A day in the life of… doggy psychiatrists

Pedadoggy Profiles...

Vet Behaviour teamDr Amanda Cole and Dr Heather Chee are Behaviour Veterinarians who diagnose and manage behavioural diseases such as anxiety or compulsive disorders, fears and phobias – just like a human psychiatrist.

Mental illness is increasingly being recognised in humans as well as animals. This team of specialized vets help dog owners recognise and understand their pets’ emotions, and then take the right course of action so their animals feel happy, confident and relaxed.

They don’t focus on training dogs, but work on the premise that the more anxious a dog is the less likely it will be able to learn anything new – just like a bullied child at school often suffers from poor grades. Let’s find out more about what they do and how they do it.

What are the three most common reasons your clients engage you for your services?

  1. Dogs who are aggressive or very reactive such as barking and lunging towards other dogs
  2. Dogs who are aggressive towards people
  3. Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety expressed as through barking, howling, escaping, or destroying things when their owners aren’t home.

What are your top tips for getting the most out of your relationship with your dog?

Empathy is the most important part of forming a relationship with your dog. Emotionally and intellectually your dog is the same as a 2-3 year old human child, so their behaviour is never vindictive, malicious, manipulative or even guilty. Most behaviours that we do not like simply stem from fear or anxiety, so we need to move away from the old fashioned belief that you need to ‘dominate’ your dog and move towards being good, kind and consistent parents.

What’s the most common mistakes you see dog owners making?

Dog owners often blame themselves for their dog’s behaviour and think that they have not been strict enough with training. This is often not the case. A lot of behaviours and mental illnesses have very strong genetic components which are not the fault of either the owner or the dog.

This leads many owners to think they can’t comfort or try to calm their pets during scary situations such as storms or meeting people they are afraid of – especially if they present their fear as aggression. They think they have to ignore them or punish them or they worry they are rewarding their pet’s fear. You cannot reward fear. Doing anything that makes your pet feel better such as bringing them inside, petting them, giving them treats or playing with them during a situation where your pet is scared is the right thing to do. Making your dog feel comfortable will actually make it less likely to be aggressive!

What do you love most about your job?

We love opening people’s eyes to animal behaviour and rebuilding human-animal bonds which have been fractured by frustrating, aggressive or destructive behaviours. Seeing dogs go from being anxious to the point of having panic attacks, constantly barking, howling, self harming or being fearfully aggressive to feeling happy, relaxed and comfortable is so rewarding! We love seeing the relief on our client’s faces when we tell them that they can be kind to their dogs and not have to punish or intimate them anymore.

What are some good online resources you recommend for people to learn more about dog behaviour?


This is a fantastic website for understanding dog behaviour and why training techniques that rely on inducing pain and fear in dogs, are not only unsuccessful but also break down the relationship between an owner and their dog. Punishment based training often originates from the belief that dogs try to assert ‘dominance’ or achieve ‘status’. This a concept that is no longer regarded as a useful way of understanding dogs, and is also potentially harmful.


American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research scientists dedicated to improving the lives of animals and people through an understanding of animal behavior. Their website has many position statements which are updated to reflect the ever changing science that is animal behaviour.

Find out more:

Vet Behaviour Team





Fish need friends too (and why dog punishment does more harm than good)

Please indulge me in telling you a story about a goldfish called Wiggle and why this made me think about our lack of knowledge in understanding what animals, including our dogs, think and feel.

I never picked that Wiggle would out-survive his / her, let’s go with her, three finned siblings. A few days after I got them, our cheap water pump had sucked in two fish, killing one and maiming the other. Its entire tail had become shredded and all that was left was a little stump. I quickly realised that apart from being a beautiful fan, the tail helps the fish swim and, importantly, balance when reaching for and sucking in food floating on top of the water.

With no rudder, this little fish moved her whole abdomen from side to side to move through the water, the movement earning her the name of “Wiggle”. To help her eat, I’d crush the granules else she’d end up chasing a piece of food, too big to get in her mouth, around the pond.

Wiggle’s tail has now grown back but sadly in the last few weeks, one of her other siblings was found dead and a wily Grey Heron or Kookaburra had eaten the other right through the bird mesh on top of the pond.

