At around 2.30 p.m. each day, Toan would visit a pet hotel in Hanoi’s Tay Ho District to pick up Kirby, a Lakeland Terrier.
With a history of emotional anxiety, the dog has been driven around West Lake the past two months as part of its rehabilitation.
Once done, Toan drops Kirby off and takes Luna and Kenya, a Brittany Spaniel and Doberman, to a lake-side expanse of grass.
As a hunting dog, Luna is being trained to respond to an ultrasonic whistle. Her foreign owner has failed to return to Vietnam in recent months.
Dong Minh Toan awards Luna, a Brittany Spaniel breed, for completing a task. Photo by VnExpress/Van Hieu.
Kenya, in turn, is taught retrieval, tasked with collecting empty coconut shells.
Toan currently runs a 26-week, Monday to Friday course, to improve the psychology and behavior of six dogs, costing VND6-7 million ($258-300) a month per canine.
Toan landed a job right after majoring in Electronics and Telecommunications at Military Technical Academy, where he enrolled in 2009.
Quickly bored by his new surroundings, he resigned from his job and complete several minor dog instructor courses.
“Training dogs is similar to working with a person, which includes deliberate stages. It is impossible to change your personality in a mere few days. I treat each of my ‘students’ like a family member,” Toan said.
To help his often troubled canine customers gain confidence, he has immersed himself in dog psychology.
According to Toan, a dog trainer needs to be meticulous and patient in understanding the particular psychology of a breed, avoiding all instances of aggression.
In the early days, the still inexperienced instructor had the skin on both his hands and ears torn while trying to appease an aggravated dog.
“Incidents like that usually occur with new students. With weakened mentalities, they react out of fear. I need to proceed with great care to boost their behavior,” he explained.
Toan added Vietnam’s humidity greatly affects mostly foreign dogs, as they easily get tired or fall sick.
“My clients are very interested in how I teach and care for their pets. They can attend any lesson or remotely monitor their dog’s progress.”
Recent student Jiro, a Pitbull with only three legs, was adopted by a Vietnamese-British couple from a rescue center.
“I rarely encounter dogs like Jiro who are both mentally and physically impeded,” Toan noted, adding he had come up with a schedule for the dog that involves sleep training, immobility practice, spinning, high-fives, and play.
Toan trains Kenya, a Doberman, to fetch coconut shells. Photo by VnExpress/Van Hieu.
The dog instructor admitted his partner had played a vital role in his success.
“She always encourage me. Without her support, I don’t think I would be who I am today,” Toan maintained.
As an animal lover, his partner Thao understands how important dog training is to her husband.
Initially, she was “jealous” since Toan spent more time with his canine companions than with her.
“Sometimes I want to travel, but he doesn’t want to leave his students alone at home. It can be frustrating, but I get it,” Thao said.
In the near future, Toan plans to commence short-term classes, providing basic instructions for dog owners in Vietnam on how to take care for their best friends.