SDOS Episode 40 – Assistance Dog Training with Karan Shahh

SHDOS Episode 40 Today’s podcast guest comes to us live all the way from Mumbai, its assistance dog trainer Karan Shahh. Karan is a dog trainer who describes himself as differently abled. He tells us his amazing story of how his assistance dog Angel helped him get over a family bereavement, how he was inspired by, and eventually trained and mentored by India’s leading dog trainer Shirin Merchant, and shares some of the common problems he helps dog owners to fix in his role as a dog trainer in Mumbai.


[1.42] Some dog training Wisdom from Robert Alleyne [3.41] Why you need to keep control of your dog [4.31] How not to be a menace to society [5.10] Meet today’s guest Karan Shahh [5.55] The greyhound round [7.13] Karan story – how dogs brought him out of his shell [8.10] Why Shirin Merchant is the only dog trainer Sharan mam would allow! [9.23] Why Karan started dog training [11.16] How Karan is helping assistance dog owners in India [12.15] Karan simple assistance dog games that anyone can play [12.55] How to teach your dog to retrieve you phone or slippers [14.11] What is the Tell-Tail Project [15.18] What does a day in the life of Karan Shahh look like? [16.53] What is the most common dog training problem [16.56] How Karan turned his disability weakness into a strength [17.26] Why a dog trainer needs to settle the human owner before he trains the dogs [18.01] Why are there so many dog aggression cases in India [19.15] Karan tips to mentally stimulate your dog [20.15] What is Angels favourite dog training trick [20.25] What is the best advice Karan has ever been given [21.33] How to connect with Karan on Facebook [] How does Karan chill out [22.55] Coming up on next week’s show is…Sue McCabe

Mentioned in this episode

The Tell Tail Project

Karan’s Facebook Page

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Full Transcript

Dom:     Hello me bonnie bairns and welcome to the Superhero Dog Owners Show. I’m your host Dom Hodgson and I’m joined by my very good friend Alex the video guy.

Alex:      Hello! Thank you for having me Dom.

Dom:     You’re welcome, many. Thank you for bringing your camera with you. It would of been pointless me and you sitting here just chatting … (laughs) So yeah, very grateful all round.

Episode forty Alex.

Alex:      Yes!

Dom:     Forty video podcasts, from a van, they said it could not be done. I don’t know who they were but I’m sure that’s what they were saying.

Alex:      No definitely. In Sunderland especially.

Dom:     (laughs) Why do you think we’re always on the move every different podcast, we can’t stand still too long in Sunderland.

Alex I’ve got something I’ve just cropped up on my social media feed. This is from a … Robert Alleyne posted this. Robert is a dog trainer, he was in Dog Borstal couple of years back. I know Robert, he’s been up here hosted a talk of his before. He was one of our first guests on the podcast but the audio didn’t come out very well, so I’m trying to hook up with him … actually I’m going to try hook up with him when I go back down again.

Alex:      Cool.

Dom:     For the talk in Clapham. Anyway, Robert’s posted this today. I just want to read it.

Alex:      Okay.

Dom:     So he’s a … He’s always one for … he liked putting the cat amongst the pigeons does Robert, I like he’s always ruffling feathers and stuff.

Alex:      Okay.

Dom:     When you see someone walking a dog in a park or open space and that dog is on a lead, it will be on that lead for a reason. They are probably either trying to stop it interacting with someone or something or they are trying to reduce the likelihood of someone or something interacting with it. So if you see someone doing this don’t allow your dog to run up to investigate it, as you may significantly increase the likelihood of something unpleasant happening. You can also force someone who is already sacrificing their dogs freedom to keep you, yours and theirs safe to have to work a great deal harder to do so, and if an incident occurs because you didn’t control your dog and keep it away from theirs, don’t then have a go at them because your dog gets attacked. Or because they ask you in no uncertain terms or to keep your dog away.

They were trying to act in everybody’s best interests including your dogs. Perhaps you should do the same, shouting “it’s alright, he’s friendly!” Or “he just wants play!” Really doesn’t help. You don’t have the right to force everyone to have to interact with your dog because you can’t control it and want it to be free. If you can’t control your dog when it is off the lead, keep it on a lead until you can.

How about that.

Alex:      Can’t really argue with that can you?