My little fighter was alone and clearly scared after the bird experience, just hanging out under the rock and refusing to come out, not even bothering with the food I put out. When I went to the aquarium to purchase a few more friends, they only had one left in their tank with no new stock due for a while. I decided to bring the last fish home as it was alone and Wiggle was alone, so I would be solving two problems at once.

This is where my story gets interesting in terms of observing animal behaviour. I put the new fish in its bag of aquarium water to float in the pond so the temperature would assimilate, then started slowly letting pond water into the bag so the new fish wouldn’t go into shock from a rapid change.

Well if that wasn’t the darndest cutest thing I ever saw. Wiggle spotted the new fish in the see-through plastic bag and started hovering around, tapping her nose against the bag. The new fish (now called “Dregs” by my husband as it was the last picking from the shop) faced Wiggle, slowly finning in the bag of water.

There they swam for the around half hour it took for the temperature and chemical assimilation to complete. Nose to nose and Wiggle never swam away. When I finally let Dregs out the bag into the pond, she went off to explore her new home, Wiggle swimming right alongside, fins touching. They have not been physically apart since or very far away from each other.

Look, I know I can’t put human emotions onto fish but there was something there that wasn’t just about survival instincts of eating or taking shelter. You could say that there is strength in numbers as schools of fish avoiding a predator clearly show. But from what I saw, Wiggle wanted to be with her new sibling. Physical proximity and body contact were a priority. Immediately afterwards, Wiggle started swimming around the pond again rather than just bunkering under the rock and became very excited again when food was put out.

If fish can experience (not joy or sadness, grief or loneliness, I won’t go that far) a grade of emotional pain and pleasure such as Wiggle had, where does that leave our dogs who have far larger brains and capacity for feeling, and particularly, when we consciously or otherwise inflict punishment on them? Whether that’s jerking the lead when they pull, shouting at them, leaving them alone for hours on end without providing any exercise or stimulation, or in some of the more extreme cases, using shock collars or plain outright cruelty of which the Internet unfortunately contains an abundance of examples.

Wiggle has reminded me that there is a lot we don’t know about animals. So aren’t we better of working to positive outcomes as we don’t yet understand the impact of punishment properly? I’m not a scientist, zoologist or a veterinary behaviourist and can’t pretend to understand the science of animal feelings, but I am a dog trainer that wants to get the best outcome for all dogs – for them to feel safe, loved and happy because the humans they live with are consistent, predictable and have their best interests at heart.

Guest blog: “Having a butt sniff is like reading someone’s drivers’ licence”

Thursday night saw a gathering of dog lovers and owners at the third in the Modern Pet Dog series on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Everyone came with an eagerness to learn more about getting the most out of their relationships with their pets through positive training techniques. Here’s the download on what was covered.

Louise Colombari – Pittwater Animal Hospital: Greetings!

Humans tend to greet dogs like we greet humans, generally face on, while dogs have an entirely different social convention for saying hello. They usually start with a nose sniff, which is followed by a butt sniff in a circle formation. They therefore greet side-to-side, not face-to-face.

Having a butt’s sniff is like reading your driver’s license – getting personal information to get to know each other better. Two scent glands situated in the bum give dogs vital information about each other.

It’s considered poor doggy manners or inappropriate to pin, stand over, hump or do a body slam when saying hello. This can turn into a disagreement really quickly as dogs who do this are seen as being bossy or rude. Don’t listen to a dog owner who says “my dog is friendly” when their dogs are displaying these behaviours.

Dogs have personal space requirements, just as we do. Many people will try to greet dogs face-to-face, which dogs often find scary or intimidating. It’s not necessary to do a butt sniff, but there is a better way of greeting a dog:

  • Always ask the owner if you can pat their dog
  • Approach slowly as sudden movements can be scary
  • Don’t force yourself on them. Respect their personal space as they might not want to interact with you. Don’t stick you hand out and put it in their face, they can smell you already.
  • Approach them side on and if they come to you and want to interact, squat down to avoid leaning over them.
  • Never stick your hand in their face. Pat them side on, stroke down the back of the neck down towards the back. Don’t pat the head.

