You can find out what your dog is thinking…

Northern Beaches dog lovers were given high quality, free information about positive, reward-based dog training last night.

Learning to read dog body language, tips for communicating with our furry companions and doing cool tricks together were covered by qualified dog trainers who only use positive outcomes when working with their and other people’s dogs.

For those who weren’t able to make it on the night, here are some of the key insights from the line-up of fantastic speakers.

Dr Jill King – Pittwater Animal Hospital

As an animal behaviourist, Jill covered anxiety in dogs as many animals needing her help visit her office every day. While a normal response, anxiety is an anticipation or worry about a potential future danger. Some dogs, however, develop anxiety about things that aren’t dangerous such as hair dryers or the sound of thunder.

Jill spoke about the stages or zones of anxiety:

  • Happy, relaxed dogs = in the blue zone.
  • Interacting with us, slightly excited = in the green zone.
  • Getting worried but starting to get worried = the yellow zone (pre-panic).
  • Absolute panic zone= in the red. There’s not much can do at this point as they are totally stressed out.

Jill’s advice was that if your dog is in the green zone, moving to yellow, but before they get to the red zone is to get your dog out of the situation and avoid it in the first place when you can. Calm them down and get eye contact. Tell them it’s all okay and be kind to them.

 Louise Colombari – Pittwater Animal Hospital

“I have emotions you can relate to as a human but I need you to understand me as a dog”… Understanding canine body language was covered by Louise who is a vet nurse and dog trainer.

Human communication Dog communication
Approach each other directly/ face to face / front on

Engage direct eye contact

Shake hands or hug


Approach in an arch

Have indirect eye contact

Body language indicates their personality – swift and direct = confident, slow and less direct = less confident

Find face to face contact confrontational. Especially when they’re on a lead and feel they can’t escape.


Learn to read your dog’s emotional state by observing the big picture. Loose, wiggly dogs are generally comfortable while those who are stiff in their eyes and body stance and have a shut mouth are anxious, uncomfortable or alert to potential danger.

Dogs use displacement behaviours and calming signals to calm themselves or others. These are either normal behaviours taking place out of context e.g. they yawn when they are not tired or to diffuse a potentially stressful situation with other dogs or people.

There’s a range of these behaviours where if you observe them you’ll be able to recognise if your dog is uncomfortable in the situation – even when you think everything’s okay. The list includes yawning, scratching, lip licking, sneezing, stretching, turning away, lifting a paw, showing the whites of their eyes, blinking repeatedly or slowly dropping their head.

Some easily recognisable signs of stress in dog include suddenly shedding a lot (like a dandruff storm), sweating through their feet which leaves wet paw prints, refusing to eat, shaking as if they are wet, pacing, panting and barking or whining.

There are great body language apps and resources on the Internet, including:

Maxine Fernandez – Canine Kindergarten

Tricks are a great way to build trust and confidence in each other through positive reinforcement. They create calm and can help you learn to communicate with each other, while your dog has to get basic behaviours down pat as they’re often the foundation for more complex actions e.g. lying down precedes rolling over.

Maxine likes training multiple tricks at the same time so there’s variety and unpredictability, while you can move onto another trick if they’re struggling with a particular one. To do complex tricks you break them down to their most simple stages and build them together as the dog grasps each stage.

Tips for getting started with tricks:

  • You can teach by luring (getting them into position), capturing (reward as they do the right thing) or shaping (stitching behaviours together)
  • Mark the behaviour with a clicker or a “yes” to mark the moment the dog does the right thing and reward them with food to reinforce it
  • Use prompts or chains to shape a more complex behaviour
  • Be safe – watch your dog for signs of stress, frustration and discomfort. Don’t pressure them and don’t train if they are over-excited.

Barbara Hodel – Goodog Positive Dog Training

Dog sports are fun, save you going to the gym as it keeps you fit, you have a better trained dog and improves the relationship between you and your dog. And above all it’s about Barbara’s catch phrase: tired dogs mean happy owners!

Barbara from Goodog shows that trick training is fun and good for your dog.

Barbara from Goodog shows that trick training is fun and good for your dog.

