Paws and Effect
At Cape Fear K9, Mike Chambers teaches old and young dogs new tricks.
Mike Chambers knows what your dog is thinking.
As a trainer who works with pooches from little puppies to law-enforcement sleuths, his job is to get inside your four-legged friend’s head and help it overcome fears, develop good behavior or learn a specialized skill.
“You have to understand the dog psychologically, not just the information they’re giving you,” he says. “We seem to have a shortage of understanding of what dogs think, and it’s my job to understand them.”
For example, Chambers says a dog can bark for a thousand different reasons. You may think it’s because the dog is aggressive, but it could just be a coping mechanism for the dog.
“We have to understand the root that’s causing the behavior, not just the behavior on the surface level,” he says. “It’s like a person biting their fingernails. You don’t just tell them to stop doing it; you find out what makes them do it and help them overcome that.”
Chambers is the owner and instructor at Cape Fear K9 in Southport, which he opened in June 2021. He and one additional employee train German shepherds for policing work, help puppies adjust to their humans’ homes and work with dogs who have behavior issues.
When Chambers was a child, he had a retired police K9 named Max.
“Growing up, we always had dogs around the house, always smaller dogs, but I’ve always liked larger dogs,” he says. “I later got a Belgian Malinois and named him Maximus.”
Today, he owns two German shepherds, Riggs and Zeke, his friendly, furry companions with alter-identities as undercover detectives. Riggs is trained in bomb detection. Zeke is being trained in bed-bug detection. “His job will be that he can work with exterminators or hotel companies to avoid unnecessary infections,” Chambers says.
Chambers says German shepherds are usually used for law enforcement because of their natural desires and drive. They have a natural desire to chase. And you can teach them, at the end of the chase, how to bite or how to fight. When German shepherds go to school to train for a job, they may have coursework in several subjects.
“Military dogs for example are trained for odor detection, tracking or apprehension work, bite work,” he says. “Your full, dual-purpose certified dog needs to understand how to do a track such as find narcotics or explosives. Or find human articles such a gun thrown out a window, which they can smell and then help apprehend the bad guy.”
Cape Fear K9 can also train the nervous, jumpy little fur babies who aren’t quite used to big adults and little kids or the dogs who just need to behave better on a leash. Chambers starts with an initial consultation with the owners to try to get a deeper understanding of the dog and its behavior.
Each dog is an individual, so there’s never a cookie-cutter solution or guaranteed turnaround time on training.
“Humans want everything done right away, the quick fix, the 100 percent success story,” Chambers says. “But we’re talking about an animal.”
One of the most unusual cases Chambers has seen involved a blue heeler, also known as an Australian cattle dog. Blue heelers are naturally intelligent and loyal to their owners. But they also herders with inherited instincts for hunting and chasing. This dog had a problem with eye contact.
“This dog, every time you’d look at her, she’d immediately pee,” he says. “She could be 30 yards away or across the room, and all you had to do was look at her. A friend of mine got this dog and was like, ‘What do I do?’ So, I asked him if the dog liked her food.”
“So, I said, ‘Print out portraits of people, big pictures of people, and put them in the room eye-level with her food. Then, every time you feed her, move the portraits two feet closer.’ Within five days, the problem was gone and the dog was eating out of his hand.”
Why did this work? “A blue heeler is a herding breed,” Chambers says. “The dogs are trained to herd cattle by nipping at their ankles. The breed isn’t used to looking into peoples’ faces. When you understand that and slowly introduce them to looking into peoples’ eyes, and reward them with a treat, it changes the outcome.”
Chambers says the most gratifying part of his job is building bridges between owners and their dogs.
“We teach them to communicate, to problem solve and to make sure all parties are on the same page,” he says.
Part of his passion always will be with law-enforcement K9 patrols. For him, there’s just something about those German shepherds.
“My job is a blast,” he says, “And to me, there’s nothing more rewarding than training dogs in law enforcement and putting them on the street and knowing that dog has that agent’s back or that officer’s back.”
Want to go?
Cape Fear K9
3120 George II Highway SE Southport
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