Category Archives: Canine Psychology

A Social Observation

…just an observation about dogs and men. Why is it that when I look at images of dogs, whether they’re in Shelters awaiting adoption, or whether they’re photos of beloved pets of other people shared on Instagram, I get the Awwww ❤ feels? But on contrast, when I look at photos of men on dating sites, be it online or on television, I just feel like running in the opposite direction? Not that I have any inclination nowadays to get involved with yet another disaster…and besides, this model is quite ancient by today’s standards. 

Freud would no doubt have a field day analysing my psyche 😄. 

Give me a dog anyday, I say. They’re loving, loyal, cute, intelligent, obedient and have tonnes of looks AND personality. Plus, they don’t argue back! They fit in with whatever your schedule is, they have no hidden agenda, they have no big egos, they don’t cheat on you or talk badly about you behind your back. And they’re always pleased to see you when you come home. 

Men are a different story altogether…

Just a Gaggle of Puppies…

The Refuge recently had a litter of 10 Staffy pups available for adoption. They’ve all found good homes now, but I just wanted to share their photos with you all, so you can see just how cute they are in their colourful winter jackets.

These pups were having a mid-morning snooze in the puppy yard when I saw them. There were 10 in the litter, but the runt had decided to go sleep on its own somewhere quieter, while the rest gathered between a tree, a unibond fence and a brick wall, piled into a big heap and went to sleep.

When I saw them, I just had to get some photos of them quick.

(All copyright belongs to and remains with AlyZen Moonshadow. Please refrain from copying, printing or distributing any of these images without prior and express permission from me, thank you!)

They remind me so much of my own Shelagh, who I got at the same age, and who came from a litter of 8 pups that looked very similar to this litter. These pups are going to be gorgeous dogs when they grow up, and they’ll have the most beautiful temperaments too. I can tell by just how relaxed they all are now.

I’ve stopped volunteering at the Refuge now, for reasons I’ve hinted at in a previous post on photography copyright. But rest assured there will still be photos of dogs and other animals from me, I will find them somewhere, somehow. A good photographer always needs to keep practising her art.

Check out tomorrow’s post for some more photos of the puppies, taken a few days later, and just before they were made available for adoption.

Behaviour Case : LILY – No Recall and Door Reactivity

Client Zara approached me for help with her rescue dog Lily, and in my previous posts I have addressed the following issues:

1. Pulling on lead. I also touched on Recall.

2. Dog reactivity

Now ​we shall concentrate on Lily’s ability to Recall consistently and reliably.

Does Lily always come to you when you call her name? Do you reward her with treats or a toy or game? You will need to train Lily until she comes to you every time you call her name, regardless of where you are and what you are doing. You can either train her to just come to you and sit, and quickly give her a treat and praise her every single time. Or you can train her to go to a specific spot, such as her dog bed. That will come in useful for when the postie or strangers come to the door. 

Over time, and with many, many repetitions, you can train Lily to associate the ringing of the doorbell, or someone knocking on it, with “go to your bed and wait quietly”. You could even train Lily to watch your movements and follow your finger when you point to her bed.

However, if you don’t have the time or patience to commit to this every day, a quick solution would be to call Lily and put her into a closed room, where her dog bed is, and give her an enrichment toy, whenever someone is at the door. You need to make sure the toy contains high value treats, so she associates someone at the door with yummy food and a toy, and not with running to the door barking. 

Dogs always go for the thing with a higher value – think chicken versus carrot. The chicken being the room and her bed, and the toy with the yummy food in it; the carrot being the activity at the door – boring!

Another “lazy” option would be to install a baby gate at the entrance so that even when the front door is open, Lily can’t rush past your feet and out into the street. If this is what you choose to do, do research the various types of gates that are available, and make sure the rails are properly spaced so Lily can’t squeeze through them, or worse, get stuck between them. There are clear or frosted perspex versions of these barriers, if you’d rather not have rails.

Until Lily has a consistent recall rate and can be relied upon to come to you, it’s best to avoid any situations where she has the opportunity to slip past you out into the street and risk getting injured or lost. 

