With roots tracing back to the 1800s, dog showing has a long reputation for being a regal, upper-class sport.
Often represented by the top purebred canines in famous events such as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, it is easy to assume that this world is out of reach for the average pooch.
However, according to local dog breeder and force-free trainer Maree Okabe, that could not be further from the truth.
“Your dog doesn’t have to be a purebred show dog to compete and have fun with him in the ring, and it really enriches a dog’s life,” she said.
Okabe grew up surrounded by dogs her entire life, with her dad breeding Dalmatians in Australia. Following in her dad’s footsteps, Okabe now breeds Dalmatians and runs a training school called AusCan Ranch Go Walkies and Training Centre in Gwynne, roughly 10 minutes East of Wetaskiwin. There, she works with all types of people and pups to flip the script on what it means to have your dog in sports.
She says that while showing dogs is usually to demonstrate the quality of the dogs that are bred, there are sports suitable for all sorts of dogs, purebred or not.
“Every dog is different, and I think you just have to find a sport that you enjoy and that suits your dog’s personality.”
“It just gives people immense joy and satisfaction when they can compete with their dog in something like scent detection work or obedience work and win all these competitions and placements. A lot of people perceive that as being only available to people that have purebred dogs or people that have shown dogs, but really anyone can compete in those,” she said.
Okabe offers rental for her private off-leash park for people who cannot take their dogs to the public off-leash park for various reasons. She also provides training classes to dog owners of all ages, with her oldest pupils being seniors and her youngest children.
“My youngest kid that comes to me to training with his mom, he’s five, and he trains a Bullmastiff. And then I have a retired couple who are in their 80s, and they come just to enrich their dog’s life and give him something to do.”
“A lot of my job is training the human. It’s not so much training the dog, so it comes down to education.”