Pedadoggy goes to the movies – A Dog’s Purpose review

A dog's purpose movie picture

Everyone wants to know what I thought of the movie ‘A Dog’s Purpose’. And honestly, I’m not quite sure. I really enjoyed many of Lasse Hallstrom’s movies including The Hundred Foot Journey, Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – in which themes such as purpose and belonging were explored.

A Dog’s Purpose follows these themes, albeit lightly, through a dog (voiced by Josh Gad) who goes through various reincarnations and owners: as a Red Retriever named Bailey, a German shepherd police dog and as a Corgi (the reincarnation theme comes up quickly in the movie so it’s not a spoiler).

I’m going to break down my review based on two aspects – me as the dog trainer and me as a movie goer.

The movie goer in me would summarise it as the feel-good Lassie movie for the noughties. It’s not complicated, complex or taxing. Great for children. My friend who watched it with me loved it and is still talking about how much she enjoyed it. She works with some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in society as a chaplain and found the light relief and positive messages very refreshing. She says she sees enough heartbreak in her daily life to want to watch a movie about it. Me – well I both laughed and cried in spots, and if a movie can get those reactions from you, I always think you’ve got your money’s worth. But it was too sugary sweet for me to thoroughly get into and I often had to work hard at suspending my disbelief.

As a positive dog trainer, I’m not so sure. Why? There wasn’t too much anthropomorphism, as the narrator doesn’t extend far beyond the believed experiences of a dog – so that wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t just the use of terms (albeit once off except for “boss dog”) such as ‘Alpha’, ‘pack’, ‘dominant’ and ‘boss’. I feel that, while acknowledging that this wasn’t a documentary, there was a missed opportunity to change the way we view dogs. As objects of entertainment. Of ownership. Of responsibility as puppies grow into older dog and they lose their soft, squishy cuteness.

Recognising that the major part of the Bailey scenes were set in the 1960s, when we viewed the world in a very different way, I still felt myself cringing at the way the dog was handled by the actors in many scenes. Not in an overtly abusive way. I’m not even talking about the controversy around the scene during the filming when the German Shepherd dives in after the drowning girl. It was more around the rough handling of collars. Of kicking at the dog by the dad under the dinner table. Being ‘hounded’ by children who wouldn’t leave him alone. At how it was trained in the story – based on expectations of ‘getting it’ through attrition, osmosis or even telepathy, rather than through slow, methodical techniques that reward the right thing, doused with loads of patience.

Fundamentally, for me, it was about a missed opportunity to reset the baseline about how we view dogs in society. Not just as “amazing” when they save lives but also in the day-to-day respecting of their rights. To be respected and trained in a humane way that helps them learn and integrate into our lives and homes. And not to be left outside in the cold, chained in the snow to a tree in the yard, without any real repercussions for the humans.

So when the dog’s purpose is revealed at the very end of the movie (and for the sake of spoilers I won’t say what it is), expect to get a lesson on humanity. Not about how to better treat and respect dogs, but to, once again, take from them rather than shift the broad public’s perception about the rights of dogs and the responsibilities we have towards them.

All in all though, I will say this: Zac is having a pretty good life this time around!

Inside the dog is….

Take a deep breath and smell with your noses! Spend any amount of time with New York Times best-selling author Dr Alexandra Horowitz and you’ll quickly find that she’s motivated by one thing: finding out how dogs think.

She followed up her book ‘Inside Of A Dog’ with ‘Being A Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell’, including further studies into dog cognition. Somebody who dedicates her time to watching replays of dogs in slow motion was a great choice as the keynote speaker of the Delta Institute’s 2017 Dog Behaviour Conference in Sydney last weekend.

She said we think we know what dogs want, but do we really? She therefore studied the ways dogs play to know more about their minds.

“Dogs are rare, they play their whole lives,” she said. “It’s a highly complex dance incorporating rule following and turn taking.” She unpacked it – making a familiar behaviour to all dog lovers unfamiliar – through a frame-by-frame analysis of videos of dogs in dog parks.