Dom:     Can’t argue with that at all, no. Robert’s had about a thousand bazillion shares on that already and … he’s big and well known name in the dog trainers industry. This is something we come across all the time, you know?

Alex:      All the time.

Dom:     It frustrates the hell out of me … we were talking the other week reactive dogs and allowing your dog to learn to play off with other dogs, we’ve talked about responsibility a lot on the show as well, and this is … Robert’s little status there just perfectly encompassed everything that we’re talking about, is that not everybody wants your dog to come and mess about and play with it. If you can’t control him, you really shouldn’t be letting him off the lead. If you disagree with that, then quite frankly you’re in the wrong. You don’t have the right to impose your dog on anybody else.

Alex:      Exactly, yeah. It’s one thing letting your dog do whatever it wants, in your home or wherever, but as soon as that affects other people and other dogs, it’s like, come on.

Dom:     That’s right! Apart from it being against the law, it’s just not cool is it? It’s just not cricket, it’s not … why would you want to do that, you know what I mean? It would be like … I don’t know what it would be like. It’s not cool anyway, it’s not cool to just … to make people frightened to make other dogs be frightened, just because you’re too ignorant to play with your own dog. It’s pretty sad.

Anyway, rant out the way. (laughs)

Alex:      That was good that, good little status, I like it.

Dom:     It’s a good point just to reemphasize the fact that, it’s not just me who thinks that, you know? You should keep your dog on a lead and you shouldn’t let him go and bother dogs, and if you do you’re a menace to society. There are other dog owners who think this too, we’ll get Robert on the show and he can say his piece in person.

Alex:      Definitely, he’s a cool guy.

Dom:     Speaking of guests, we have another guest today, coming to us all the way from Mumbai and it’s Karan Shah, positive dog training. Karan … I was introduced to Karan through Shirin Merchant who was our guest way back. Shirin’s got an awesome story and I think it would be best just to skip straight to the interview Alex.

Alex:      I think so.

Dom:     And everyone hear it.

Alex:      For sure.

Dom:     So you press that button.

Alex:      Here it is.

Dom:     My guest today is a dog trainer from Mumbai, where he runs Positive Future Dog Training, and he helps to train dogs for people like himself who he describes as differently abled, which I love. He’s been mentored by a previous guest of ours and we’re both huge fans of Shirin Merchant. I’m really delighted that he’s took the time out of his day to speak to us now and I’d like to welcome to the show, Karan Shah. Have you had a busy day?

Karan:   Yeah, a tiring one you could say.

Dom:     With dogs or?

Karan:   With dogs, with dogs.

Dom:     Always with dogs.

We’re going to jump straight in with the greyhound round. This is a quick-fire round Karan, and we’re going to get to know you a little bit better. Are you ready?

Karan:   Completely.

Dom:     Okay, your favourite superhero?

Karan:   DC Batman. And if for Marvel it would be Wolverine.

Dom:     That’s a very detailed answer that we’ve had there.

Would you rather be chased by an Irish Wolfhound or a hundred Chihuahuas?

Karan:   I would say by a single Irish Wolfhound.

Dom:     (laughs) It’s a popular choice, I don’t know why.

Would you prefer to walk a Pomeranian in the park or a Bulldog at the beach?

Karan:   Keeping the wheelchair in mind, I would prefer a Pomeranian in a park.

Dom:     I thought you might.

Your favourite animal that isn’t a dog?

Karan:   A cheetah.

Dom:     Good one.

What’s the trick or the activity that you most like to play with your own dogs?

Karan:   It’s mostly agility, and also an assistive command, which is quite often done. That is removal of my socks.

Dom:     (laughs) Good one. Excellent

I’m going to give you nine out of ten Karan, you did very well there.

Karan:   Where did I lose one mark?

Dom:     Don’t start, don’t start. It’s not a competition. It’s just a bit of fun.

Let’s go back in time a little bit now. What was your experience of dogs when you were growing up as a boy? Did you grow up in Mumbai?

Karan:   Yeah, I grew up in Mumbai. Actually I lost mybrother five years back, he himself was also differently abled. [inaudible 00:07:25] I was living life in a shell you could say for three years, until Shaham [inaudible 00:07:31], he’s a good family friend of mine, he gifted me Angel, my Labrador. I started becoming more social, I started becoming more active, you could say at that point in time. I didn’t have any dogs, I got a dog at the age of fifteen.

