Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fluent in dog

Manitoba Search and Rescue master trainer George Leonard says eliminating bad behaviour is a matter of common sense

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IF you speak with Capt.George Leonard, master trainer with Manitoba Search And Rescue, you’ll quickly discover how passionate he is about dogs. Unlike most of us, who merely love canines, Leonard truly under­stands them. His friends label him as the true "dog whisperer," he says.

Becoming a master trainer takes five years and involves working with 2,000 dogs, says Leonard. He’s trained dogs to help police, provide therapy and to find people.

Since most of his canines come from the Winnipeg Humane Society, it proves to him that any dog can become an exceptional one.

Whenever he goes to MSAR events or is out in the public wearing his uniform he’s inundated with training questions. For him, training is mostly com­mon sense. When your dog greets you in a crazy manner, don’t reward the dog, Leonard says. Make him sit. "If you want a calm dog, you reward calm behaviour," he says. If the dog listens, then positive attention should be given. It’s the key to all of his training methods. He uses positive reinforcement rather than the treat reward method. By doing this consistently, unwanted behaviours such as food aggression and begging are stunted. The bond between the dog and the trainer, and eventual owner, becomes important.

Leonard isn’t a fan of some common games owners play. Tug of war and roughhousing encourages aggression. "It’s a dominance game," he says. When he explains how to best train or offers tips, Leonard doesn’t come across as gruff or judgmental. He doesn’t take offence to my mis­takes training my dog, Bella. He merely wants to help people.

Even the names he chooses for his dogs and cats are meant to put people at ease. He’s aware that one of his large dogs, which accompanies him when he educates kids could cause them to be fearful, so he named the pup Stinky. Another dog was called Fatso and his two cats go by Meowman and Squishy. Even as an adult, I admit, the names made me snicker.

Currently, he’s working with four canines. He feels they learn better when they have other dogs to mimic. Leonard referred to this technique as having "a balanced pack at the house." Understanding dog packs is second nature to him. He feels his aboriginal roots may have something to do with it. His spirit guide is the wolf.

MSAR needs more members like Leonard. While some dogs are used for search-and-rescue operations, others are trained to assist humans with specific needs. It’s not easy work. However, he’s adamant that the training be done properly, because it’s providing a valuable service for the community. Leonard’s happy to be changing lives, he says. The demand for this service is huge: "I could give away 50 dogs right now without even making a dent," says Leonard.

He is currently training a dog for someone who suffers from bipolar disease. It’s groundbreaking in pet therapy. The canine monitors the owner’s behaviour and senses a change in human emotion or actions. The rate of suicide is much higher for those who have mental disorders. A dog with this training could not only better a life but could save one, too.

This is a volunteer service. Each dog is given away free. The trainers are not paid. They volunteer their time. That being said, MSAR is hoping to get assistance from the public and local businesses. Each dog requires a sponsor for food, veterinary care and gear. Leonard jokes that the dog vests are like canine NASCAR cars. But he admits that the dogs get a lot of attention when they’re wearing the sponsored vests.

During training, the dogs should be exposed to various situations. The pups have to be "fully engaged... and never left alone," Leonard says.

For this reason, the canines are rotated between foster homes, trainers and their prospective owners. MSAR requires additional fosters to assist them in achieving program goals. Trainers, as well. The objective is to graduate more dogs. It takes a year to train each canine. While the job isn’t always easy, it certainly sounds rewarding.

It’s common to feel cynical in this hectic world. People, like those at MSAR who give of themselves to help others, reduce some of this cyni­cism. If you’d like to do your part and become a trainer, foster or spon­sor, contact (204)777-0553 or email


❚ The Winnipeg Humane Society would like to invite your kids to their Pre Paws for Adventure. It’s a day camp for animal loving 5-7-year-olds. WHS educators will provide age appropriate games, crafts and activities while overseeing interactive encounters with cute and cuddly pets.

The camp runs on July 15 and 16 and Aug. 31. Morning sessions are 9 a.m.–noon. Afternoon sessions are 1–4 p.m.

The fee for each session is $15, with a payment and registration deadline of June 15. For more information or to register, please contact: (204) 982-2046 or email

❚ The Winnipeg Humane Society is offering a planned giving seminar meant to assist people wanting to plan their wills.

The talk will include instruction on how to update wills, choose an executor, indicate health-care direc­tives, charitable-giving avenues and burial considera­tions.

The free seminar is set for May 13 at 7 p.m. at 45 Hurst Way. Pre-registration is required. For further information, call Christine Boult, 204-982-2029 or email: Light refreshments and WHS building tours will be available.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2010 D5

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