Canadian lessons in dog ownership, focus on what you want your dog to do

Dogs will be dogs...what?As part of the Northern Dogs Project this year I invited a dog trainer/behaviourist who has worked with many of the dogs that come south for rehoming. 

The behaviourist says she can tell a Northern Dog from other clients’ dogs because they are smart and have excellent dog communication skills.

She also has a Northern Dog in her family as of last April, when she fostered a very young pup who came south now named Kip – who never left.  As you can imagine, Kip is very well trained using consistent and positive reinforcement methods.

I invited Yvette up to speak to community members about similar topics to those we were talking about in the schools. 

That is, looking at normal dog behaviour and what tools exist to live in harmony with your own dogs and other dogs within the community. What bit of sage advice did I take home…? 

Yvette told the audience not to focus on what you don’t want the dog to do (e.g. “stop barking!”) but instead, focus on what you WANT the dog to do (e.g. “sit and focus on me”). 

It really helps to use positive means to change what your dog is doing. 

Due to Yvette’s busy schedule, she could only come up for an overnight so on the same flight, we managed to accommodate a 15 year old local Georgetown student who is an animal lover interested in dogs and different jobs that involve working with animals.

Three hours after their flight left the Toronto area, we picked them up at the airport and drove to the community where Yvette was to present that afternoon. 

Unfortunately, a respected elder had passed away and as was to be expected most of the community would be attending.

Still, I wanted to see what would be of interest to the community and I wanted Yvette to experience where the dogs come from so that she could better understand what she was seeing come into rescue. 

Yvette spoke to the group about what dogs do as dogs – they chase things, they look for mates, they search for food, they bark, etc. 

She talked to specific people about how to house train their small dog who, at 8 months was still soiling the house. 

She answered questions about an older dog who goes berserk whenever she is put in a car. 

She explained that intact males and females who are tied close to each other can drive each other crazy, especially when the female is in heat. 

She mentioned that dogs need exercise and can’t be left tied all the time. 

Using examples and analogies, she brought answers to the questions and issues that individuals were dealing with. 

That left time for dinner and a walk around. 

The next day Shannon accompanied Jessica and Karen into the schools, headed out with Stef and Heidi to do some street work, and then we all took a trip to another community an hour and a half away to see dogs in that environment – including the mother of Yvette’s Northern boy. 

To get a feeling of seeing these dogs for the first time, check out Yvette’s perspective…. 


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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project