Canadian Northern Dogs: More about the wonderful and less about the scary

Stef getting to know one of the locals on her street walk.As part of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Northern Dogs Project, a team of veterinarians, vet technicians and humane educators head north each spring to provide much needed veterinary services and information on everything ‘dog’ to communities that are between 15 and 25 hours away. 

The visits to the communities are, of course, the highest profile part of the Northern Dogs Project and are part of the comprehensive approach to developing humane and sustainable dog management in remote communities. 

For some of the communities, this is the tenth year that we have been visiting and this means that we are seeing some of our community and dog ‘friends’ each time we return.

April was the month to head to the inland communities. 

A team of five left my house bright and early in three vans, taking a day and half to arrive at our destination.  At this point in the trip, the team is made up of myself, two intake volunteers and two humane educators, all of whom (except one) have been with the project before. 

The plan was to have Stef and Heidi get to know the dogs and the community members. 

That means walking every street, talking to people about their dogs, getting to know the dogs (lots of pats)… essentially, getting the heartbeat of the community and its dogs by listening and keeping track of not just the number of dogs but their lifestyle (tied, free roaming, dog house, collar/tags) and features (male/female, pup/young/adult, good/fair/poor condition). 

Stef and Heidi are amazing people ‘persons’ and they are also warm, kind dog people -- which makes them perfect for the job.  While they walked, they talked… a lot!  They were able to answer any questions about dogs, find out about the individual dog and owner, and remind people that the Northern Dogs vet clinic was just around the corner.

While they were hoofing it on the snowy streets, the two educators were in the schools from start of day to end of day.  IFAW has been presenting to school kids for a number of years and each year we build on what we have done previously.  We wanted to provide the kids (and this goes for adults that we talked to as well) with tools that are actually helpful to them in their everyday lives as they interact with dogs. 

This meant focusing on why dogs do what they do and what they mean when they are doing it.  Once you understand some of that, you can make a distinction between a playful dog and a scared dog and a mum who is guarding her puppies.  And from there, you can then respond in a way that makes you feel more comfortable or safe. 

What we don’t think about is that most of us choose to interact with dogs and we choose which dogs we want to interact with.  We choose how we want to interact with them and when… in other words, we have a lot of control over our relations with dogs.

We learn to ask the owner if we can pet his dog and we certainly don’t put our hands in a car with a dog inside.  But in communities with free roaming dogs, interacting with a dog is not always your choice. 

Dogs are also choosing how and when to interact with you.  That can be a wonderful experience, annoying or even downright scary. 

The Northern Dogs Project is working to make it more about the wonderful and less about the scary. 

-- JH

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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