Then I came across Shirin Merchant at that point of time. My brother had seen her show in one of the schools where she had done an assistive show. Assistance dog show. That time he told me, that in case we get a dog we’ll get it trained by Shirin Merchant only. Trust me, my Mom freaks out when she sees a dog.

Dom:     So you had all that to overcome.

Karan:   Yeah.

Dom:     Where did you first meet Shirin then?

Karan:   First I googled who she is, what she does, everything. Then I forwarded her an email, that my name is Karan and so and so, my issues, my health issues. I’m suffering from spinal muscular atrophy. I just told her that I wanted my dog to get trained from you. At that time my thinking was very limited, that a dog would just do a sit, a stay and a simple retrieve, it wasn’t that big.

The day I met her, it changed my life completely. I would say that she’s a blessing in my life that I’ve come across her. In fact just giving that I was looking for a career at that point in time. Knowing it’s not that wheelchair friendly. So choosing a career was a big task for me, and then she offered me, why don’t you start off dog training as your career? Because [inaudible 00:09:17] I love dogs. So I said great, that will be a fun start for me.

Then I chose dog training as my profession, and that her training I learned assistance command, how to train a dog according to different disability, whether it be Parkinson’s or mentally or physically. So I chose that as my profession later on.

Dom:     Good stuff. How long ago was that?

Karan:   Three years back.

Dom:     Three years back now.

When you got Angel, Angel wasn’t a trained assistance dog then, she was just a lovely little Labrador?

Karan:   Yeah.

Dom:     With Shirin’s help you trained Angel up and then you went into the career of dog training, and now you help other people.

Karan:   Yes.

Dom:     Brilliant.

Karan:   A good feeling seeing people smiling.

Dom:     Yeah, it’s a nice feeling having a dog anyway I think isn’t it, but if you have a dog that … it can change peoples lives in a way that Angel’s changed yours then that’s something quite special indeed isn’t it.

Tell me a little bit about that then. What about some of the work that you’re doing at the moment to help people?

Karan:   I don’t remember a few cases where I have trained a dog that has helped people, but there are many instances where I remember that Angel has helped me to help different people. Like I go for rounds regularly.

There’s this one place in Mumbai called [inaudible 00:10:39] which is near a seaside. So there are a bunch of oldies there, that are always sitting, chatting as that. So Angel in fact introduced herself to them, and they fell in love with Angel now that everyday they’re having a walk with Angel the bunch of oldies. There have been cases where I have been to a few special schools that are children with Parkinson’s, and the simple retrieve games and those types of games, which include body movements, she has helped many people.

In fact, I am alive is an example of how she has helped me.

Dom:     Yeah definitely, yeah. She sounds pretty special.

I like it when people watching the show … I’m really interested in this whole assistance thing. I think that it’s … in general pet dog owners certainly in the UK and from the trainers that I’ve spoken to in America and in places maybe it’s true all over the world. They have a dog often a working dog or a sporting dog and apart from doing a few retrieves in the park, which is fine I guess, it doesn’t have a lot to do. It doesn’t have very many jobs to do and obviously dogs generally benefit don’t they, and they thrive on being given things to do, you know?

What would be some kind of simple things that any pet dog owner could teach their dog to do assistance wise, would you say?

Karan:   I would say a simple retrieve game, sort of thing. Like teaching particular items like a telephone for example. Simple things about teaching their dog a command by giving that thing a command. Such sort of things that’s easy to teach and that’s very helpful in life too.

Dom:     Let’s break it down, how would … if you had say, your pair of slippers and your television control or your mobile phone, how could people go about having a little go at getting their dog to retrieve and understand which item you wanted them to bring back.

Karan:   It’s pretty simple, it’s like basically start off with one particular word, like for example you’ve started with the telephone, the dog obviously must be having some trigger towards retrieve if you’re throwing a ball that’s a trigger that’s something going, retrieve it back at that point of time. Obviously we won’t throw the telephone or anything, but we could just point out at this point at the telephone, fetch, the command fetch, which is used most often. That would be used as a trigger to fetch that particular item and bring it back. Then we could put in the word telephone instead of fetch for particular items.

Dom:     So then we just name the items, I suppose you would gradually build up the items. How many commands would Angel understand now?

Karan:   Right now I would say about, twelve or thirteen I guess.

Dom:     Wow, yeah brilliant. Fantastic.