The elements of play Alexandra categorized were:

  • Co-ordination
  • Turn-taking
  • Self-control if needed (she called it self handicapping but I chose more inclusive language)
  • Each partner takes the abilities and behavior of the other into account.

Her researched focused on play signals e.g. play bow, slap, chase me and attention getters (bump, nose, bite,  barking, paw etc). What was interesting was that dogs would match the type of attention getter used (visual, tactile, auditory) to the attentional state of the play partner i.e. match it to the inattention state so if a dog was looking away, the play partner would bark or if they were looking at each other, a play bow would ensue.

When she studied humans playing with their dogs through 239 self-submitted videos from 19 countries, Alexandra find that high touch play had the most positive impact on a person’s experience with more laughter and giggling observed. Yet low-touch play such as throwing the ball, what is the most common default for playing with dogs, created a more neutral response in the humans.

Alexandra also spent time unpacking the importance of smell as that is how they experience the world, more so than through visual input. Owners are keeping their dogs from sniffing each other’s butts – we see it as impolite. But it’s chemical communication where they get relevant information from each other. It’s necessary as it shares knowledge about their sex, health, mating status, identity. New studies show that females tend to sniff face first then the rump. Males go to the rump first.

Even the simple tail wag or shake off could be a way of spreading their scent, in addition to getting dry or being a greeting.

Experiencing the world through the nose was an out-take for the humans in the room. She encouraged attendees to take deep breaths to activate the super power of smell we have but rarely use. Intentional smelling through our nose brings a whole new richness to the world and gives us a better idea of how our canine companions are experiencing the world.

After all, a dog is a nose with a body attached to it… so let them smell the world!

Fretting pets – how to help fearful dogs

At the Modern Pet Dog seminar held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches recently, Louise Colombari, of Pitterwater Animal Hospital, spoke about the fear-free movement around dog wellbeing. She also calls it – “taking the pet out of petrified”.

Dogs feel fear the same way we do – of either a real or imagined impending danger – with faster breathing, racing heartbeat and sweating. Louise said they then do either of two things: Forget everything and run (flight) or face everything and rise (flight). She said there are a number of reasons for why dogs are fearful, including genetics or breed (passed down from the parents); lack of socialisation about life and access to new and experiences; while not common – abuse; traumatic experiences such as loud noises; learned or associative (learned from others) or pain and illness.

How to help them includes:

  • Adequate socialization – get them out doing things in the world and make the experiences positive.
  • Knowledge – about body language and know what the fear triggers for your dog are.
  • Do not punish fear. Comfort them when they are scared i.e. in storms.
  • Training – desensitize the fear but it takes time.
  • Learn to read their body language for signs of fear and unease.

Don’t fret at the vet

Speaking from lots of experience, Louise’s tips to make vet visits less scary include:

  • Plan – call ahead if you know your dog is going to have a problem, find out if the waiting room is busy or quiet
  • Play vet at home – practice handling, hopping on a table, restraining and give treats for calm!
  • Practice sit and stay – e.g. for scales.
  • Drop in and say hi and get treats, don’t just go in when the dog is sick.
  • Wait outside if they are really scared.
  • Stay calm – (the human!).
  • Bring a friend or toy if that helps them feel happy.
  • Use pheromones e.g. Adaptil collar. Spray on a scarf and put it around their neck.
  • Get the vet to recommend drugs to calm them before they visit.

If you want to find out about future events email or follow the Modern Pet Dog on Facebook.

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Managing pain and separation anxiety in dogs

At the Modern Pet Dog seminar held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches last week, two topics that dog owners had asked for were covered: pain management and separation anxiety.

Dr. Jennifer Stewart, a vet at Pittwater Animal Hospital, spoke about that dogs have a lot of the conditions that the humans have, including arthritis. She explained the process of either a degeneration over time or a traumatic trigger such as an injury causing the breakdown in the cartilage in joints, leading to inflammation and micro tears over time.

Dogs typically present as limping or stiff, showing that they are hurting and that managing pain will be necessary. Jennifer went through a wide range of treatment options available covering the pharmacological, nutraceutical, diet additives (such as omega 3 and 6 oils, or green lip mussel extract), specifically formulated therapeutic diets and physical treatments such as massage to improve circulation (something everyone can do for their dog at home), physiotherapy and acupuncture.