There is a large choice – 50 different options available, including some breed-specific ones. Dog sports Barbara recommends and that are available in our local area are:

  • Treibball where instead of sheep they use large balls where dogs need to ‘herd’ them into a goal.
  • In Earth Dog for terrier-type dogs they have built purpose-built dens to ‘hunt’ rats (which are protected behind a fence for their safety).
  • Nose Work is inspired by working detective dogs and they learn to find a specific odour and its source. Great for older dogs who aren’t as agile anymore or those with other disabilities.
  • Flyball is a race between two teams of four dogs. Each dog jumps over four hurdles, retrieves a ball and returns.
  • Rally O (stands for rally obedience) is a combination between traditional obedience and agility but is more relaxed and suitable for most dog owners. Handler and dog navigate a signposted course, performing a series of exercises such as turns while a judge checks their performance.
  • Agility – dog and handler navigate a course with jumps and equipment, while competing against time with no faults.
  • Dancing with dogs. The routine choreographed to music is also called freestyle obedience or heelwork to music.

Choose what’s right for you according to your age and fitness level, time and interest, as well as your dog’s age, fitness, sociability and breed. Some ways to get involved in sports on the Northern Beaches include:

  • Goodog fun classes
  • North Suburbs Dog training Club
  • Manly and District Kennan and dog training clb
  • Canine fun sports
    Dogs NSW has info about herding, Earth Dog etc

It was a great night and the community really benefitted from having access to such high calibre dog trainers who don’t use punishment to get the best from their dogs.

Around three education sessions are planned for next year. If you are interesting in finding out more or attending future events, please get in touch with Barbara at or


Shhhh don’t share this… 3 secrets you should know about dog training.

The different reactions I get when I tell people I’m a dog trainer are always interesting. It’s quite a leap for some, as I also have a full-time, corporate job that pays the bills. Others get very excited and want to know all about it. Some immediately give me the raised eye-brow, ‘aha’ look and say – “oh, so you’re like a dog whisperer”. Nothing raises my hackles faster.

While you will reap the benefit from investing in training your dog, there are a lot of outfits out there using outdated and frequently harmful techniques. So I’m going to let you in on some secrets of the trade to ensure you get the best value for the training you spend your hard-eared income on.

Dog Training Secret Number 1: Dominance died with the Dodo

The wolf theory of how dog behaviour evolved has been proven wrong, by the very person who came up with it in the first place. So the whole ‘being the dominant alpha’ method of viewing your relationship with your dog is outdated. We need to move on from obsolete practices, just as we no longer employ children to do work or allow factories to jump their effluent into our river systems.

Dog Training Secret Number 2: Punishment will always have consequences, no matter how ‘soft’ it is.

There are no secrets. Or whispering. Or any type of voodoo for that matter. Good dog training is based on established and proven learning theories. Such as: a behaviour that is rewarded is more likely to be repeated; while a behaviour that is ignored is likely not to be repeated because there’s nothing in it for the dog. Choosing techniques that punish rather than reward, for example physically hurting or restraining a dog, often have unintended and sometimes worse consequences.

Dog Training Secret Number 3: Exercise their brains and bodies

Essentially there are only three things you need to do to have a happy, well-adjusted dog. One that integrates into your life with the good manners required from a modern companion animal living in today’s society. Exercise, enrichment and training.

Make sure they get an opportunity daily to release some energy through exercise; provide entertainment and stimulation for them, especially when they are being left alone for long periods and, lastly, training new tricks exerts energy and reinforces the bond where they trust that following your guidance means good things are going to happen.

And the biggest secret of all? None of this is or should be a secret. So use this knowledge to your advantage.

Coming soon we’ll explore the questions you should ask of your dog trainer before you hand over your money and dog’s mental and psychological wellbeing to them.

Good advice did come for free

Click. Click. Click click. This was the background soundtrack when Pedadoggy had the pleasure of attending ‘The Modern Pet Dog’ seminar in Narrabeen last night. The furry clients of Canine Kindergarten had been dispatched off to their homes and a seminar set up replaced the usual array of dog toys and beds.

The range of topics, focusing on positive approaches and outcomes, covered the typical questions people have about how to get the best out of their companion dogs.

Here’s are the highlights of what was covered.

Amy Smith – Sound Proof Puppy Training

Amy has launched a new app that helps puppies build a tolerance to all the types of noises they’ll come across in their lives and to be calm and confident around these. There’s a large range of sounds on the app that you can play on your device of choice. The tool can also help for older dogs with existing fears.