She’s an assistance dog, she works for you but pet dog owners even if they just taught their dog two or three things it would massively stimulate the dog wouldn’t it, and give them things they could practise in the house with the dog. Yeah that’s brilliant.

Tell me a little bit about the TellTail Project, on Facebook I’ve started to follow that, some really cool pictures on there, nice stories, it’s a little bit Humans of New York, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that or not, but it’s very similar to that, which I love as well. People love stories don’t they, how did that come about?

Karan:   One of my friend gave my reference to the page owners of TellTail Project, they wanted a very a “fantastic” sort of story at that point of time, so they just told me that Garan himself is a disabled … differently abled I’d rather say, and he has made that as his strength. I’ve made my disability as my strength my weakness is not my strength. They just told me why don’t you go and interview him you might get a fantastic story at that point of time. That’s how I got included in the TellTail Project stories.

Dom:     Brilliant. That’s really nice, I’ll put a link up to that as well. People should check that out, it’s really cool.

What’s a general day like for you now, how does … tell me about what you’re up to on a day to day basis.

Karan:   Day to day basis is mostly training and consultations that carry on, usually on a regular basis. It’s always nice spending time with Angel whenever I’m down or if there’s no work to do as such, just communicating with her and she’s just staring at my eyes constantly, so that’s one thing. It’s mostly training and consultations.

Dom:     Cool, cool. Tell me a little bit about … how long does it take to train up an assistance dog for people?

Karan:   In my case, I don’t know about others, but in my case for Angel, teaching her a couple of commands approximately eight to ten commands it took me approximately about one and a half years. The commands that I require on a regular basis teach her the rewarding stage, after the rewarding stage and going through the whole process, it took be about one and a half years.

Dom:     When you’re doing your consultations and stuff, are you dealing mainly with teaching differently abled people stuff with their dogs or is it all kinds of dog owners who you deal with?

Karan:   It’s all kinds of dog owners.

Dom:     What are the most kind of common problems that you’re coming across?

Karan:   It’s mostly aggression I see, guarding issues, majority of the time.

Dom:     What do they think about, when you rock up in your wheelchair, you know, how does that feel?

Karan:   That’s one of the tasks I need to face day to day, it’s one of the things that … like I told you earlier, my disability was my weakness, but it is now my strength, as in being disabled and training dogs for another differently abled, I know what they need, what they require on their day to day basis, I can understand them, at that point in time. In cases of assistance training and everything it’s quite easy, but you try to work in front of an aggressive case, it’s difficult first of all I need to settle the human first and then I need to take the dogs case. It’s like that.

Dom:     Yeah, brilliant. Do they quite quickly get on board with what you’re teaching when they see the results?

Karan:   Obviously. Every day.

Dom:     Every time, yeah. Can you tell me about sort of aggression cases, what’s with the … we have a lot of aggression cases in the UK and in American too I know. What’s the prime reasons that they happen in India?

Karan:   It’s mostly due to, one it could be due to joint family cases, quite popular in India. Second it is aggression as in [inaudible 00:18:13] amount of exercise, whether it be mental or physical, that’s one thing people need to learn in India. I think that’s the thing, that when Shirin [inaudible 00:18:24] spoke about in the last session, so that’s one of the most primary thing that a dog is getting a lack of exercise then it’s outcome is sometimes misbehaviour then the dog is slapped, or is tied up for hours at a time, which brings up the aggression easily.

Dom:     Yeah, yeah. You’re a prime example of you don’t need to be obviously out running with your dog, and stuff like that, there’s many ways to wear out a dog isn’t there.

Can you give us two or three ways that people could just exercise their dog more, stimulate their dog more at home, in their garden or in their kitchen, in the sitting room?

Karan:   First of all I think that physical exercise itself is not enough, a dog needs mental stimulation also as well. It’s as simple like playing scenting games or scenting commands where scent is involved. That’s one mental stimulation that a dog gets while sniffing, second I think if it’s a huge dog, which is in India is very popular dogs, which are not according to the Indian weather, they are the most popular in India. Siberian Husky’s and those are not meant for especially Mumbai weather, knowing the heat and everything. For them also I think simple agility training, basic agility. Like a simple jump, or you know those exercise, which was already in their blood years back. Keeping those things in mind, those simple commands practising  it on a regular basis.