There’s also increasing evidence for old food having new impacts around managing pain, such as turmeric – a spice that can reduce inflammatory signals. Best to speak to your vet about what could work best for your dog’s situation.

Can’t take my eyes off of you…

Dogs that have panic attacks because they’re scared of being left alone, was covered by Maxine Fernandez of Canine Kindergarten. Signs range from:

  • Mild – pacing, whining, mild excessive greeting, some shadowing owner, to
  • Moderate – elimination (urinary or bowel), sweating paws, panting, moderate excessive grooming, constant barking or howling, to
  • Severe – self mutilation, escapism, excessive water consumption, shedding, severe destruction, diarrhea or vomiting.

Maxine said that when a dog experiences anxiety, the body products a huge surge of cortisol and other stress chemicals. If absences happen regularly, then that anxiety is almost constant. Chemicals remain in their body, preventing the dog from ever really relaxing. Therefore we need to teach dogs to relax when they can’t see us.

Treatment options include:

  • Management. Avoid absences that put them over threshold. Use a friend, pet-sitter, day care or dog walker. Put a video camera up to see when they start getting really distressed then build up departures over time so that they can eventually have longer periods of calm.
  • Medication is available for severe cases. Can help reduce anxiety before they respond to training. There’s also options such as the Adaptil collar or spray that can help calm dogs. Best to seek advice from veterinary behaviourist.
  • Training and behaviour modification desensitises the dog to absences, but takes time and patience. Teach gradual departures (starting with just a few seconds at a time) while a dog is placed in a confined area such as a pen or behind a baby gate while being given something else to do such as eating a chew or playing with a toy. Teaching dogs to relax on their mats and ‘stay’ behaviours is also useful here. Slowly build up to longer absences. Also implement a no-follow routine where you go to the bathroom, walk around the hosue etc. alone without the dog following you by teaching them to relax when not in the same room as you. Build duration in small increments.
  • Toys / games are also an option such as a remote control feeder. Setting it on delivery every few seconds can keep the treats coming for up to 4 hours.
  • Other supplementation options include anxiety wraps, massage to promote physical and mental calmness and ‘Through a dogs ear music CD’ which is rhythmically arranged to have calming results.

If you want to find out about future events email or follow the Modern Pet Dog on Facebook.

The information contained on this web site is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation or that of your pet dog. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from a veterinarian.

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Let your dog choose their chews

Giving dogs the right to make choices is some of the latest thinking in dog training that owners are encouraged to practice.

Speaking at the Modern Pet Dog free community event held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches last night, Barbara Hodel from Goodog Positive Dog Training believes that choice is a fundamental condition for wellbeing.

“As humans we have the ability to control the outcomes of our actions,” she said. “Choice is empowering for humans and for our dogs too.”

But why does choice matter? Dogs are increasingly presenting with behavioural problems. This includes anxiety, depression and high levels of stress. As their human owners we get to choose where they sleep, who they play with, what they eat and when and what their daily routines are. They are limited in where they can go with us and when they do go out they have to constantly be on lead. Imagine how this lack of ability to control outcomes in our lives would affect our own mental health!

When we train them we reward them for compliance but even then it’s a construct that is devoid of choice – i.e. if they sit they get a treat, if they don’t want to sit then they get nothing. But what would happen if we give them a great range of choices?

Science is showing that dogs have a far greater range of cognitive abilities than we originally thought and new research is constantly changing this. As a dog trainer, Barbara is curious about what this means for the wellbeing of our dogs.

Barbara has taught her dog Shellbe to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when asked a question. She first taught Shellbe that a nose touch on her right hand means ‘yes’ and one on her left hand means ‘no’. She will say ‘yes’ when asked if she wants a treat and says ‘no’ when she doesn’t want her harness put on, when Barbara presents both her hands for an answer.