Useful resources:

Barbara Hodel – Goodog Positive Dog Training: On leash reactivity

On leash reactivity is when a dog that barks, growls or lunges. There are various reasons – some dogs are scared, others don’t like head-on greetings and many haven’t been socialised to be relaxed when meeting other dogs on lead. That’s why Barbara is a firm believer that interactions should happen off leash as much as possible.

What to do if the dog is reactive:

  • Desensitisation – associate other dogs with good things (rather than being scared or anxious). E.g. meeting a new dog means BBQ chicken. You do not pay for being good, you pay for the appearance of the ‘scary’ stimulus. Keep the stress under threshold i.e. calm levels, as stressed dogs do not eat. It’s not about distracting the dog, but desensitizing the scary thing to being a predictor of something good.
  • Counter conditioning – teach an alternative. E.g. a “look at me” or touch a hand target. Teach it outside of the situation. Generalise it by training in different types of environments before using in the on-lead greeting situation as an altenative behavior.
  • Recognise signs of stress in your dog e.g. lip licks, looking away. Don’t ask for more than they can give you.
  • If all else fails then don’t do any greetings on leash. Welcome to the midnight walker club!

What not to do:

  • This is not a behaviour that has to be corrected, as it’s likely they are scared
  • Punishment will not work as it will suppress a behaviour but not change your dogs’ perception, they could make the fear worse and turn it into aggression
  • Don’t force them to approach, sit or lie down.
  • Don’t jerk on the leash.
  • Don’t shout or yell.

Maxine Fernandez – Canine Kindergarten: Environmental Enrichment

Dogs are highly social and when we aren’t with them need to make their environment more interesting to prevent them with destructive behaviour such as barking or chewing things they shouldn’t. Studies have shown that dogs who are given enrichment learn faster, have better emotional stability and higher resilience to stress.

It’s not just about exercise, but also the toys, sounds, different surfaces, space to move around freely in and opportunities to problem solve and learn.

You can start it at any age but it’s critical for puppies in the first 20 weeks of their life as this is their critical period of socialisation. Find a balance as more is not better and be aware of over-stimulation e.g. certain types of food dispensers, too much noise etc.

How to create a fun backyard:

  • Provide toys and more toys, and rotate these.
  • Ensure the size is appropriate for your dog but there’s a range of options available – Kongs, treat balls, stuffed plastic bottles, swinging toys, puzzle toys, balls and food dispensers.

Other ideas include wading pools – water for swimming or floating objects in, sand for digging or hiding ‘treasures’ in; treasure hunt; dog walker; dog friends for play dates; training; agility; doggy day care; playing radio or TV, meaty (raw) bones to chew on.

Jen Hassell – Kong – Enrichment Toys Kong stuffing demonstration

Kong-1Jen is a ‘Kongsultant’ who showed us how to get the best out of Kong toys and food dispensers with her Kongaholic demo dog, Australian Shepherd Shimmy (…luckily Zac doesn’t know what I do for a living because surely Shimmy has the best mom any dog can have).

Kongs are designed to use meal times to entertain your dog and give them mental enrichment. It gives them a job rather than eating the food out of their bowl in 30 seconds as it increases the amount of time it takes them to eat. It’s a behavioural enrichment and training tool, helps prevent stress or boredom, crate training, teething, recovery from injury or surgery and minimising separation environment. Think outside of just stuffing them with peanut butter!

Top tips for using these dog puzzles:

  • Kong Wobbler – dispenses dry treats when they bump it to get the food. Top tip for fast eaters – stuff it with crumpled piece of A4 paper so they have to work harder to get the treats to come out.
  • Kong Puppy, Classic, Extreme and Senior – choose the right sized Kong for your dog. Introduce early to the puppy and dogs of any age. Get them used to it by stuffing with things that can come out easily such as liver paste, liver pate, sausage and roast chicken so they get enjoyment and results immediately. Build the difficulty as their skills improve. Stuff with anything that is safe for dogs to eat. Be creative and mix it up.
  • Kong Quest – a dispenser that’s great for small dogs and puppies who aren’t big chewers. Can be frozen.

