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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.”

 

SAD POOCHES

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




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