This technique takes time and patience to teach so here are some easy ideas that dog owners to use to give their dogs simple choices:

  • Provide them more mats or beds around the house so they can choose where they rest.
  • Let them choose the route when out for a walk.
  • Let them choose their dinner – the chicken or the lamb?
  • Let them stand at the coffee shop, as long as they are relaxed they don’t need to be forced to sit or lie down.
  • Provide two toys and ask the dog which one it wants to play with.
  • Learn to read their body language rather than just expect them to learn ours. A lip lick, yawn or looking away signals discomfort. They communicate to use all the time, we need to make note of what they are saying and allow them to make more decisions.

If you want to find out about future events email or follow the Modern Pet Dog on Facebook.

Check our Barbara and Shellbe’s story in the Manly Daily on 24 March 2017 (pictures and story below belong to the Manly Daily).

Barbara Hodel and Shellbe on cover of the Manly Daily 24 March 2017

Manly Daily story with Barbara Hodel and Shellbe showing ‘yes’ and ‘no’ (24 March 2017)

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Do your kids speak doggie?

While the rest of the world smiles at, shares and ‘likes’ the plethora of videos and photos of dogs with kids on the Internet, positive dog trainers like myself cringe. In many cases, the child appears to be having the best fun while, if you know what signs to look for, the dogs are clearly uncomfortable at best and at the opposite end of the scale, about to bite as their warning signs have gone unheeded and they have run out of options which with to communicate or protect themselves.

In this second installment from the Modern Pet Dog seminar held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches last month, Louise Colombari from Pittwater Animal Hospital addresses dog and child relationships. Her philosophy is based on five pillars:

  1. Teach the dog – reinforce the behavior you want through positive training methods and puppy school is not the end of their training, it’s a life-long requirement for any dog to keep exercising their body and their brain.
  2. Teach the family – take proactive action to manage interactions between your dog. This involves setting rules such as ‘the dog is not a jungle gym’ that includes principles of no riding, tugging, teasing, grabbing, jumping on, poking, annoying, pestering, provoking or bothering during sleep or meal time. There’s a lot of educational resources available – see below for lots of awesome links for adults and kids to talk about together.
  3. Management – use tools such as baby gates, tethers or crate training the dog to separate and manage the smaller and furrier members of the family. Keep the dog amused with alternatives such as stuffed Kongs or interactive toys. Teach the kids to reward the dog for calm or training really cool tricks instead of rough play.
  4. Deal with problems – learn dog body language as they may be communicating discomfort clearly and ignoring it is not an option as a responsible dog owner. Deal with problems straight away – such as separating them and giving the dog a ‘safe’ area where they can relax without anyone near them. If in doubt, seek a qualified and positive dog trainer really quickly.
  5. Seek help and resources. There’s a lot of free information available online, covered in the next section.

Learn to speak Doggie

Here are some great resources – free by the way – that Louise highlighted as essential reading for any dog or human parent as they advocate a both positive and proactive approach:

  • The Family Dog – has the fabulous video ‘Pat, Pet, Pause’ which features a ‘doggy genie’ that appears to gives kids tips on how to approach a dog and see if they want to interact as well as Dog Stars with its catchy tune that young people will relate to. I speak Doggie is produced to the tune of London Bridge and its message will remain in your head long after you close YouTube.
  • Doggie Drawings – Lili Chin’s posters and doggie drawings are a must-download item (great Christmas stocking filler idea!) as they show dog body language in an easy-to-understand cartoon.
  • The Vet Behaviour Team in Sydney – offer great fact sheets ranging from early to severe stress signs in dogs, including how to read their facial expressions.
  • Mighty Dog Graphics – has free posters and infographics including the ‘Young Person’s Guide to Staying Safe Around Dogs’.
  • Doggone Safe – fabulous links including the ‘Speak Dog’ video, interactive games for kids to play and bite prevention tips. This includes the Doggone Crazy Board Game which ships via Amazon (another Christmas present idea, nudge nudge, wink wink!). It teaches adults and kids how to be safe around dogs – players race around the board earning bones by demonstrating safe behaviours such as ‘be a tree’ and interpreting photos of dogs.
  • 4pawsuniversity – a range of articles including ‘Training Tip Tuesday’ articles
  • Good Dog in a Box – specific resources to help families who have dogs (some you have to purchase)
  • Positively – has a large knowledge repository including a focus on dog bite prevention and children.
  • Family Paws Parent Education – their Dogs & Storks and Dogs & Toddlers programs help parents prepare for the addition of a new baby to the house where there is already a dog living in the house.
  • Animal Behavior Associates – offer a range of articles ranging from behaviour analysis to wellness with Helping Fido Welcome Your Baby designed for expecting or new parents.