If you are interesting in finding out more or attending future events as more are planned for 2015, please get in touch with Barbara at www.goodog.com.au or Barbara@goodog.com.au or follow Pedadoggy on Facebook.

When “come” means “run”! 3 ways to make your recall meaningful.

In the twilight of the last few evenings while taking Zac out to stretch his legs I’ve bumped into a lovely 12-month old Kelpie X, Flash, and his owner. I know the dog’s name is Flash because it gets called a lot across the oval. Everybody knows his name, except apparently for Flash himself.

The owner loves his dog, there’s no doubt about that, but is exasperated by the fact that he won’t come when called or bring the Frisbee back that has been thrown.

Personally, I think that two of the hardest things to teach your dog is to come when called or to walk on a loose lead. I say this not to make people give up teaching this – but to realise that these behaviours are a lot harder to teach than a sit or a down and therefore require a different approach.

When your dog is off lead your intrinsic value as their guardian, friend and feeder immediately diminishes. There’s interesting things to sniff, other dogs to meet up with and hey, the mere freedom of being able to run around acting a little bit silly just because they can. So the human standing there shouting their name or to come suddenly is as appealing as if you were to offer them a lemon to eat.

I’ve included some links to longer articles below, but my top 3 tips for making a recall (come when called) meaningful and which you dog responds to are:

  • Start without distraction. Start in your hallway our your house. Practice without distraction. Slowly graduate to busier areas (where you are able to safely – or get a long piece of rope if you are concerned about the dog running away) and only graduate to the dog park when they are ready to move to the next level by consistently coming back.
  • Make it rewarding. Really make it worth your dog’s while to come back to you. E.g. practice close to dinner time when the dog is more likely to be hungry and work for treats – high value treats and food that’s only received when training, not kibble – than sniff or play which could be far more rewarding.
  • Don’t punish / always reward. No matter how frustrated you are, do not shout or show any disappointment or anger in your body language. Even the smallest come should be rewarded initially. Let them know when they’re moving in the right direction. I’ve seen dogs checking in with their humans and this goes unnoticed and unrewarded. I’d run away too!

Here are some other articles, with more insights about teaching a reliable recall:

And remember, no matter how hard it gets, keep it positive people!

People noticed the holes in the universe

I know this blog is about dogs, but it’s also about life and learning and holding what is dear close to your heart.

This week my corporate workplace was locked down due to the horrendous events unfolding in Martin Place, where I later learnt four of my fellow employees had been caught up and were begging for their lives after having simply popped out of the office to grab a cup of coffee.

I’m not one for public spectacles and I prefer to avoid crowds, but in the days that followed the Lindt Café siege I had an innate need to visit the impromptu public memorial that had sprung up. I was mourning the loss of two innocent lives, the horrors inflicted on the survivors and also a more personal impact of evil having scratched its claws across my city.

Just walking up George Street I could already tell that things were different. While there was the usual lunchtime throng of shoppers and people out for lunch, it was very obvious that there was another flow of people coming off buses and trains, all heading in the same direction. Many of them were carrying flowers. Some held elaborate bunches, others were a simple collection of colourful Gerberas.

Mourning in that public place was an unexpectedly intimate experience. As I stood at the barrier, breathing in the fragrance of thousands of different flowers laid down in respect, I was enveloped by a communal silence. Everyone stood there quietly. It was a mass reflection where words simply weren’t necessary. Behind us, there was the constant movement of people walking through the pedestrian thoroughfare, but in that exclusively quiet place, I joined strangers in silently marking our loss.

The morning that my father died of cancer surgery complications over two years ago, I was left with the sense that there was a distinct and obvious dad-shaped hole in the universe. I could feel it in the very core of my being, as if I was a tent where one of the pegs had come out, leaving me untethered from the ground. It was a hole only I could see as life kept going on around me with people filling up their cars and heading off to the shops with their weekly grocery lists. Nobody else noticed that there was somebody clearly missing in the world.