Amy’s top tips:

  • Start playing the sounds at a low volume while the dog is doing something it enjoys, such as playing or eating.
  • Build up their ability to tolerate the sound slowly and over a few sessions (remembering how sensitive their hearing is) by gradually increasing the volume over time. You’re looking for a dog that is calm when the sound is played, in the video of puppies being played the sound of a thunderstorm, they acted like they didn’t even notice it was there.

Barbara Hodel – Goodog Positive Dog Training

Barbara’s view on socialisation is that “just because we can doesn’t mean we should”. We expect dogs to just slot into our lives without either giving them the tools they need to cope or considering whether they actually want to go to places, which can be quite stressful, such as dog parks.

barbara presentationBarbara’s top tips:

  • Whether you have a puppy or an older dog, make every new experience a good experience (though if you do have a puppy you should be ensuring it meets at least 100 people by the time it turns 12 weeks old and taking it out with you wherever possible). Reward for calm and do this ongoing, no matter how old your dog is.
  • Tricks are a great way to show dogs that experiencing new things have good outcomes for them.
  • Any type of punishment is quickly generalised to whatever was happening at the time and those impacts take a long time to get rid of. Therefore always choose to reward for good behaviour or ignore or interrupt what you don’t want and ask for something you do, then reward that instead.

Louise Colombari – Pittwater Animal Hospital

With her experience as a vet nurse and dog trainer, Louise was well placed to talk to us about children and dogs. She named all the good reasons why it’s great to grow up with pets, for example kids being more physically active when they have a dog. However, she gave the sobering statistic that 10,440 people a year present to emergency rooms in Australian hospitals from dog bite injuries, of which children 0-9 years are most at risk, with the highest rate of dog-related injury those aged 0-4 years. We need to educate adults, kids and dogs.

Louise’s top tips on what we need to teach kids:

  • When dogs are eating or sleeping, do not interrupt / approach or play near the dog
  • Dogs don’t like getting hugs and kisses. If you must kiss a dog, kiss your hand then rub it down the dog from collar to tail.
  • Same goes for pats on the head. Don’t approach front on and pat from collar to tail.
  • Never approach a dog that does not have an owner. Always ask an owner if you may pat their dog.
  • If kids are standing up and feeling threatened by a dog, teach them to be a tree by standing still, folding their hands under their arms and looking to the sky. If on the ground, be a rock by tucking in their hands and face and rolling into a tight ball. The dog will think they are boring (versus when running and screaming) and leave them alone.

Louise showed us some great videos for kids (how to kiss a dog / I speak doggie) that helps them learn how to be appropriate and safe with dogs. Check it out at:

Maxine Fernandez – Canine Kindergarten

The free clickers we were given created the soundtrack to Maxine’s talk on how to use clickers effectively in training.

Maxine’s top tips for clicker success:

  • Before you start, make sure you “charge” the clicker first – click, treat, click, treat 10 times, so the dog associates something positive with the sound of the clicker.
  • It’s good for both teaching new behaviours and sharpening up old ones.
  • The clicker exists as an event marker – tells them immediately that what they did in that precise moment was right and that the reward is coming (whether that be food or a toy).

It was great to see such high calibre trainers who have a passion for the positive approach share their knowledge for free with the community. This was the first in an ongoing series of events that are planned. If you are interesting in finding out more or attending future events, please get in touch with Barbara at

Beware the play time parasites

Symbiotic play is about give and take. It’s about revving up and revving down. And too many dog owners don’t know how to look for the signs that their dog is distressed and needs them to step in-between to ratchet down the level of play or give their dog a break.

Symbiotic play is about give and take. It’s about revving up and revving down. And too many dog owners don’t know how to look for the signs that their dog is distressed and needs them to step in-between to ratchet down the level of play or give their dog a break.

Bulling, especially at schools, has received a lot of attention in recent times as we try to eliminate poor behavior and protect children from getting hurt.

But do we know how to recognise the signs when our dog is getting bullied? Often we don’t because dog play may appear to be fair and equitable, when it isn’t. Dogs naturally run around when playing with each other and just because there isn’t fur flying or we can’t hear growling does it mean that everyone is having a good time.