Look out for the next installment of the ‘Building Relationships’ theme of the night coming soon. If you want to find out about future events email or follow the Modern Pet Dog on Facebook.

Here’s the link to the first article – ‘how to train your tiger, or dog’ in case you missed it

How to train your tiger… or dog.

Louise Ginman, the Unit Supervisor of Carnivores at Taronga Zoo bases her relationship with the animals she looks after on the principles of choice, trust and mutual respect. And if this works for lions, tigers and snow leopards then you can be sure that this is a good choice for our dogs too.

The theme of the Modern Pet Dog seminar held at Canine Kindergarden in Narrabeen, Sydney, last night was all about relationship building, presented by a range of experts. This first installment of the topics covered will focus on how positive reinforcement is being used to manage the health and wellbeing of the carnivores at Taronga Zoo and implications for those of us who own meat-eaters of the canine variety.

Louise is seeing the difference that positive reinforcement is making to the health and wellbeing of the animals she manages at the Zoo. She said that the approach has changed in the last 16 plus years. For example, animals used to have pressure applied to get them to move between different parts of their enclosures.


Louise Ginman focuses on building relationships with all her animals.

The focus, these days, is on building relationships. Using food as positive reward is a key part of it, but it’s not just about treats. It’s also about trust, seeking connection with the animal and investing in time to built the relationship.

That’s important when you’re sticking a needle into a full-grown male lion. Who, by the way, is voluntarily presenting his hip for his inoculation. Or when cleaning the sharp teeth of a large Sunbear that is sitting patiently while a buzzing electric tooth-brush is run around its mouth. With the prevalence of paralysis ticks in the area, the Red Pandas need tick treatment applied around their necks every two weeks. Previously animals had to be darted and sedated for these types of healthcare activities.

But what Louise has achieved through her training philosophy is nothing short of remarkable. From the minute an animal enters the Zoo, either as a new-born or a transfer from elsewhere, relationship building activities start. These are equally important as all the other parts of looking after them such as cage cleaning, feeding and providing environmental enrichment.

It may involve sitting quietly with new-born tiger cubs while their parents are in another area having breakfast. Quietly talking to them and patting them gently so they get used to humans and their touch. Or feeding baby Fennec Fox kits food off a teaspoon so that these highly strung animals make the early association that humans mean good things by choosing to come closer to get a treat. They don’t need to hang out all the time or want to spend vast amounts of time with the humans, but objective is that they can be calm and accepting in the presence of their keepers. It keeps the animals’ stress levels down and makes managing them much easier.

Louise demonstrated her approach through a number of videos. In one, she is crouching down in the front of a Fishing Cat’s cage. She is turned sideways to it, sits very quietly and doesn’t look at it directly so she doesn’t appear threatening. The cat is given choice to interact as it can either come closer or move away, and when it stops hissing and growling at her, she marks the calm behaviour with a clicker and gives it a treat.

So what about our dogs? Louise is also a dog trainer and runs a company called Positive Dogs. She applies her relationship philosophy to her canine clients too:

  • If positive reinforcement works for wild animals, then it will work for our dogs. It’s about giving them choice and freedom to interact and building mutual trust that humans mean good things.
  • You can mark the behaviour you want very clearly when you’re reward it as the most effective way to communicate what your dog should be doing.
  • Food is a great tool to desensitize fear through classical conditioning – either by reinforcing the behaviours you want or making positive associations with things that may frighten them. For example, if they are scared of going to the vet, take lots of treats and their favourite toys with you when they go.
  • It took the lion 5 years to learn to shift his hip towards Louise while lying on his belly so that he could present it for the inoculation. Learning takes time so be patient and don’t get frustrated or give up.
  • Use available tools to help your dog. At Taronga Zoo they play ‘Through A Dog’s Ear’ in the enclosures, which is music scientifically chosen to create calm. They also use the Adaptil or Feliway synthetic pheromones to relax and reassure their carnivore charges. Flower essences have also proven effective.

