Be ready to welcome your new dog

A very young puppy looking at the camera

Thinking about or just got a new dog? Want to know how to better support a dog you already have? The 10th Modern Pet Dog Seminar held at Canine Kindergarten in Narrabeen last night focused on dog ownership and getting it right from the start.

Kicking off the night was Scott, a Ranger from the Northern Beaches Council. He emphasised the importance of registration which is a two-step process:

  1. Microchipping the dog so it can be identified
  2. Then registering it with the Council you live in so that if they do get lost they can be returned quickly and safely to you, as your contact information can be accessed through the Companion Animal Register of NSW.

It’s also important to make sure your dog has your contact information on them – such as a tag on the collar or stitched onto it, this is especially helpful if neighbours find your dog and can then call you if it gets lost.

Ask lots of questions

Barbara Hodel from Goodog Positive Dog Training said that everyone should think carefully before getting a dog. A puppy is small for three months, but our dogs can live up to 12-15 years and medical technology is extending their lifespan. It’s a big commitment.

She also said that some people are not best suited to having a dog, including those who:

  • Won’t allow the dog in the house
  • Have small children
  • Work long hours or travel a lot
  • Will mind their home getting dirty
  • Aren’t in a stable financial position
  • Aren’t able to put the time in for socialisation and training.

Barbara also discussed the decision of getting a puppy versus a rescue dogs. She said there are perfectly find dogs that end up in pounds because of circumstances not related to them such as a family break up. You save a life and get to see how it is grown. Often they are already toilet trained and overall can be less time consuming that raising a puppy, which is why senior dogs make great pets. She also recommended prospective owners ask a lot of questions (such as what the dog is like with children or other dogs) and if the rescue service does temperament testing

If you do want a puppy, the most ethical way is through a registered breeder or to consider a puppy raising program such Guide Dogs. Barbara said all other sources of puppies are from puppy mills – pet shops, online or backyard breeders. Be sure to ask if you can visit the facility – if they say no that is a good sign it’s a problem. If they offer to meet you half way to drop off the puppy, then it’s also a warning.

“While you might give your puppy a great life, the parents won’t have one,” Barbara says about puppy mills. “Again ask a lot of questions and be sure to visit the facility before you commit so you can check it out for yourself.”

There’s lots of resources on about welcoming a new dog into your home.

Focus on management rather than training initially

Louise Colombari of Pittwater Animal Hospital said the most important thing in the first week is to set up the structure for your dog to succeed. Training can come later. “We need to teach them in a way they understand,” she says. “Think about the rules of the house – where will the dog eat, what will it eat, where can it go in the house, where will it sleep. Get the whole family to agree and decide before the dog arrives. Then put the management plan into practice and establish routines, which will help the dog settle”.

5 goals for the first week:

  1. Potty training – show them where the toilet is, take them there often, prevent them and manage when they are inside. Might need to put in a pen or crate. Take them out on a regular schedule.
  2. A food plan. Puppies need 3 x feeding up to 12 weeks then cutting back to 2. Think about what the feeding time schedule is – what gets fed when.
  3. Bed time. Where does the dog sleep? The first nights in your new home can be very scary for older dogs and puppies. May want to start with them near you and gradually move them elsewhere.
  4. Home alone – teach the dog to be home alone. Prevent separation distress. Teach them. E.g. in pen while in the other room, come back and reward etc. Leave them with something to do. Make abandonment a positive experience.
  5. Around the house – where are they allowed to go, does it need to be safety proofed e.g. close bedroom doors, electricals etc.?

Socialisation is critical

Image source:

Louise says that merely exposing a dog to new things without making sure they are positive is not good socialisation. Find a good trainer but beware as it’s an unregulated industry. Anyone can call themselves a trainer so ask lots of questions and be smart dog training consumer – ask about their qualifications, continuing education. If you don’t get clear, concrete answers or are uncomfortable, keep shopping.

Image result for lili chin be a smart dog training consumer

Dog services available

Maxine Fernandez of Canine Kindergarten spoke about the various services available to dog owners and gave tips on finding the right one to suit people’s needs.

Vet clinics

  • Find one you’re comfortable with
  • What additional services do they offer such as e.g. puppy classes, special interest areas?
    Do they have additional qualifications such as behaviour or dentistry?
  • Do they use force free or low stress handling?
  • Make sure to pair with positive associations or just pop by for a visit.

Dog walkers / sitters / boarding

  • What qualifications or insurance do they have?
  • How many dogs do they take?
  • What exercise do they get?
  • Can you look at the facilities?
  • How is stress managed?
  • What’s the injury prevention strategy and what happens if they need care?

Day care

  • What qualifications do the staff hold?
  • How many do they take?
  • Managing dogs – what takes place during the day care day?
  • What is the process for assessing dogs that are suitable for that environment?


