Career experts always say your passion is your best vocation. That which you love to do; that which gives you the ultimate fulfillment; that which you do with pride written from your face down to your soul… that is your passion.
But some vocations start as the bizarre. Like starting a retreat for pets where dog and cat owners travelling can keep their pets for the duration of the time they are away and return to find the animals well tended to, or walking a dog for living. Yes, even the latter is as true as it sounds bizarre at first mention—at least to a typical resident.
For Jean-Damascène Mwenerukundo, walking dogs is much more than holding the leash of huge canines that then drag him along the streets of Kigali; it is his livelihood and he has no qualms about it.
The 30-year-old is the managing director of DTRGES Company, a professional dog training company with its head offices in Kinyinya, Kigali.
His passion for dogs informed his choice of career. After undergoing training in Nairobi, Kenya, Mwenerukundo thought it wise to start a dog training company at home. This was in May last year.
Before then, Mwenerukundo would receive calls from dog owners seeking his labour to help walk their dogs.
“Dogs need exercise to keep healthy, but many dog owners are busy and never find time to walk their pets,” he says.
Instead of keeping dogs indoor all day, the dog walkers give them crucial exercise and social interactions, which is not only healthy but also keeps dogs safe.
“It’s always better to have it as a routine so that the dogs know their time for walking and maintain such a discipline. This is not possible for those who have busy schedules, so they turn to us,” Mwenerukundo said.
When Mwenerukundo ventured into the vocation, he found it hard. It was difficult to explain to the people and make them buy the idea.
This was made worse by the fact that Rwandans and dogs are historically not good friends. In 1994, hounds were used by militiamen to hunt down fleeing Tutsi.
Dogs were used to bust hideouts of the Tutsi deep inside forests. This left a bitter experience among many locals, and to-date, many Tutsi dread dogs.
This perhaps explains why walking a dog on the street is not as easy as it might seem, since people loathe and fear the animals in equal measure.
Besides, in today’s densely populated and highly regulated world, safe dog walking demands skills, physical stamina, and in-depth knowledge of dog behaviour and etiquette.
“Things may seem easy but you can be surprised; dog training takes passion and hard work,” Mwenerukundo says.
“Getting clients proved hard at the beginning. Most clients come with wishes of throwing away their dogs because of their wild behaviour, but after a while with us, their dogs are tamed and fully domesticated,” he adds.
Mwenerukundo trains over 30 dogs, charging Rwf60,000 per month for each. However, he can only train two hours per day, four days a week. Their satisfied customers are the ones who recommend them to other clients.
As Daniel Bazigaga, one of the dog walking instructors, puts it; “To manage and train dogs is much more difficult than people realise. Nobody is surprised that training a sled dog pack requires expert knowledge and skill. It is hard, especially in the beginning.”
How the training is done
“We first show love to the dog, with that you get to win its trust and it gets to understand that you cannot harm it,” Mwenerukundo explains.
“We first train them basic obedience through voice command, we teach them basic words like ‘stop’, ‘stay’, ‘come’, ‘go back’, and when it does not understand, you do the gesture for it and the next time it will understand. Dogs are really wonderful creatures,” he adds.
“Walking a dog is a lesson called walking technique. It’s not sports as some people think, rather the dog is learning to walk on a rope, which is called walking on leash. When it learns that, it can’t do anything you do not want, it always waits for your command.”
However, like any other creature, there are those that are naturally aggressive. These are the kinds that want to bite, take pleasure in chasing everything away, among other behaviours.
“We have the capacity to read signs and get to know that a dog is dangerous, then we get ways of handling it but with time it gets to be tamed,” Mwenerukundo says.
To Mwenerukundo and his team of four, even aggressive dogs can be tamed once they are brought early enough. The team says some people take dogs at a stage when it is difficult to train them, others when they are giving up on their dogs and try to treat the training as a last resort. This in itself, the trainers say, is wrong.
“We mostly train a dog for three months but some are so hard that even after those three months, they learn nothing. The preferable stage to start training a dog is at four months. The time they are brought means a lot, as bringing one too late into their bad habits creates a kink in our system,” Mwenerukundo says.
The dog trainer cites attitude of some people as another obstacle since many people cannot believe that an animal can get to learn different things.
Bazigaga says putting aside the difficult part in his job, he enjoys it a lot. To him, dogs are wonderful creatures and trustworthy.
“We started small but we are proud of where we are now. People appreciate what we do and their mindset about dogs is beginning to change,” Bazigaga says.