Dogs' emotional journeys

Australia’s top dog communicator Martin McKenna sits with his mate Firefly.
Australia’s top dog communicator Martin McKenna sits with his mate Firefly. Marc Stapelberg

NORTHERN Rivers “dog man” Martin McKenna is Australia’s best-known expert on dog behaviour.

His book The Dog Man was a runaway best-seller. His second book, What’s Your Dog Telling You, is due to be published by Harper Collins on September 1.

He credits his expertise to the fact that he lived in a hay barn with a pack of stray dogs after running away from his drunken, abusive father in Limerick, Ireland, at the tender age of 11.

Responding to a recent statement by Sydney veterinarian Peter Higgins, of the group Dogs NSW, that “dog depression” can be treated with herbs and homeopathic blends and/or conventional anti-depressant drugs, Mr McKenna says dogs do not need to be medicated to treat symptoms that appear to humans to indicate depression.

For 10 years, Mr McKenna broadcast a popular segment on ABC Local Radio, advising listeners on their dogs’ behavioural problems.

“I have lived as a dog myself,” he told The Northern Star.

“I used dog language and learnt their ways by intuition and experience. The major thing I learnt was that humans have to stop dumping their own emotional problems on their dogs.

“Dogs will pick up on what they sense in the people who care for them. If you are stressed, they will be stressed; if you are depressed, they will be too. They pick up your feelings from the tone of your voice, your pheromones (smell) and most especially, from your body language.

“Dog owners have to learn not to use their dogs as emotional sponges, but to show leadership by being firm, quiet and gentle. Dogs don’t like to be hugged or stared at. They don’t like to be watched while they eat.”

Mr McKenna said it is possible for humans to learn how to communicate and co-operate with their dogs, and achieve immediate changes in their dogs’ behaviour.

He demonstrated this when meeting Eliza Jane and Firefly, two Rhodesian Ridgebacks who habitually bark wildly whenever visitors leave “their” house.

The Dog Man put an immediate stop to this by yawning widely, then turning his back on the dogs while emitting a soft, low throaty growl.

The dogs settled down at once.

“It’s amazing what happens when you use the right body language,” he explained.

“Yawning, closing your eyes, tilting your chin up, relaxing or turning away are all loud and clear signals to a dog that all is well and they can be at ease.”



Symptoms of dog depression

  • Licking their lips
  • Blinking their eyelids
  • Chewing at their skin
  • Shaking their coat
  • Excitedly running around, tails wagging, panting
  • Excessive attention seeking

Topics:  author veterinarian

Farmers' federation call for fairer position on backpacker tax

Farms will see a reduction in backpackers working there, unless a fair rate is sorted out, according to the NFF.

Counterproductive and damaging, backpacker tax is seen by NFF

Vikings, horses, art and showbags at North Coast National

Vikings (left to right) Gabriel Hooper, Peter Romilio and Michael Rowe with a replica model of a Viking ship on display at the North Coast National Show.

PHOTO GALLERY: The iconic Lismore show is on today

Walk for human rights and refugees


Lismore will host a walk for refugees and human rights Saturday

Local Partners

Finishing touches to beautify Bangalow Weir

FINAL finishes on the Bangalow Weir are underway and residents are encouraged to join an upcoming beautify planting day.

Former Split Enz front man Tim Finn finds new niche

Singer Tim Finn has written the music for theatre production Ladies in Black.

Musician finds his way to theatre

Jethro Tull is back to Bluesfest

ICONIC: Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull at Bluesfest 2011.

Jethro Tull returns to Bluesfest next April

Beth Hart will set the stage on fire

ON FIRE: Beth Hart, coming to Bluesfest 2017.

American singer/songwriter Beth Hart

Azealia Banks won't take legal action against Russell Crowe

Rapper Azealia Banks

Rapper drops legal action against Russell Crowe

Brad Pitt meets with his kids amid divorce proceedings

Actor Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt has met up with his oldest son Maddox

Pictures of Taylor Swift allegedly being groped are sealed

They could "complicate jury selection".

Bruce Springsteen finds therapy useful

Singer Bruce Springsteen

Singer encourages others to seek help

Kerry Washington wants one more child

Kerry Washington recently gave birth to her second child

Kerry has only just become a new mum again

TRAVEL: Musicals light up Sydney

David Campbell performs in Dream Lover.

We take a trip through one of Sydney's finer scenes

Hit songwriter's Noosa mansion on market

SPECIAL PLACE: The Cintamani estate is going to tender, marketed by Tom Offermann Real Estate.

Is this Queensland's best property?

Kiwi siblings snap up Dotcom mansion for $32.5m

The new toy company owners of the Coatesville mansion want replace any controversy with positivity and fun. Photo / Barfoot and Thompson

The trio paid $32.5 million for the property in June

New $200 million development will create 580 jobs

Cassie And Josh with baby Alfie and daughter Andee. They have bought at new Lennox Head development Epiq.

Majority of new positions will be given to Northern Rivers locals

Cherrabah's mega resort plans axed

PLANS for a massive development at Cherrabah have been scrapped.

Dusit Thani finance crisis 'just a small hiccup'

ON TRACK: Springfield Land Chairman, Maha Sinnathamby, Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale, Developer Richard Turner and Springfield Land Deputy Chairman, Bob Sharpless, at the recent resort sod turning ceremony.

Property developer says project remains firmly on track

Heavyweight enters real estate market

Des Besanko principal and director of Raine and Horne Springfield.

Major rebranding which has seen two big name brands merge