  • Do they make the experience positive? How?
  • Owners should condition dogs to touch / grooming noises and pair with a high reinforcers such as yummy treats to create a positive experience before they go to the groomer.

Fun stuff

  • Agility – dog directed through obstacle course time and accuracy
  • Rally O – numbered stations and an exercise at each sign
  • Nosework – search for a specific odour
  • It’s a great way to build relationship and trust with your dog while allowing them to burn off mental and physical energy

Dog training

  • Find positive reinforcement trainers
  • What are their qualifications
  • Continued education is a must
  • What courses do they offer – pet dog, reactivity, trick, puppy?
  • What methods do they use – luring, shaping, clicker, targeting?

Environmental enrichment

  • Stuffed Kongs – dogs have to get the food out of it
  • Snuffle mat – dogs have to forage for their food
  • Food delivery toy e.g. automatic treat dispenser which can also be activated through remote control
  • Mind puzzle games which come in many shapes and sizes

If you want to find out about future events email or follow the Modern Pet Dog on Facebook. The last one for 2017 is on 27 November in Narrabeen, Sydney.

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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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.

Is there more cruelty in the world?

Is it just me or are there more people in the world, now more than ever, who think nothing of torturing dogs for pleasure or just pure perversion?

Or is it just a trick of perception? Perhaps it’s because there are more humans in the world in this moment than ever before and therefore statistically there are more who will do wrong? Or is it that our social media and Internet feeds bring information we’re interested in to us and by default my interest in dogs narrows my information world to more news stories about them, both good and bad? Similar to that perception trick where you buy a new car and suddenly you only see that make and model on the road around you – the car was there before but your cognitive bias means that suddenly you’re more aware to it.

Or is there something more sinister at play with people becoming crueler because of the pressures of living and the breakdown of family structures causing them to lash out at the animals who can’t defend themselves? Is it correlated to the ghastly rise in family and domestic violence in our community? It’s clearly a complex issue and while I’m not qualified to speculate on the reasons why these horrors occur in our society and how we address them, I do believe that animals are often the collateral damage.

It seems that my Facebook feed every day is full of dogs who have been shot, chained, beaten, driven over, tied to railway tracks and, in one of the most horrifying videos I’ve ever seen, blasted into oblivion by having fireworks attached to it and set off just for the kicks of a group of teenagers. That’s not including those who are left alone in backyards day in and day out, or worse, chained there with no shelter from the elements or any interaction.

According to sources on the Internet, there are many reasons why people abuse animals – broadly categorised as either active or passive cruelty. These range from not realising they are hurting them because they don’t regard them as being able to experience discomfort or pain; they do it without thinking or under peer pressure, to control the animal or another person or, transference of emotions such as anger or worst of all, they simply like inflicting pain. Studies have also shown that children who injure or abuse animals are more likely to hurt or murder people as they get older.

Luckily in some places, legislation is catching up to help animals by putting in punishments for the humans in an attempt to make them realise that it’s wrong. Earlier this year it was heartening to hear that animal cruelty is now being considered a “crime against society” by the FBI. Starting in 2016, those who abuse animals will be held just as accountable as someone who abuses a human including murderers and arsonists.

In Australia the penalties for animal cruelty vary by state – from as low as maximum $13,700 with a jail term of 1 year for individuals in the NT with WA leading the way with the harshest jail time of 5 years and QLD a maximum fine of $100,000. An obvious opportunity here would be to bring these to similar levels to ensure offenders are punished consistently across the country.

I have been thinking about writing this blog for some time now and feel I have come away with more questions than answers.

Apart from supporting animal rescue groups and reporting gross abuse – also important, I do think, however, that there’s something that each and every one of us can do daily that doesn’t necessarily involve storming a puppy farm and rescuing the animals.

It’s about the philosophy of ‘the standard you walk past being the standard you accept’. Call out poor dog handling. Recently I’ve saw someone I know drag their dog by a choke chain as they hadn’t been taught loose lead walking. I pointed out to the person why that was hurtful, harmful and damaging, and that it may cause aggression in that dog further down the track. I chose my words carefully and made sure they knew I was coming from a place of seeking a better outcome for everyone, rather than criticism. They listened to my logic.

So take action on the small and big things and hopefully, together, we can together make the world a better place for all the dogs who are it with us.

The sound of dog hearts breaking

I’ve been on ‘staycation’ this week to catch up on home chores, read, write and relax. Bliss! However, being at home for a few days has made me realise how many lonely and neglected dogs there are in my suburb.

There are three in particular that I regularly hear barking during different times of the day. Each time they do, it stabs me in the chest. Because every single one of them very clearly sounds heart broken.

