as a puppy, Sixto had to work abroad for a year and came home to a boisterous and unstoppable  dog. Poker, like many other dogs, would dash out the door as soon as it opened and would drag his walker anywhere he wanted to go. He had an endless supply of energy.

Because of this behaviour, Poker was left with only one activity — guarding his yard. The dull life, without exercise made this sporting dog anxious, aggressive, and unyielding. Sixto soon realized that he has to reestablish his relationship with Poker and get to know his dog a little better.

 Videos and books, especially those of Cesar Millan and Raymond Coppinger’s, transformed Sixto from being a simple dog lover to a knowledgeable dog owner, making him Poker’s most trusted buddy. He started by making a routine of walking Poker. He also became more attentive to Poker’s behavior, giving him the cue when to put tension or slack on his leash when they’re outside. Poker slowly realized the rewards of his obedience, not just because of the treats, but from the walks that became longer and more enjoyable.

Their relationship eventually picked up a sort of rhythm and it was not surprising that a deeper bond was formed between them. 

Poker’s freedom to explore more proved to be insufficient for him. Sixto, trying to find a fix, remembered that Labradors were bred to be hunting allies and that their genes and instincts are very much alive in Poker. Sixto, being an outdoor person challenged Poker’s needs. Their regular walks expanded to swimming or water play, fetching, running, and exploring different terrains — all part of a Labrador’s old days. Now, Poker fulfills a life that’s closer to his nature. However, Sixto knows that maintaining this desired lifestyle will always be a test. Time, availability, and resources considered, having a dog is no piece of cake. This made Sixto think of the other dogs and the “usual” life provided to them.

Watching Poker’s progress ignited an advocacy in Sixto. His simple plan to correct Poker’s unwanted behavior made him realize that a dog’s life should be more than what is commonly practiced. Looking back, he admits that he only chose a Labrador because of its looks, which is a familiar case in many dog owners.

In October 2010, he formed a group with his friends called “Welfare for Dogs through Education” (WeDogs) to share the basic foundation of dog ownership, encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle for them. They recognize that not many dogs get the chance to play, explore, or simply be a dog because the popular understanding of dog ownership is limited to feeding, bathing, and walking for bathroom breaks.

Sixto believes that someone who wants a dog should assess first if they are ready to give the life a dog requires, especially if they come in a particular breed. As various breeds originate from different places and modified for specific use, there should also be a variety of response to their special needs. Though their activities seem to answer Poker’s Labrador instincts, Sixto knows that Poker’s journey is not yet over. A lot still needs to be done. And through this video, Sixto hopes to raise awareness on responsible dog ownership; a documented expedition, a story of their adventures. As long as Poker walks, this man will talk.











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