All dogs are good dogs, but the trained ones live better lives.
Ucluelet local Tammi MacKinnon has spent the past 20 years helping West Coasters become better guardians for their canine companions.
“A trained dog is a happy dog because it gets a better life,” she said. “It gets to go more places and more people want it around.”
Dogs have long been controversial characters on the Coast due to their penchant for wreaking havoc on migrating shorebirds and disrupting beach experiences.
“I’ve been on the beach and seen dogs run at kids and start barking at them,” MacKinnon said. “It might not seem aggressive, but if you’re only four feet high or smaller, it might be quite a traumatic experience.”
The Pacific Rim National Park has a strict leash policy and has considered banning dogs from certain areas of Long Beach to keep migrating shorebird populations safe.
The results of a three-year study published by the Park in 2014 suggested over 70,000 dogs visit the Park’s beaches each year and less than half of them are leashed.
Shortly after the survey was published, the Park’s terrestrial biologist Yuri Zharikov suggested banning dogs during shorebird migration seasons to cut down on disturbances that, he believed, were stressing birds out and making them move from their feeding grounds too early to migrate successfully.
“The thing with disturbance is that it has a cumulative effect that is carried over,” Zharikov said.
“It is something that will accumulate gradually over, sometimes, several breeding seasons…When you see that happen, it’s like seeing glass already falling on the ground; it’s too late.”
MacKinnon believes untrained dogs forced the Park’s leash laws and gave four-legged locals a bad rap.
“You have some people who are into it and are willing to be responsible for their dogs, and then you have others who just flip authority the bird,” she said. “If the dogs had been off-leash but under control, there wouldn’t have been any complaints…The dogs wouldn’t be chasing the wildlife on the beaches and it makes for a more friendly environment for people who are afraid of dogs.”
She added trained dogs, that stay under the control of a human, are far less vulnerable to predators.
With Ucluelet’s winter recreation programming kicking off this week, MacKinnon has once again signed on to take on the town’s pet population.
Her dog obedience course will run every Wednesday from Jan. 18-March 1 at the Seaplane Base Recreation Hall.
“My main objective is teaching the dog to pay attention to the human. The safest place your dog can be is with you,” she said.
“A lot of people think that by correcting the dog, the dog isn’t going to like them. But, in fact, when you present yourself as a leader, the dog has way more respect for you and will be way more co-operative…You get a better relationship.”
She added the dogs that go through her class aren’t the only ones who benefit.
“When you have a trained dog you can count on it. It comes when you call it….You can trust it to not trash your home, or rip your vehicle apart, or trash somebody else’s property,” she said.
“When you start training the dog, it’s all about the dog. But, once you’ve got the dog trained, it’s all about you because the dog is now focused on you…It’s a really interesting relationship. You can make your dog the perfect partner. All you have to do is decide what you want the dog to do.”
She said training should begin as early as possible but spoke against the belief that older dogs are lost causes.
“You can always teach an old dog new tricks,” she said.
MacKinnon said she was thrust into dog training when she found herself with two “out of control” puppies while living in Vancouver and signed up for an obedience course.
“When I got going into the courses and training my own dogs, I realized that’s what I’d always wanted. I’d had dogs all my life, but I’d never had a trained dog and I’ll tell you, once you get a trained dog, there’s no going back,” she said.
MacKinnon moved from the mainland to Nanaimo, where she joined a local dog group and helped put together obedience lessons and agility training courses.
“From there, we moved to the West Coast and I took my little pony show with me,” she said.
She said she’s enjoyed watching the fruits of her efforts blossom into obedient past-pupils.
“It’s been a very satisfying experience because I’ve seen a lot of changes in these dogs that I’ve worked with over the years,” she said. “They’ve got a good home to begin with, but once they’re trained and you can get them to do things, they have a better life.”