Consider this scenario. It’s a sunny afternoon and a couple of owners have brought their dogs down to the off-leash park. A young Kelpie and Labrador retriever are playing together, or so it seems at first glance. The Kelpie doing what it does best, tries to round up the Lab as if it were still a working dog on a sheep farm. At first the Lab give a great play bow – the universal invitation to play in dog language – crouched down on his front legs, backside in the air with the tail wagging slowly from side-to-side.

As the Kelpie makes its running approach, aimed like an arrow at the Lab, the Lab runs away in that goofy run from side-to-side that dogs do when they are pretending to be chased. The Lab then decides it’s time to turn the tables on the Kelpie, turning around to give chase. But the Kelpie will have none of it, perhaps even giving the Lab little nips to keep it in check as its fore bearers on the farm would have done with their wooly charges.

What happens next is critical as not all play is equal. If the Lab keeps running away without being given any reprieve over and over, it is being bullied. I have seen this happen over and over again in dog parks all around Sydney. The owners stand sipping their coffees, looking at their mobile screens or talking to each other about the weekend’s footy result.What I call symbiotic play is about give and take. It’s about revving up and revving down. And too many dog owners don’t know how to look for the signs that their dog is distressed and needs them to step in-between to ratchet down the level of play or give their dog a break.

So what does symbiotic play look like? It’s about mostly equal parts chasing and running away. It’s about dogs giving each other a ‘time out’, even if it’s just for a few seconds, if one dog shows signs of being harassed. Then letting the chased party resume the play, not the other way around.

The problem is that when in that highly excitable stage, some animals forget their manners and just don’t read the signs in their playmates. Or they have not learnt to moderate their play. Puppy schools that let dogs free play with no moderation by the trainer is one of the causes of this, as well as owners who let their dogs play with others without any supervision or management.

This leads to what I call parasitic play. All chase from one or more parties with no give, no time outs allowed for the one being chased or sniffed or followed or whatever. I’ve seen dogs back up between their human’s legs for protection, the dog trying to make frequent eye contact, with the human simply stepping away to avoid spilling a drop of their precious coffee – ignoring the obvious signs that their dog is requiring assistance.

As the thinking party in the companion animal relationship, the human owner can make a significant difference. Simply even separating the dogs for a few seconds, rewarding the calm with a food treat and seeing if your dog then goes back for another round of chase-my-tail will make for a happier, confident and less fearful dog (one who may later lash out with a growl or a bite in self defense if this level of fear is allowed to escalate). Nobody likes being bullied and neither do dogs.

So what are the signs your dog is experiencing distress? There are some quite obvious signs you can look out for:

  • The dog is constantly running away with no opportunity to become the chaser
  • The dog runs under a chair, under your legs, under a tree and backs up against it in an attempt to find a physical shelter from their playmate who has turned aggressor
  • Making eye contact with you within this context of other signs, signaling for help
  • Typical fear or stress-related body postures such as tail tucked between the legs, lip locking, ears flat or back and eyes wide open.
  • If the dog does get a chance for a time out it may start sniffing the ground which is one of the ways they diffuse stress.

If your dog is being bullied, speak up calmly to other owners and ask them to help you help your dog – making them aware at the same time what good manners at play time look like.

Similarly, watch for your dog being the bully by observing how the other dogs are interacting and if necessary, break up the play until the other dog shows signs of wanting to resume the chase, or not. This is a good opportunity to ask your pup for a sit and give them a treat to distract from the play.

If necessary – whether the victim or the bully – remove your dog from the environment as keeping it there longer is not going to be beneficial for anyone involved. Walk away if you have to.

I wish I had somebody to speak up for me when I was being bullied at primary school for wearing glasses. So I’m sure your dog will appreciate you for it.

Bark bark, all the way to the park

This is my doggy-themed calendar’s July message: “Dogs feel very strongly that they should always go with you in the car, in case the need should arise for them to bark violently in your ear” (by Dave Barry). Quirky pic, funny quote. Until it’s happening to you.

While barking is a natural behavior for dogs and for most a way to express their excitement when going out to somewhere exciting or one of the places they love best (or frustration that they’re not there yet!), it’s not just annoying but also painful and dangerous to have a baying, howling, yapping, barking or squealing dog in your ear.

Most dogs are reportedly able to bark at 100 Decibels, with most countries’ national recommended safety standards for preventing hearing loss being limiting exposure to noises over 85 Decibels. Driving with continuous barking from a furry passenger in an enclosed space is certainly not recommended.