It was great to see how positive learning methods are benefitting the amazing animals of Taronga Zoo.

Look out for the next installment of the ‘Building Relationships’ theme of the night coming soon. If you want to find out about future events email or follow the Modern Pet Dog on Facebook.

The lead is not a steering wheel

Most dogs think their humans are jerks. Literally so, and I agree. Travelling on holiday for the last few weeks has given me an opportunity to observe many dogs and owners together. In many instances I see beautiful loose lead walking, dogs sitting calmly at their owner’s feet in cafes, others tied up outside a store patiently and quietly waiting for their person to come back, dogs being patted and loved greatly.

But there’s one thing bugging me and it has been for a while. It’s this idea that as humans we get to command dogs and that they have to do our bidding without any choice or option to exercise their own mind.

Sometimes this becomes physical. How I’ve seen it manifest many times is the source of the greatest exasperation for me – lead jerking.

The dog wants to sniff a lamp post while the owner is walking, it’s jerked back. The dog wants to stop and look at an oncoming dog in a bit more detail, it’s jerked along. The dog wants to explore the surroundings to the extent of the lead while the owner is standing still, it’s jerked back.

In one instance a man who was walking two dogs suddenly changed the direction he’d been taking but didn’t say anything to them like a “this way”, so they kept going and he gave their leads an almighty jerk. In that second I noticed both dogs look up at him in total surprise – they weren’t expecting the hard pull and it was a total “what the” look on their faces. Imagine how that would feel if suddenly you were almost pulled off your feet for apparently no good reason and no communication…

The lead is not a steering wheel. Not that steering wheels should be jerked either. It’s a tether between people and their dogs. You don’t use it to turn the neck or move their body.

The alternatives are to let them sniff a little when out walking– after all their noses are their most complex input organ with which they learn about their world. Teach a ‘touch’ to turn the head or neck away from something you don’t want them to focus on. A ‘let’s go’ or ‘this way’ helps them know when you’re on the move or changing direction.

Apart from degrading the relationship between dog and owner – they become mistrustful of walking alongside you, as they don’t know when they are going to get jerked – it’s also physically dangerous. I don’t know many dog owners who want to pay for vet bills yet jerking can cause whiplash and more extensive spinal cord injuries, while damaging the soft tissue of the throat and esophagus.

If we teach our dogs that ‘sit’ is a nice way to say please, then ‘this way’ with a gentle and soft tug of the lead in the direction we’re going should be a nice way we ask our dogs to turn with us.

Make your next holiday a doggyday

With Easter here and the first semester school break coming up soon, many people are planning their next getaway. Luckily attitudes towards taking dogs on holiday in Australia are slowly changing. In this second installment from the Modern Pet Dog seminar held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, two experts talk about holidaying with dogs and getting them looking good for the trip with stress-free grooming. The first installment covered reducing stress during vet visits.

Ask lots of questions

Planning is the key to having a great holiday with your furry best friend, says Barbara Hodel of Goodog Positive Dog Training. Firstly plan where you want to go, considering that the country-side or dog-friendly beaches will provide lots of opportunity for exploring, walks or running around.

“Also check what ‘pet friendly’ really means,” Barbara says. “Is the place fenced? Are dogs allowed inside or on the furniture? Know what the rules are. Does it cost more to bring the dog? If the person who is renting the place doesn’t know if there are any dog-friendly places nearby then it probably isn’t as pet friendly as is being advertised”.

Travelling to the destination also involves forward planning, considering:

  • Dogs need to be restrained with a harness and clipped in – in NSW there are files over $400 and more if they are hurt in an accident and not restrained. Secure them into a seat belt holder in a harness or in a crate.
  • Never leave them in a hot car.
  • Take plenty of breaks to stretch legs and have comfort stops.

