The Christian Science Monitor calls Owens, “A cheerful bear of a man with a sunny, Zen-like attitude, [who has] specialized in ‘compassionate, nonviolent’ dog training [for decades] … He relies on treats, play, and affection as rewards, and never so much as raises his voice.”
Owens explained that under his direction, GHS head trainer Jenina Schutter evaluates every furry guest of the GHS, like the Yorkies. Then she designs a specific socialization and behavior modification program for each, which other trainers implement. Owens notes that the very first concerns are always for the dogs’ safety and health. Then the trainers and volunteers work on developing trust through nonviolent, force-free training methods, while teaching basic canine etiquette and addressing any problem behaviors.
As a yogi, Owens has studied, practiced, and taught meditation for the last 30 years, in both the U.S. and in India. He employed standard dog training methods for nearly 15 years before his “nonviolent light bulb” went off in 1989.
Put Your Best Paw Forward
Owens told me that since then, he has rejected training methods that use pain, fear, or intimidation. Owens’ philosophy of training utilizes his five-pronged holistic approach for the “happiest, healthiest relationship, possible”: 1) prevention, 2) management, 3) fun, 4) safety, and 5) positive reinforcement through reward-based training.
Owens explains the effectiveness of reward-based training with a glint in his eye, “Let’s say every time you came to my house, I gave you $10,000 whenever you sat on a particular chair. Where would you want to sit? And how often would you be visiting me? … And after a while, even if I only gave you something really great every second or third time you came over, just the anticipation of a possible reward would keep you coming back to that chair! That’s why people play the slot machines—ultimately just the possibility of a reward is all the encouragement that’s needed.”
Owens and a long list of the most respected animal behaviorists and master trainers concur that nonviolent training methods are the most effective and the most long-lasting—but most importantly, they are safe for both humans and dogs. And Owens says that if people do their part, then his methods work every time. Nonviolence, it turns out, is not only the most peaceful answer, but also the most practical and economical solution in dog training.