Dogs 'are like two-year-olds'

Mr Ethan Loke with his golden retriever Boo. He did not have a dog when he was growing up as his parents did not allow it.
Mr Ethan Loke with his golden retriever Boo. He did not have a dog when he was growing up as his parents did not allow it.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

The only Singaporean contestant on reality TV show Cesar's Recruit: Asia would rather work with canines than humans

8Q

Mr Ethan Loke, the sole Singaporean contestant on reality TV contest Cesar's Recruit: Asia, recalls that his first encounter with dogs was a not-so-pleasant one: He was chased by two strays .

"I was not scared, but curious as to why the dogs were chasing me. I have always been fascinated with dogs," he tells The Straits Times.

The 28-year-old is one of eight contenders in the new TV show, in which renowned dog behaviourist Mexican-born Cesar Millan goes on a hunt across Asia for the region's best dog trainer.

Cesar's Recruit: Asia airs on the National Geographic Channel on Wednesdays at 9pm.

In each episode, two contestants go head-to-head in a set of challenges to rehabilitate difficult dogs. The winner then progresses to the semi-finals in later episodes.

The series' overall top dog wins two weeks of intensive training with Millan at his Dog Psychology Centre in Los Angeles.

Mr Loke, a legal executive by day, won during his round and will next be on screen for the semi-finals on Feb 8.

Growing up, he did not own a dog because his parents did not allow it. But his interest in the animals never wavered.

"I would always be borrowing books on dogs, buying calendars of them and watching documentaries," he recalls.

A golden opportunity came during national service when he learnt that he could opt to join the Singapore Police Force K9 unit.

He says: "One of the reasons I joined the unit was that I wanted to work with dogs and not humans.

"Humans always complicate matters and talk too much," he says with a laugh before adding: "You don't get to appreciate quiet, quality time with humans as much as you do with dogs."

He was assigned to a German Shepherd named Atos and learnt a lot about training dogs during the two years. After that, he trained friends' dogs for free "just to get the exposure".

Last year, he set up Urban K9, a dog training business with his wife, Ms Serene Wah, 32, the company's managing director.

They have been married since 2015 and have no children.

He finally brought home a pet dog that year too. She is Boo, a golden retriever he fondly regards as "a child we are proud of".

The dog lover joined the TV contest to let people know that he is here to help with canine issues.

He says: "There is no one technique to train dogs. The standard of dog training in Singapore can be improved. I aim to be part of that change."

1 What is one invaluable lesson you have learnt on the show?

Never forget the human element in dog training. Our job is to also educate the owners and make sure they can do what we can do.

That is the true spirit of dog training.

2 You met Cesar Millan on the show. What is he like in person?

He is the same happy-go-lucky guy you see on TV, who is intense energy-wise too.

I describe him as a dog in human skin (laughs).

3 What do you think of the term dog whisperer that many associate Millan with?

It has an element of specialness and that the person is gifted. Cesar has said that he doesn't identify himself as one. Ultimately, he is a human trainer on dog psychology.

It's just a label and, at the end of the day, what you do and your mission are what define you.

4 You studied law in university. Why didn't you pursue something dog-related?

It was the practical choice at that time. I eventually realised that there was something missing in my life and that is why my wife and I started Urban K9. Now, I help out with training on weekday evenings and weekends.

5 Is there a particular breed you like?

I am more inclined towards powerful breeds such as German shepherds, pit bulls and rottweilers.

In Singapore, they are categorised as "scheduled dogs" and must be muzzled in public places. I hate that rule and think it's racism against the animals. It's a misunderstanding of these dogs and has created fear in people, which doesn't help. I would like to see the rule abolished one day.

6 Do you see similarities between dogs and humans?

Yes, I compare dogs to two- year-old toddlers. The animals don't feel guilty and are not vengeful - just like kids. That is why some of the discipline techniques parents apply to their kids can also be used on dogs.

7 What tips would you give a first-time dog owner?

Always understand that it is a big commitment and be ready to follow through with this commitment.

Taking care of a dog requires a lot of time and effort. Find out what breed of dog you want and be aware of the nature of that breed.

For example, the golden retriever is a sporting breed, so be prepared for a high-energy dog.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

As an educator on dogs.

•Cesar's Recruit: Asia airs on National Geographic (StarHub TV Channel 411 and Singtel TV Channel 201) on Wednesdays at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2017, with the headline 'Dogs 'are like two-year-olds''. Print Edition | Subscribe