Other things to remember are ensuring their vaccinations are up to date, their ID tag is on (with a number you’ll be reachable on), they’re micro-chipped and you have the numbers of local vets in the area you’re visiting. Make sure they’re dewormed and have had their flea treatment to neither pick up nor leave any critters behind. Also check that your pet insurance will provide cover if you’re on holiday.

“Be a responsible dog owner and clean up after your dog, don’t let them chase wildlife and don’t let them off lead unless they’re allowed,” Barbara says. “We need as many people doing the right thing as possible so that travel suppliers make dogs more welcome. While away, keep a routine for your dog as much as possible, take their own sleeping mat or blanket and their favourite toy to make it feel like home”.

Goodog’s holiday packing list for dogs:

  • Bed or crate
  • Toys
  • Food and treats
  • Poo bags
  • Leashes
  • Collar with ID (with your contact details where you can be reached on holiday)
  • Grooming equipment
  • Medication
  • Tick and flea treatment and tick removal device
  • First aid kit
  • Familiar fluffy toys to help them feel at home
  • Contact details of the local vet

If you can’t take your dog on holiday with you, then there are other options such as organising a pet sitter or having friends or family come to stay. If you do leave them with a kennel, read Pedadoggy’s guide to ensure the kennel is not a jail for them.

Build a trust bank account

To get your dog looking good and feeling comfortable for its doggyday, Maxine Fernandez of Canine Kindergarten says that prevention is the key to reduce stress when going to the groomers.

“Grooming involves the big noises of the hair dryers, and the tables and tools such as nail clippers look scary,” Maxine says. “Starting desensitation early and slowly is important – and giving lots and lots of treats will help your dog associate it with the positive experience of food. Get them used to touching, the noises such as your own hair dryer and build a trust bank account”.

Tips for reducing the stress of grooming:

  • Teach target training or ‘touch’ early such as a nose or paw touch so they get used to having their feet and faces handled. It’s also helpful to teach them to maintain a position and condition the touching. Start with one body part and don’t rush as it’s really important to build their confidence by going slow.
  • Invest in CDs or apps that play noises –e.g. blow dryer noise playing softly while the dog eats. Slowly increase the volume. Makes the noise a positive experience.
  • For bathing, throw the treats into the bath but don’t bath them – simply do a few ‘in’ and ‘out’ exercises so learn that the bath is a great place to be where they get food.
  • Be prepared to regularly groom long coated dogs, else if they are brought in when the coats are very matted makes it a more traumatic experience for the dog.
  • To teach nail clipping tolerance, desensitise and counter-condition your dog – having their paws touched but start where they are comfortable – start with no touching and build it slowly.

The next Modern Pet Dog Seminar is all about having fun with your dog on 21 July. Email to register or find out more.

Fixing their bones but breaking their brains

Storms, vacuum cleaners, skateboards, having their nails clipped, being groomed or going to the vet – modern pet dogs face a myriad of stressors in their lives that they all respond differently to. A range of experts shared their knowledge at the booked out Modern Pet Dog seminar held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches this week.

This first installment of the topics covered will focus on how to recognise and then reduce stress in dogs, particularly during visits to the vet.

Stress escalates with obvious signs

Louise Colombari of Pittwater Animal Hospital says dogs experience similar physical signs as we do when we’re afraid – increased heart rate, sweating (through their paws), raised blood-pressure and shutting down of non-essential systems such as digestion.

There are plenty of signals that dogs show when they are uncomfortable, uncertain or getting increasingly stressed – in the categories of freeze, fiddle, fight or flight – including:

  • The whale eye (eyes rolling to the side and the white showing) or a tucked in tail over a rounded body shape
  • Lifting an paw
  • Blinking a lot or squinting
  • Lip licking when not eating, yawning when not tired, scratching when not itchy or shaking off when not wet
  • Actively trying to move away from the stressor
  • Having tense muscles and a tense mouth
  • Increased panting
  • Excessive vocalization such as crying or whining
  • Increased pacing or sniffing the ground
  • Excessive licking, digging or chewing
  • Not eating, vomiting or having diarrhea
  • Growling and lunging.

