For the second post in The Londog’s series “Stories”, which narrate about people and their special bonds with dogs, I interviewed Kamal Fernandez. Kamal is a renown dog trainer and dog sports coach, his specialities being obedience and agility. Based in the UK, Kamal also travels the world to teach at seminars and give lectures on dog training, behaviour and competitive dog sports. Recently, he took part in TV programme ‘Dogs Might Fly’, which was broadcast on SKY One.
Kamal is the kind of person whose presence fills the room with a great energy. Bright, funny and full of enthusiasm, Kamal is truly passionate about his job. When I first met him after moving to the UK (when I was struggling to train and help my dog settling in our new life), I had heard great things about him from other people, but reality even exceeded expectations. It is not reductive to say that his training approach changed forever the relationship with my dog. Kamal can think out of the box and is not scared of challenges.
What you are going to read is Kamal’s story about how, from a dog-loving kid, he became a successful dog trainer and dog sports coach, and dogs have shaped his life.
Introduction. Who is Kamal Fernandez?
Kamal. “Hi, my name is Kamal Fernandez, and I am a professional dog trainer and sports dog coach.
I have been training dogs since I was 9 years old, having acquired a puppy and made some fundamental errors classic of a first time dog owner… you name it, she did it! Resource guard, no recall, run off, separation anxiety… the list goes on, but I thank that little dog ‘Scrunch’ for setting my foot firmly on the path that I now follow. I have always been obsessed with dogs, my dad will recall me not wanting stories books read to me, but dog breed books… I was well and truly hooked!
“I have always been obsessed with dogs, my dad will recall me not wanting stories books read to me, but dog breed books…”
I initially wanted to become a dog trainer straight from school, but after some sound advice I opted to get more ‘life experience’ under my belt… working in kennels full time, and then becoming a Police Officer. Its amazing how all life events lead you to exactly where you are supposed to be. Being a Police Officer taught me invaluable skills which I utilise in my work today, dealing with young offenders has so many parallels to dog training!
Today I am a full time professional dog trainer, and literally living my dream. I travel the world teaching, delivering seminars and lectures on dog training, behaviour and competitive dog sports.
I share my life with my girlfriend, our 8 dogs and now live in beautiful East Sussex… shortly to be joined by a two legged addition!“
Q1. What was your first approach with a dog/your first dog like?
Kamal. – “To be honest I can’t recall my first encounter with a dog, as I grew up in a muslim family where no one had dogs. I remember dogs being owned by neighbours or friends, but we didn’t have them around us regularly. My passion for dogs was like a force of nature, it literally steered me to where I am now. Even to the friends, and life I lead.
My parents were always largely supportive to my whims and ways, even though not ‘their’ thing. Don’t get me wrong, when I brought even waif and stray home, there were some tantrums and tiaras thrown, but they allowed me to follow my passion, which is the embodiment of good parenting! Let your child follow their dreams, and assist them to be who they are.“
Q2. When did you understand that your life would have been with dogs and working as a dog trainer?
Kamal. – “I always knew that I would have dogs, but taking the plunge to becoming a professional trainer was a decision that came in 2009. I had been a Police Officer for 8 years and was in a quandary as to whether to stay in this profession or leave. I always had in my head, I would stay for 10 years minimum, so I started to plan how to make a dream a reality.
“Follow your dreams! They do come true!”
In 2012 I finally jumped ship and haven’t regretted it since. I genuinely believe, do what makes you happy…. Its such a cliché, but this isn’t a dress rehearsal, I know so many people that had jobs because they paid the bills, rather then made them happy. Yes it’s scary, yes it’s daunting, but for me the risk was worth it. I have been fortunate in that I have been busy with seminars and teaching since the day I left the police, however I also ensured that I created this dynamic. Anyone reading this, I can say… follow your dreams! They do come true!“
Q3. Was there any particular event or person that “marked your path”?
Kamal. “I was fortunate to be blessed with meeting some amazing dog trainers and people who have steered my path. The biggest influences in my early year of training were a British Competitive Obedience Trainer named Sylvia Bishop. Sylvia is one of the most successful trainers/competitors within the sport of Competitive Dog Obedience, and she took me under her wing and taught me so many valuable lessons. She was innovative in her thinking, before reinforcement based training was a given within dog training, Sylvia was pioneering the use of play to teach. She thought outside the box and was a genius at problem solving. She taught me not to be afraid to go against the grain.
My journey in clicker training started with another dog trainer called Kathy Murphy. Kathy was one of the first UK based trainers who openly used a clicker to successfully train a dog to top level in competition. She did this with a German Shepherd called Denzil. Kathy trained him with the use of a clicker and proved that it could be done.
After that went on a course given by two trainers called Anne Bussey and Susanne Jaffa, who just inspired me to want to clicker train, Their attention to detail, explanation and execution were outstanding. I trained with them with a puppy I had at the time, and loved every moment of it!
Lately my influences is most definitely Susan Garrett, a Canadian Top Level Agility trainer. She is one of the leading lights in reinforcement based training, its practical application for sport and domestics. She has revolutionised the concept of ‘positive training’ and raises the bar constantly in what she does.
I am fortunate that I can call these people my peers and friends.“
Q4. What is the quality of your character that helped you most in your path? Do you have a motto or a personal decalogue in training?
Kamal. “Tenacity and an open mind. I am incredibly determined, and open to ideas and willing to change.“
“Every dog is trainable. Simple, but so true. People give up too easily, and want quick fixes. Training a dog takes time and patience. You don’t get what you want, you get what you need…“
“Every dog is trainable.”
Q5. What was the most thrilling experience you had in your job?
Kamal. “I’ve had so many great moments in my career, where it brings back how fortunate I am to do my job. So in all honesty I can’t pick one thrilling experience…
Being part of ‘Dogs Might Fly’ was def up there… taking 12 rescue dogs and getting them to just engage with you was a challenge, to train them to do basic skills another, but to fly a plane: Just insane!!! The thing that made that experience so special, was the people involved. They were literally a family, some of which I will remain friends with forever. That speaks volumes about the dynamic of the show.“
Q6. What about your own dogs, and which quality do you prefer of each?
Kamal. “Lol, well I have 8! So they are all pretty unique… No two are alike, they are all totally individual and bring to the table something only they can… To me, I love this about them. It’s what I celebrate most. I love dogs with energy, and confidence, but I also have dogs that don’t fit that description yet they have grown into amazing companions. The key is to accept them for what they are, warts and all.“
Q7. What do you consider your most remarkable achievements and what are your future projects?
Kamal. “What I would consider an ‘achievement’ probably would never be noted by anyone else. My sense of achievement comes from literally changing a dog’s life, or that of my clients. Some of them come to me in total disarray, overwhelmed by an issue they have… but fast track six months later, they are totally changed. I have had people that been thrown out of other dog training classes or advised their dogs were untrainable, or should be put to sleep because of their behaviour issues, and yet they have been turned around. You can’t quantify that, it surpasses any academic achievement, any prize or accolade.
“My sense of achievement comes from literally changing a dog’s life, or that of my clients.”
I have a few exciting projects coming up, which I have been working on for the last year, which hopefully will give more people the chance to train their dogs and achieve greater heights… The biggest ‘project’ I have in the pipeline is parenthood!!! That’s going to be a whole new challenge…“
Credits and more about Kamal
Many thanks to Kamal for agreeing to do this interview and for the pictures provided for this blog post.
If you want to know more about him and his job you can check his Youtube channel, where he posts interesting training videos, and his website, East London Dog Training.
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