Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut December 13, 2013 - 6:03 am

Why Cambridge Bay has the territory’s most obedient dogs

“It’s a really good bonding experience"

SARAH ROGERS
This group of dogs and their owners took part in a dog obedience class held in Cambridge Bay through the fall — a first for the community. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DENISE LEBLEU)
This group of dogs and their owners took part in a dog obedience class held in Cambridge Bay through the fall — a first for the community. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DENISE LEBLEU)

In a Cambridge Bay school gymnasium, a group of two-legged residents line up beside their four-legged friends.

The four-legged participants are all learning to heel — to walk alongside their owners in a controlled manner.

That’s one of the first things instructor Denise LeBleu taught the group when she coordinated the community’s first-ever dog obedience course earlier this fall.

“It loosens up both the dog and its owner,” LeBleu said.

Next, LeBleu teaches what she calls the three most basic — but vital — commands you can teach your dog: “come,” “stay” and “down.”

Those kinds of commands are important for a dog to understand, whether they’re at home with the family or out on the land and distracted by a smell.

“If your dog gets loose or takes off, it’s so much easier it you’ve taught it recall so it will come back to you right away,” she said.

LeBleu also teaches her participants to recognize “calming signals” — body language used by all kinds of canines to calm others in an otherwise tense environment.

Behaviour like yawning or “curving” (taking a detour to get somewhere) can indicate that an animal is uncomfortable, LeBleu said.

“If a dog is nervous, sometimes that means it’ll either fight or flight,” she said. “So it helps us to understand that behaviour.”

But the benefits of obedience training are so much greater, said LeBleu, who used to work with an animal rescue shelter in Manitoba before relocating to Cambridge Bay three years ago.

“It’s a really good bonding experience for owners and their dogs, and it builds trust,” she said. “If you have a well-trained dog, your relationship with them will be much less problematic.”

LeBleu knows by experience: she has three dogs of her own; two German short-haired pointers and a labrador.

LeBleu’s labrador Hannah had been abused before she adopted her, and LeBleu found obedience classes helped build her confidence and overcome nervous behaviour.

Hannah the labrador has since been trained through St. John’s Ambulance as a therapy dog, and has visited retirement homes and taken part in workshops with schoolchildren and Cubs groups.

And because of her experience, LeBleu has become the go-to dog expert in this Kitikmeot town, getting calls to help people whose pets are sick, injured and have behavioural problems.

LeBleu wanted to gauge the community interest in dog obedience classes, so she held an information evening earlier this fall. When she got a positive response, LeBleu started a six-course session in October.

The first class drew a mixed crowd of about 14 owners and their pets; a mix of puppies and older dogs, huskies, labradors, shih tzus — one of the participants was even a sled dog.

Kullik Ilihakvik school principal Cathie Rowan, who has three dogs at home, brought her husky Seeka to the class because she wanted to “be able to control the chaos at home.”

Rowan said she quickly realized how much her dog enjoyed socializing with other dogs in the class. Seeka took home basic commands like “wait” and “lie down.”

“It was extremely positive,” Rowan said. “I now know how to deal with my dog in a positive way.”

And Dec. 14, humans and dogs alike will come their last class, where they’ll be awarded certificates and some dog treats.

LeBleu hasn’t yet decided if she’ll offer another session of dog obedience classes in the New Year, but she’s certain that this first session will have had an impact.

“I think in the long-run it’ll be good for the community,” she said. “I think the dogs will be happier, there’ll be fewer problem dogs, fewer dogs tied up outside, and they’ll be more socialized.”

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