These signs usually occur long before the worst-case scenario of a dog bite and it’s important that dog owners learn to recognise these and also teach others. This is a useful graphic showing the stress escalation ladder in dogs – from low levels of stress to complete communication shut down and the dog taking action such as biting:


This is a great cartoon showing a typical stress response of a dog in a park – which is unfortunately a familiar sight.

Dogs take trauma snapshots

Dr Heather Chee & Dr Amanda Cole, the dog psychiatrists from the Vet Behaviour Team see a lot of dogs in the stages of freeze, fiddle, fight or flight in their daily work. They focused their talk on reducing stress during vet visits. They say it’s accepted as normal that dogs are scared or even petrified to go to the vet but they believe it doesn’t need to be this way. “We’re fixing their bones but breaking their brains,” Amanda says.

Reducing stress during vet visits matters for three good reasons:

  • Welfare – negative impacts on the dog based on the cumulative effect from repeated bad experiences. They take a ‘trauma snapshot’ of everything in the room and will develop ‘new’ fears of e.g. stainless steel tables or the smell of cats. Some dogs that Heather and Amanda treat have suddenly become fearful of men after a visit to a male vet. They call it “white coat syndrome”.
  • Safety – dogs on an adrenalin rush can be pretty powerful. They can be aggressive to other dogs, vet staff or their owners. Sometimes even hurting themselves in their angst of ‘flight’ with reports of dogs jumping out of windows in fear.
  • Misdiagnosis – if you can’t examine an animal you can’t diagnose it. We want a vet to be able to touch it. Also, symptoms of fear can mask or mimic real symptoms e.g. panting can look like a respiratory disease or dilated pupils may indicate toxins. I know when I take my dog into the vet for a limp he’s suddenly bouncing around with adrenalin with no sign of pain anywhere.

Making happy photo memories instead

The Vet Behaviour Team gave some useful tips to help hardwire dogs that the vet is a good place to visit, regardless of them having to tolerate pain or being exposed to new sights, smells or surfaces. These include:

  • Feed them high quality treats (kibble isn’t going to cut it) while at the vet – chicken, cabanossi, cheese, bacon – whatever they love. They will then associate the vet hospital as the place where they get the best treats regardless of what’s happening to them there. Feed them in the waiting room, in the examination room or when the procedure is taking place, if they are able to eat.
  • Take them to the vet for “dummy visits” where they go in, say hello to the receptionists or vet nurses and get treats but don’t stay long or have anything done to them, so they build up a photo album of nice memories versus trauma snapshots at the vet.
  • If your dog is uncomfortable on the cold and slippery examination table, as the vet to assess them on the ground or your lap – wherever they are most relaxed.
  • Habituation to handling as a puppy – lots of massage, touching paws, ears etc. while feeding them treats. Works for older dogs too but take it slow.
  • Redirect their behaviour to something that is more rewarding. I get my dog Zac to do his tricks in the waiting room and give him lots of treats for those, rather than let him focus on what’s going on in there. Watch him ‘go up-pie’ onto the scale and sit for weighing like it’s a game where he gets treats. Nothing bad happening here!
  • Crate training – create a safe haven that travels with them.
  • Car rides – don’t make going to the vet the only time they go somewhere where they experience pain and stress. Take them to fun places.
  • Adaptil collars release a dog-appeasing pheromone that works well to reduce stress.
  • Thundershirt – a compressive jacket providing consistent pressure. However, can cause some dogs to freeze rather than pace or shake – make sure it’s not just changed how they show the stress.
  • Call ahead to your vet to see if the visit is necessary. Some vets do home visits.
  • Leave the animal in the car until your turn is called – no need to have them in the waiting room if it stresses them.
  • Let them take their favourite toy with them if it comforts them.
  • Use medication under guidance of your vet if necessary and give them a relaxant a few hours before you go the vet to take the edge off the experience for them (just like humans who are scared of flying do before getting on a plane).

The next Modern Pet Dog Seminar is all about having fun with your dog on 21 July. Email to register or find out more.