Dom:     Brilliant. What’s your favourite … what’s Angel’s best trick?

Karan:   I think she loves the socks the most.

Dom:     (laughs) I’ll take your word for it.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given? Dog related or something else?

Karan:   The best bit of advice I’ve ever been given is never to lose your spirit in life. No matter what circumstances come.

Dom:     Yeah.

Karan:   I’ve known from my parents or they have already been telling me since years, and that is a sign in front of you now.

Dom:     Yeah, definitely, yeah. I normally ask then can you tell me a story about how that’s been applied in your own life, but you’ve kind of explained that already with the whole interview. It’s a really inspiring story yours, and I’m really glad that I got a chance to speak to you because it’s … yeah I’ve really enjoyed it and I hope it inspires people to do a little bit more with their dog and to realise that … you know, just the things you’ve already said, if you can provide a little bit stimulation for your dog and think about the type of breed that he is, your life is going to be so much easier isn’t it.

Where can people go to find out more about you and what you’re up to Karan?

Karan:   They can visit my Facebook page that is

Dom:     Cool, and I would definitely recommend people do that. I’ll stick some links in the bottom so people go straight there and check it out.

It’s been awesome talking to you, before I go, when you’re not helping train dogs, consultations, training Angel, getting your socks taken on and off, how does Karan like to chill out?

Karan:   I think working with dogs is my “chillax” time, that’s the best time I have.

Dom:     That’s fair enough, yeah. We get that answer a lot. (laughs) Not surprising.

Hey it’s been awesome talking to you my friend, I really appreciate your time, and I’d love to get you on the show again sometime as well.

Karan:   Thank you.

Dom:     Take care.

Karan:   Bye.

Dom:     So Alex, how awesome was that?

Alex:      That was pretty awesome. Really cool story, really inspiring.

Dom:     Yeah he’s a really cool guy. Cool Karan and awesome Angel. I love talking to him, he’s such a nice guy anyway, but just seeing what a difference a dog can make, and he’s taken the stuff that he’s learnt that changed his life, and he’s helping other people change their lives as well with dogs.

Alex:      Yeah, yeah.

Dom:     It’s going full circle, he’s spreading the love.

Alex:      Indeed, yes.

Dom:     Thanks Karan. He’s always hitting me up on Facebook and stuff as well, he’s a really nice guy.

Next week we have another guest coming on.

Alex:      Cool.

Dom:     We’re returning to our old homes, we’ve been back to see Dave, we’ve been back to see Jane and this time we’re going back to see [Sue McKib 00:23:06].

Alex:      Excellent.

Dom:     Who we did actually have to go back and see didn’t we, because not long after we did the interview with Sue last time about spotting the recipe for dog aggression, she got a puppy called Jellybean!

Alex:      Jellybean! That was it.

Dom:     Jellybean the little Jack Russell.

Alex:      He looked like a little Jellybean!

Dom:     Yeah. Sue did a masterclass for us inside the inner circle, which was a full hour long thing. We have a nice little taster for you now that we had, this was before Sue actually got Jellybean, we were just talking about the types of things that you need to be looking out for, that you need to be aware of when you’re going to get a puppy. That’s what’s coming up next week.

Alex:      Awesome.

Dom:     Have you got anything else to say Alex?

Alex:      No I don’t think so. I’ve enjoyed it.

Dom:     Cool, me too. Right, thanks for watching everyone. Please leave us a review on iTunes, we know how many people watch this show it’s in the many tens, no it’s much more than that, but we’ve only got about fourteen reviews on there. I think that’s pretty pathetic Alex.

Alex:      I think so.

Dom:     How long it takes you to leave a review?

Alex:      It doesn’t take long to feel good, does it?

Dom:     No, and it will make you feel good, and it will make us feel great, which obviously is even better, from a selfish point of view.

Go leave us a review on iTunes, if you haven’t already go buy a copy of my book, How To Be A Dog’s Superhero, if we don’t see you through the week we’ll see you [inaudible 00:24:29]

Buy Dom’s book on Amazon

Click here to get the kindle or paperback version of How to Be Your Dog’s Superhero.

Click here to get the Kindle or paperback version of Dom’s new book Worry Free Walks

Click here to get the kindle or paperback version of the dog walkers business bible Walk Yourself Wealthy

Get the audio book here

Dom’s daily dog training emails

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Meet the Author

Dom Hodgson