The one who lives the closest to me and that I can hear the loudest, has a bark that sometimes ends with a little whine. The same sound of pain as if it has hurt its paw. The other one, a little further down the road, has a hoarse, enquiring bark that ends on a high note. As if it’s asking the question of when the endless loneliness will end. The third, even though it’s a few blocks away, has a bark that ends in a long howl. You can hear its vocalised grief every single time. And it breaks my heart too.

I know from observation that two of these dogs are outside-only dogs. The one with the lonely bark has a family that leaves for work early and comes home late. Sometimes they go out at night again, which is when that heart-breaking sounds start up again. The dog gets a plate of food shoved out the back door but I have never seen the owners interact with it. Ever. Either take it for a walk, or play a game.

My local council reports that dog barking is the number one complaint lodged with them every year. While an endlessly barking dog nearby is not easy or fun to live with, we must remember they are doing so because they are in emotional pain. While they bark for various reasons, in the majority of cases it’s because they are lonely, isolated, anxious, frightened and unsure. Imagine feeling like this every day of your life with nobody prepared to help you. As animals that live in a family-orientated structure, being left outside alone, day after day for a dog is like being put in jail. These dogs have essentially been given life sentences of emotional starvation. It’s not fair on them and in my mind, is as much a form of animal cruelty as is physical violence or torture.

I’m not saying that dogs shouldn’t be left alone, but we need to teach them to cope and that means human effort is involved. Here are some of my observations about dogs that can handle being left alone:

  • They are acclimatised to being alone over small periods of time, which are gradually built up.
  • Every single time when they are left alone they are given something to do such as play with a new toy, chew on a meaty bone and find treats scattered across the yard. Make being outside fun – take the food out of the bowl and make them hunt for it. There’s a large variety of ‘home alone’ stimulation options or calming techniques such as leaving the radio on.
  • Before the human leaves the house, that dog is well exercised. That means getting up 20-30 minutes earlier and taking the dog for a run, to the park or playing games – so their energy is expended before the family leaves and if they are left to hunt for their food, they’ll be tired with a full belly and more likely to sleep until the humans return. Dogs do not exercise themselves in the back yard, no matter how big it is and bored dogs are more likely to bark or chew on things they shouldn’t.
  • Dogs that cope being outside better are allowed inside for periods of time. Either joining in when the family are home, or left inside when they are out (either for a small amount of time or ensuring they can get out through a doggy door). This reduces their feelings of isolation and that every day is the same over and over again.

So next time a barking neighbourhood dog is annoying you, think about why they might be barking and speak to your neighbour about making them aware of it and helping their dog, as they may not even know it’s happening. I also regularly ask my neighbours if they hear my own dog bark when I’m out so I can take action if I need to help him be calm and happy when left home alone.

Positive puppies, delightful dogs

A number of people I know or have bumped into when out walking were lucky enough to get a puppy in the last few weeks and I’ve had a number of conversations about all things baby dog. We’ve spoken about everything from chewing, confinement, barking, sleeping, eating, playing, toileting and training techniques.

It’s great to see that everyone I’ve chatted with are getting the ‘positive’ message and rewarding their dogs for doing the right thing whether it’s settling in their crate or peeing on the lawn at night. It’s clear they want to set the right foundation for their dogs.

My advice has been:

  • Keep everything positive. They are absorbing the world and how it works like a sponge. Don’t make anything punishing. Either reward what you want; or interrupt the behaviour that’s unwanted, ask for something else and reward that; or ignore it.
  • Dogs are social creatures and have been bred for companionship. Make sure they’re allowed in the house but on your terms. Close doors to rooms while you’re toilet training and if you don’t want them on the furniture provide a comfy alternative that’s their spot.
  • The three basics of enough exercise, stimulation and training will help prevent the behaviours that aren’t desired. Tired dogs don’t bark, those that have enough chew toys are more likely not to eat the couch. And it’s never too late to teach a dog a new trick.
  • Get toilet training down pat by taking them out every hour, after a sleep, play or feed and anytime they are looking unsettled. Reward heavily for toileting where you want them to and make sure you get them to go on wet grass too.
  • Make all new experiences happy – from the sound of the vacuum cleaner to different ways human being dress (hats, sunnies, uniforms) and the objects we carry such as umbrellas or back packs. Sound Proof Puppy Training has a great app available to help dogs get slowly and gently used to the many noises they’ll encounter and not to be scared such as storms, buses, grooming tools, fireworks etc.
  • Read as much as you can from good quality dog training sources. Positively has some really good articles and tools on how to raise a happy, confident and well socialised puppy. Work on building a relationship of trust and you’ll be rewarded by years of unconditional love, lots of laughter and a fabulous member of the family.

Have fun with your new furry friend and remember that the strong and positive foundation you set now will be the behaviour you are likely to see from your grown dog in the next few months as they grow up so fast.