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International tails: Barcelona

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In our latest International Tails interview, we spoke to Michael Fernandes, founder of Barcelona’s Perro Sano. Michael discusses his approach to dog training and how his background in social work and zootherapy informs his work at Perro Sano, a leading dog training and day care centre.

Hola Michael! Thank you for taking the time to talk to GoFido. Could you tell me a bit about your journey and skills in the dog services field, and what kind of services you offer?

My name is Michael Fernandes, founder, and trainer of Perro Sano. I have spent my whole life surrounded by dogs of all breeds. Fascinated by their behaviour and always observing their way of life to understand them better, they have been my best sources of inspiration in my daily life. They have always been present in the happiest moments and in the most complicated situations of my life. The biggest lessons I learn every day from them is that they know how to live in the moment and not to judge.

I am originally from Switzerland, I trained in the field of social work, first with children and adolescents, then with people with disabilities and the elderly. For me, animals are an important part of my life and that is why I decided to train in the care of animals for rehabilitation through therapy. In other words, zootherapy: “the use of animals as a therapeutic tool for people with cognitive, psychological, mental, social or physical disorders”. In 2020 I started training in the world of dog training and in 2021 I decided to train with great professionals to expand my skills and knowledge. I am in constant training because the world of dog training is vast and infinite and there is as much to learn as there are dogs on this planet. There are so many abandoned dogs or simply people who don’t have the knowledge to help them, so I decided at the beginning of 2022 to found Perro Sano as a dog school and day care centre to offer my knowledge to both dogs and their owners. The aim is to give them balance so that they can live together in harmony.

When I arrived in Barcelona, I did a training course and now I have 2 licences and 2 diplomas. Professional canine educator and driving modification. I am also in the process of completing a training course in Reiki for people and animals.

What guiding principles or philosophies shape your approach to providing dog services?

At Perro Sano, we are very proud of our work methodology. We are in constant training because the world of dogs is very wide. We accompany you in the resolution of your difficulties and objectives with your dog and we give you the necessary tools so that you can put them into practice on a daily basis with him.

We are very meticulous and we propose 3 essential rules that encompass our way of working:

. Respect
. Trust
. Learning the language (human-dog)

We train with a method called “balanced” which includes:

. Discipline
. Link
. Positive reinforcement
. Mental association
. Timing

We advance in the process respecting the rhythm of each one in a progressive way. At first without external stimulation and then increasing the difficulty (city, forest, etc.).

To achieve your goals of balance and harmonisation your dog will need:

. Regularity
. Patience
. Understanding and firmness
. Progress in stages

Obviously, without regular training “at home” there will be few results. Regular training allows you to progress and reinforce the behaviour you want.

Our working method and the development of the session is as follows:

  1. Contact: Get in touch with us to explain the situation in broad outline.
  2. Interview and work: We go to your home to ask you some questions about your dog and the problem. We observe your dog’s behaviour and reactivity and start working with him in your presence. The first session has no time limit. Then 1 hour or so.

  3. Follow-up session, if necessary, to reinforce the desired behaviour or address other problems.
  4. Regular contact to see if everything is going well with your dog (several weeks and months later).

How do you help build solid connections and good communication between dogs and their owners during your training and care sessions?

The aim of the first session is to understand the problem. Most of the time it’s the owner who needs guidance and to understand his dog. During the sessions where we meet, we learn to strengthen the bond and understand him by identifying and observing how he functions. It’s a lot of observation work and getting to know canine codes. Many people have never had a dog and tend to humanise them. And unfortunately, when they try to change the dog’s nature, that’s when behaviour problems arise. Patience, observation, and repetition are the keys to success.

What kind of hurdles have you faced in your line of work, and how do you handle them to make sure your service stands out?

The biggest challenge here in Barcelona is the competition. A lot of people call themselves dog trainers and have no experience. So, we have to repair the damage done by these people. It’s a daily job. Above all, we want people who have had bad experiences to find real help and a real professional in us.

Can you tell me about a time when you really made a difference in a dog’s behaviour or its bond with its owner?

Absolutely. A client once contacted me saying that he wanted to sacrifice [rehome] his dog. As he was suffering from health problems, he could no longer manage his dog who was pulling too hard on the lead during the walk and was very reactive towards other dogs. In a few sessions we corrected the problem, and the owner thanked me because he could keep his dog and live in harmony with him. It was a great success and a great satisfaction.

What steps do you take to make sure your approach to dog care is ethical and always puts the animals’ well-being first?

We work in partnership with pet shops, vets, and other organisations. We apply the laws that are in force here in Barcelona and, as protectors of the animal cause, we put the welfare of animals first. This allows us to be recommended by our partners and to be in harmony with them. Other people have a different philosophy. Ours is to use an education based on a method that is balanced to respect the needs of each without being too intrusive towards the dog. As for our day nursery, we make it a point of honour to make it a 5-star nursery where we don’t do any training except the house rules. Once again, the dog’s well-being comes first. His or her stay must be a pleasure for everyone, and for the owner who is going on holiday. This is why we also send photos and videos every day with a full report of what is happening. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your industry on how to effectively launch their business and attract clients?

The most important thing is to get started. Creating a web page, using social networks and a bit of marketing can help you get off to a good start. For the rest, if you’re a professional, word of mouth will take care of itself.

What are your predictions for the evolution of the industry in the coming ten years?

A business is built on a good reputation. Knowing that there are more dogs here than children under 12, there will always be work to do. For the next decade it’s going to be good work and consistency while developing things to meet the needs of customers and dogs.

What guidance would you give to other dog care professionals who aim to deliver first-class services to their clientele?

My advice would be to get some training. It’s very important. You can’t improvise. You need a minimum of knowledge and experience with dogs. In the beginning I spent hours observing them in dog parks to understand how they worked.

Before we wrap up, we always like to ask: what’s your favourite breed of dog and why? Don’t worry, we’re just curious – no judgments here!

I love huskies. I’ve always been attracted to wolves and this breed appeals to me because of their majestic nature but also because of the difficulty of training them. It’s a challenge. But I also find them magnificent. I don’t own any because I don’t have enough space, but it would be a medium- to long-term project.

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