Xavier Allejaix, Uganda’s Dog Whisperer

Many who attended the Ultimate Dog Show on July 6 at Kyadondo rugby grounds concurred, it was the biggest the organizers have had since conception of the idea three years ago.

Many were stunned about the different breeds, co-breeds but most especially about the abilities of the dogs. From attack, agility, obedience and sniffing, the dogs were exceptionally good. And for many, one person stood out – Xavier Allejaix.

Allejaix was and has been at all the dog shows with his family (wife, three children – a set of twin girls and a boy – plus their four Dobermans and a pit-bull. His dogs participate in every category apart from sniffing, with one of the Dobermans, Cash, taking centre stage with his abilities.

At the first dog show, Cash walked away with the top prize after pulling off a trick where Allejaix jumped on a boda boda, and when the rider started off, Allejaix called out to Cash, who came running and jumped between the two men and rode off together. At the second dog show, Cash remained the dog king. Last year, he came in second place and vowed to regain his title this year, but he came second again.

Allejaix’s dog-handling skills have always left many baffled. He is the Ugandan equivalent of Caesar Milan, the famous self-taught Mexican dog expert. Milan’s reality television series – Dog Whisperer with Caesar Milan – was broadcast in more than 80 countries between 2004 and 2012.

Being a dog lover and owner myself – I am the proud owner of a Portuguese water dog called Mickie – I wanted to know how Allejaix does it. I wanted to demystify the various notions that some people had, including that dog trainers used some kind of charms on the dogs.

Last week, I sought out Allejaix at his home along Salama road. Finding his home was not that easy and not even Google maps could help. But I finally got there. Allejaix welcomed me with a smile but for an owner of fierce dog breeds, I was shocked to see that his house was not fenced.

As I parked, I could hear the dogs barking in the backyard, with Allejaix commanding them to be quiet. On a sunny evening, Allejaix preferred to have the interview outdoors with the cool lake breeze. He then came out holding the three Dobermans.

“These are my daughters,” he said, while patting them on the back of their heads. The dogs just looked at me without a sound, despite having seen them participate in the attack category at the dog show. He told them to sit and they all did so immediately.

Before I could ask anything, he said: “This is Money, she is four and half years old this is Geisha, she is three and this is Vola, she is a year old”. Cash was brought out of the house he sported a couple of stitches on his left leg. Allejaix’s face even lit up once he started talking about Cash apparently a week before the dog show Cash got into a fight with his other dog, Fire, a one-and- half-year-old Pit-bull.

Allejaix had to give Cash 14 stitches and was afraid he would not be fit to compete in the show.

“He performed while on drugs and was not g enough, but I did not mention that because I didn’t want to get sympathy from the judges.”

When I asked how many dogs he was training at the moment, he told me: “About 60.”

So, where did he acquire his knowledge?

It all started 41 years ago when Allejaix was born to Jean Loris Allejaix (RIP) and Maire Claude in France. They later moved to Madagascar, where his mother was from. His father was a horseman and “horsemen always have dogs so, all my life I grew up with animals and I loved dogs most”.

Allejaix Snr was a hands-on man and as such Allejaix was taken to Chateaux de Bergerac horse riding school in France from 1991-1992. His passion was, however, more about dogs and often he did not attend classes because he was out playing with his dog.

When he dropped out, his father took him to the French army and wanted him to join the cavalry instead, but his passion for dogs overrode that and he joined the French military dog section. He was there for a year and learnt everything he knows about dogs there.

In 1995, his mother was posted to Uganda as a French diplomat so, Allejaix came along to help her. During that time he tried to find a job but failed and went back to Madagascar. While there he met Nirina Mirella the two fell in love and got married. Mirella is actually Cash’s owner.

Allejaix would later return to Uganda in 1998, this time to help his father who had been hired by Speke Resort Munyonyo to bring in horses. His father brought 32 horses from France. And together, father and son ran the first horse riding school in Uganda back then.

Allejaix says although his father had a very good relationship with their boss Sudhir Ruparelia, when he passed away, Allejaix quit the job and started working with dogs. Because many of the people who had been coming for the horse riding lessons owned dogs and had seen him work wonders with them, they asked for his help and gradually it became a business.

In fact, around his neighbourhood, he is known as omuzungu w’embwa (the white man with dogs). Being so skilled with man’s best friend, you would think that Allejaix has not had any lows in his line of work. Well, he does not recall how many times he has been bitten by dogs.

In fact, had it not been for his wife and house help back in 2001, he would be dead by now. He owned a pit-bull, Blunt, back then and one afternoon he brought it a new bike tyre since it had destroyed the old one. Pit-bulls are naturally fighting dogs which were originally game-bred. So, it got excited and expected him to throw the tyre in its kennel.

But just as he was about to do so, two of his other dogs started fighting in another kennel. Allejaix had already opened for Blunt and naturally pit-bulls love a good fight Blunt wanted to join the fight, yet Allejaix was trying to break it up. Frustrated, Blunt jumped at him and grabbed him by the stomach.

He recalls the fight took about two minutes, “That is like a whole day when you are being attacked by a pit-bull!”

His house help came to the rescue, grabbing the dog by its hind legs so that it lost balance, but it could not let go. Mirella had to come with a leash and put it around the dog and choke it. Only then did it let go.

But despite that, he did not hate the dog: “I understood why he had attacked me. I excited him and then didn’t give him a chance to get into the fight.”

He later sold Blunt.

How does he train the dogs?

Allejaix says it’s all about relating and understanding, dogs are driven by three things food, pack and sex. They will do something because they expect to eat. Being pack animals, they will also do something because another dog has done it or they will do something during the mating season because they expect sex.

Allejaix uses the food drive and pack drive while training dogs. The dogs follow body language they know when someone is happy, sad, or angry.

“I start with the basics for example I ask the dog owner when he feeds the dog and tell him not to feed the dog before I arrive, so when I tell it to sit and help him do it, I give it a treat. From there he knows that ‘when I do this I get a reward’.”

He says people need to learn to socialize their dogs the notion is that locking up the dog makes it dull and not tough. Through the years, however, Allejaix has realised he needs to train the dog owners more than the dogs because when he trains the dogs, the owners are not there so, they find it hard to give the dogs the commands.

“So many times people have told me I am a thief and should return their money because the dogs fail to respond to them, but when I come, the dogs do whatever I say.”

Cash helps when Allejaix applies the pack drive notion he asks Cash to do something while the other dog watches, then rewards him so, the other dog is challenged to also try. Allejaix now also does it with his son Leo, who owns Fire.

Leo, 11, was very active during the interview pitching in whenever his father forgot something.

“I just watch while daddy is training and I also try with my dog.” Leo won the novice obedience award and also came second in attack with Fire, during the dog show.

Allejaix charges between Shs 400,000 to Shs 1m depending on the breed of the dog and where the client stays

Facts about Allejaix

He hates France, because he doesn’t know anything about it, having enjoyed Africa so much.

He loves beer and Nile Special is his favourite brand.

He is a ssalongo, with a set of twins – Iris and Lola, 8 – and eldest son Leo, 11. All his children go to Jack and Jill nursery and primary school, Kansanga.

He is also a farmer

His dog cash was born on October 9 like Uganda.

He has helped organisers with all four dog shows free of charge, just for the love of dogs.

He used to play judo and gymnastics.

Source : The Observer

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