Incidentally, an Aussie dog holds the Guinness World Record for the loudest bark. Charlie, a Golden Retriever, earned the title in 2013 by registering an incredible 113.1 decibels, with his woof apparently producing the same noise output as a loud rock concert. It was reported by his owners that he thankfully only barks on command.

Pedadoggy’s top tips for stopping dogs barking in the car:*

  • Desensitise the entire car trip experience and condition (rewire) the dog for calm. If the excitement or fear starts when you pick up the car keys, pick them up a few times a day for a few days without going anywhere and reward the dog for other calm behavior such as sitting. Same goes for the leash or whatever is the signal that it’s park time. Eventually build up to getting in the car and not going anywhere, rewarding for calm. Then progressing to travelling even just a few metres. This will also be a lot easier if you offer the dog a chew or yummily stuffed Kong while they are in the car to distract them.
  • If you can teach your dog to bark on command then you can teach them to shush or be quiet on command too. Once the dog has mastered this ‘trick’, you can progress to practicing it in the car without going anywhere, then graduating to when you are traveling, with the help of a human training partner in the back seat.

Remember before heading off to secure the dog in the car with either a harness clipped into an anchor point, or by putting the dog in a crate. In NSW, road safety legislation stipulates that motorists must not drive a vehicle with an animal on their lap or preventing them from having proper control of the car – a penalty of three demerit points and a fine of $338, rising to $422 if caught in a school zone. Also, if an animal is injured as a result of being unrestrained, owners also face up to six months’ jail and fines of up to $5500 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Do you have a car barker? What has helped you ?

* Ones that don’t use citronella or shock collars, shouting at the dog or any other punishing training techniques or tools.

Make the rules, don’t shake the rules

Imagine one morning you get to work. You boss starts shouting at you about being late as soon as you walk in the door, although it’s the same time you arrived the whole month before and it’s well before office opening hours.

keep it consitent

Make the rules wisely and apply them with kindness and consistency.

You sit down at your desk as you always do and then he comes running from across the room, pushes you by the arm out of the chair, glares at you and angrily tells you to use a chair from the kitchen today. Hopefully this isn’t a typical day for most of us…

Confusing? Certainly. Frustrating. Absolutely. Inconsistent. Yes-sirree. But at least both of you speak the same language.

Now imagine the premise of this scenario which many dogs face. One moment they’re being fed roast chicken skin from the table when they make whiney noises under a chair. But the day stern Auntie Marg comes to visit, the dog is admonished by the owner for the same begging behavior. Or a dog that is invited onto the bed on the day the laundry is due to be done, but told off for jumping up there at other times.

Confusing? Certainly. Frustrating. Absolutely. Inconsistent. Yes-sirree. With an additional consequence added for the dog – fear of doing the wrong thing, which creates a lack of confidence and certainty. If you’re not sure of doing the right thing you’re certainly not going to be sure of doing a lot of things, to avoid punishment – whether it be verbal or physical.

The thing is, dogs don’t know when it’s washing day compared to when the sheets are clean. They also don’t know about social etiquette as not jumping on the couch they usually lie on when a visitor comes around. That’s their spot. From their perspective they’re allowing the visit access to and sharing their couch space.

We expect our dogs to intuit, deduct, instinctively understand or at best guess what the rules are. Isn’t it far kinder to them to make one rule and stick to it? If the outcome you want is a dog that is well behaved, which in my experience is what most people want from their companion animals, then you’re better off thinking about the rules you make and being consistent in their application (I have chosen not to use the word ‘enforcement’ here.

I personally don’t like cleaning very much and therefore don’t allow my dog to sit on the furniture. However, he has his own dog bed and comfortable mattress in the lounge which he is free to sit, lie or play on. When guests come, they can sit on the couch in peace without being covered in dog hair or have their face licked as they sip their cup of tea – and the dog knows exactly where he has to be, though sometimes the excitement is just too much for him and I have to lure him back to the mat which is also okay. Nobody’s perfect! I’m not saying dogs shouldn’t go onto furniture as it’s a personal choice – but it doesn’t work for me and I therefore make it a consistent rule for Zac.

For a happy dog that understands the rules, make them wisely and apply them kindly and consistently. For as American politician Lincoln Chafee said: “Trust is built with consistency”. This lesson applies as much to dog training as it does to running election campaigns. With dog training involving a lot less barking and jaw snapping of course.