This week, the holes rendered in the universe through the unnecessary and senseless deaths of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson were noticed by millions. Thousands have now come to that place of mourning to take time to reflect on all that was lost on Monday. The news has reported that their families who visited the flower memorial on Martin Place have apparently gained some comfort from strangers noticing the spaces, voids and holes Tori and Katrina left behind. And knowing that the lives of the other hostages will never be the same again from the blunt force emotional and psychological trauma they were put through.

This week Sydney lost its innocence. I chose to make this amazing city home in December 14 years ago and was fortunate enough to be granted a chance to live here. I left behind a life in Johannesburg of constantly checking over your shoulder, not being sure if a bump in the night is your dog rolling over in its sleep or a burglar coming for you with a knife or gun and where a mobile phone can have more value than a life.

The tragic and viscerally disgusting events at Sydney’s Lindt Café this week by the man now known on social media as the Lone Dickhead, was a wake up call for everyone.

It was a reminder not to take our amazing lifestyle for granted. To be thankful that we have an outstanding standard of law enforcement made up of highly trained professionals who all ‘dickheads’ should be petrified of if they know what’s good for them. And not to accept the love we have in our lives without appreciating the person who is offering it to us as family, friends, workmates or just the person who stands aside graciously to let you pass by in the grocery aisle.

For, as I later wrote about the impacts of my dad’s passing, “death is a bombshell that each and every one of us will face if we love anyone at all. But nothing prepares you for the sucking back of the air, the noise of loss and the full force of the blast of no more and forever”. No amount of flowers, candles or tears will bring those who matter to us back.

So go and say I love you to the ones you do. Thank them for the joy their bring to your life. Know they make up your universe and that their loss will leave holes that will never be filled. And don’t forget to tell your dog too.

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 www.goodog.com.au or Barbara@goodog.com.au


Sydney’s Festival of the Pooch loads of furry fun

Pedadoggy loved attending the inaugural Sydney Dog Lovers Show this weekend. A whole show dedicated to all things dog – it was promoted as “3 great days of 4 legged fun!” and didn’t disappoint.

Check out the photos here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.743481802389704.1073741832.329613187109903&type=1

There were heaps of exhibitors – name it and you could get it. Food, toys, accessories, gourmet delights, vets, doggy bow ties, doggy services, photography and a whole section devoted to rescue dog facilities. And a whole lot more. There were dogs herding sheep (well plastic balls pretending to be sheep) and others doing a long-distance jump into a pool as part of Dock Dogs.

It was great to pop in at the Delta Therapy Dogs stand and see the Pedadoggy sponsored Therapy Dog team – Toni and Elly – promoting the great cause. The Delta Dog Trainers Dog Trainers Association, which I’m a member of through my accreditation, was also there promoting positive training.

I’m sure everybody has their own list of highlights but mine were:

  • The growth in providers of whole and natural, grain-free foods and treats for dogs. The more choices we get the better for our wallets as consumers and healthier for our dogs.
  • There are some really clever products on the market. I got a ‘No Dogs’ collar for Zac from Friendly Dog Collars – they have a large range including options such as ‘nervous’, ‘training’ or ‘no kids’. A great way to help you communicate when your dog needs a little extra space.
  • With the unlimited amount of interactive and food dispensing toys available today, dogs do not need to be bored when home alone. Remember to rotate them regularly to keep it fresh.
  • The displays were fantastic. Watching shelter dogs being trained in agility was fantastic and proves that you only need to give a dog a job to do and they will shine. It’s not about their lineage, it’s about the opportunities they are given.

What a great day out!


Make sure the kennel is not a jail

I try to keep most of my holidays pet-friendly but sometimes there are times when Zac simply can’t come with us and our awesome pet sitters aren’t available. Through trial-and-error I have found an amazing kennel, I think the fancy name these days is ‘pet boarding facility’ or ‘doggy hotel’ and want to share my tips on choosing one that will treat your dog well.

A few years ago, we were using a kennel closer to home. The first time Zac went off happily with them. The first problem was on the way home in the car. We’d hardly turned the corner when his gas emissions caused us to choke up and have to wind the car windows down all the way home. They clearly had given him food that wasn’t good quality and didn’t work for his system. I also noticed that he seemed more subdued than usual.

