Now, as a certified groomer, the secret to her success is her approach from a trainer’s perspective. Being able to read canine cues and know how to communicate requests to the dogs is helpful for everything from getting a water-shy dog into the bathtub to making sure no fights break out in the salon. She also thinks that engaging a dog trainer is beneficial for every dog owner.
“After doing this for five or six years and meeting thousands of dogs – every single dog is unique, like how every single person is unique,” she said. “I believe that every dog should be treated as an individual.”
The term “Singapore Special” is quite a recent one, and Seah thinks it’s helpful for dispelling the negative connotations that come with terms like “stray” or “mutt”. These dogs range vastly in size and appearance, which is why she hesitates to categorise them. What’s essential to remember is that “we are on their land”, she opened. Singapore Specials, she believes, embody dogginess in its most canine form, as they are products of natural selection and not selective breeding by humans.
“Think about what a dog would need to survive in the wild,” she said. “For example, you could make a broad sweeping statement that Singapore Specials are generally skittish. In the wild, skittishness is a survival mechanism, because obviously, you’d have to avoid things that are dangerous. Most Specials are extremely agile – they can jump and run – and it’s a survival mechanism, because if they’re going to live in the jungle, then they’re going to have to navigate it. They’d have to protect their resources in the wild, so they tend to be a little bit keen about people and new things. They’re usually extremely smart – in the wild, if you don’t learn things quickly, then you might end up hurt. These are adaptive features.”
She added, “Whatever you want to call them, I still like them. They’re very independent. I sort of relate.”
Her advice for Singapore Special owners – and for dog owners in general – is to set realistic goals, and follow through on them unwaveringly.
“To take a dog, especially a dog in the wild, and to put it into urban human society and immediately expect it to abide to human rules, is unrealistic. You have to train this animal if it’s going to adapt to your lifestyle,” she said. “It’s not necessarily ‘my way or the highway’ – it has to be a collaboration between you and your pet. You have to put in place rules that you are going to be comfortable with for the next 15 to 20 years. And the same thing for the dog – you should ideally give it a lifestyle that it’s going to enjoy for 20 years.”