The second problem was at our next visit. My dog loves humans and will run up to anyone. When it came time for me to leave after filling in the paperwork, one of the kennel staff put a lead on and started walking him to where he’d be staying. I saw Zac dig all four his four feet into the ground, the first time I’d ever seen him do this, clearly not wanting to go back there. Unfortunately we’d had a death in the family and I had no choice but to leave him.

Our reunion was happy except for the disgusting smells he was creating, but it took him around two days to be himself again. All I could describe it as was shell shock – he was subdued and frankly in a depressed state as I had never seen him before, and I vowed never to use that facility again.

A dog training contact recommended that I try Akuna Care, a pet resort as they describe themselves, in the Hunter Valley – about three hours drive from Sydney. For just $25 they pick him up and drop him off in air conditioned comfort. And when their white wagon pulls into our driveway, he is so excited to go with them that he jumps straight into his allocated crate when the door is pulled open. Then he sits there grinning at us. And why wouldn’t he we always joke, he’s off for some wine and cheese tasting in the Hunter Valley!

What I love best about Akuna is that when Zac returns home, he is wired for play, relaxed and happy. He wants to chase his ball and play tug of war, and it’s clear that he has been given plenty of attention. Their range of packages allow you to scale up the exercise given per day depending on your dog and your budget and they allow for personal extras such as providing your own food. With a highly itchy dog this is really important to me. The very friendly team keeps notes about him so they know exactly what to do every time he visits.

From my trial and error, here are my top tips for choosing a boarding facility:

  • Ask them if they dog stack. I think that part of Zac’s stress from the one I no longer use is that they put all the dogs in a yard together and expect them to be calm and relaxed. My dog does not like other dogs and this would have been his idea of personal hell. At Akuna Care the dogs have their own sleeping kennel with a grass run if they need to do their business. At no time are dogs stacked together. Three times a day Zac is exercised and played with (no other dogs) in the grassed play area, taken for a walk or a swim in the dam on the property.
  • Check out the type of accommodation they’ll be sleeping in. While it’ll never replace the comfort of home, an area other than concrete where they can relieve themselves and raised bedding off a concrete floor is important.
  • When you are booking in or asking questions the attitude of the staff tells you a lot about how your dog will be treated. Are they just another cog in the business wheel or is the care of your precious best friend taken as personally as you do? I regularly get videos of Zac when I’m away from Akuna, a lovely way to keep in touch when travelling.
  • If you can check out the facility, observe the noise levels. Are there lots of stressed dogs barking constantly or just the occasional few?
  • Observe you dog’s behaviour when they come home. If they seem down or subdued, it could be highly likely because of the stress of the boarding facility. The biggest indicator of Zac’s wellbeing when he gets back is his happy demeanour and begging for play.
  • Don’t assume that better care is more expensive. When I switched boarding facilities and got a much better experience, I was only paying marginally more for care, with much better outcomes achieved. My car smells better too.

In summary, when choosing any type of care service for your dog – whether a kennel or a pet minder ask lots of questions and do your research.

Why I have love having a dog in my life

I feel reflective today. There are so many more but these reasons are at the top of my gratitude list for having the privilege of having Zac in my life. I’m sure everyone who reads this can keep adding more when they think about their dog.

  • The enthusiastic and unrelentingly happy greeting when I return, world-weary, from a day’s work. He’s my ‘welcome home’ every day.
  • Gets me up and out the door on time in the mornings as I could never forgive myself if I left for the day without having at least 20 minutes of fun activity with him.
  • He’s my meditation. No matter how tired or stressed I am, playing or patting him and experiencing his delight from my mere presence makes all my problems fade away.
  • Finding new places to explore on walks so that going out together is never boring.
  • I’ve met and spoken to people who previously just would have been random strangers who walked on by. They stop to pat him, we get talking and I get to connect with my community.
  • Watching his enjoyment and delight in the most simple of things – a ball, a stick, a bone – makes me happy.
  • He helps me advocate for rescuing dogs as he’s such a happy and friendly character. Every dog should get a second chance.
  • He makes me laugh at least once a day. Not many people do that for me.
  • He’s undemanding of his humans but gives so much in return.

I am grateful every day for his companionship and for giving me riches that cannot be brought.