Behaviour Case : LILY – Reactive Behaviour towards other dogs

Zara has been having problems walking her rescue Chihuahua cross, Lily. Lily has been showing signs of reactivity towards other dogs while out on walks – lunging, barking, snapping. 

Previously, I answered Zara’s enquiry about Lily’s pulling on the lead and having no recall. I have asked Zara to work on Lily’s recall, and to investigate different types of no-pull harnesses for Lily.

Today, we are concentrating on Dog Reactivity, why it happens and what methods could be tried.

Dogs are curious about other dogs, especially as they can smell their signatures on lamp-posts and trees. Because Lily was in a kennel environment before and had little contact with other dogs, and this was further complicated by having kennel cough, and then getting desexed, her isolation from other dogs may have made her fearful of them. Barking and lunging at other dogs while out on walks is a way of telling other dogs to leave her alone, because she’s afraid of them. She can’t run away from them because she’s on a lead attached to you. In the absence of Flight, there are only 2 other things a dog can do in any situation – Freeze or Fight. More timid dogs will simply tuck their tails right under their bodies and hide behind your legs for protection. Others, like Lily, resort to barking and lunging, in an attempt to look bigger and braver than they are, warning other dogs to please go away.

Sometimes, though, and you’ll need to observe the dogs closely so as not to confuse action with reaction – a dog may have noticed another dog and simply wants to go say “hi” to it. However, its Human handler then tenses up because they’re unsure or afraid, and they pull the lead tighter. The dog now finds it can’t get closer to the other dog, and because dogs have a tendency to pull forward the more you pull backwards, it becomes a tug of war instead, with the dog straining to get to the other dog, and barking and lunging out of frustration. So – which happened first? The dog barking and lunging, or you pulling the lead tighter?

You’ll need to desensitise Lily to the presence of other dogs. This can be done by gauging the distance between her and the other dog, to find out the “safe” distance. When she notices another dog, she may stiffen and become super alert, fixated even on the other dog. Get her attention with a treat or toy, and move on in a curve away from the other dog. If you proceed straight towards the strange dog, Lily’s instincts will kick in and she will start one of the Freeze, Flight or Fight reactions. You want to avoid that. You want her to notice the dog, get her attention away from it, and move on.

Leave any socialisation or group training classes for the time being, and practice avoidance instead when out with Lily. Every time you let Lily get past the “safe” zone and she reacts and YOU react, you’re reinforcing in her mind exactly the behaviour you wish to avoid. 

To set Lily up for success, you need to slowly acclimatize her to the presence of other dogs. Ideally, if you have a friend with another dog, you could practice this with them. Meet at opposite ends of a field, let the dogs on lead notice each other, remember to break away at the first sign of reactivity. If all’s still well, walk in a curve around the field, in ever decreasing circles towards each other, again breaking away at any reactivity. Eventually the distance will be close enough that the dogs are able to sniff and greet each other.

If you don’t have a buddy to pair up with, next time you’re out with Lily and see a dog coming in the other direction, try practising the “safe” zone and curving on your own.

Let’s assume you’re practising this with your friend and her dog. If everyone is still calm by now, one of you can walk ahead with one dog, and the other can follow behind with the other dog. That way the dog behind gets familiar with the smell and look of the dog ahead. Switch directions after a few hundred metres, to give both dogs the same opportunity.

After a while, you can try parallel walking. This just means you walk parallel with your friend, and the dogs walk on the outside of each of you. You don’t have to walk very close to each other, just close enough to be able to talk to each other and communicate. By placing yourselves between the dogs, you are giving them a visual and physical barrier. Dogs like routine and rules as it makes them feel safer and reassured.

After a few successful parallel walks, you can slowly remove one person from the middle, and later the other too, so that the dogs are now walking parallel to each other.

This all takes time, patience and repetition. There is no fast cure or remedy for proper socialisation. It could take weeks or months. Lily may even be one of those dogs that hates other dogs, (it happens). In which case you may have to walk her in quiet places only, and where there are no other dogs around.

If you are worried about other people’s dogs running up to Lily and starting a fight, it may be a good idea to get one of those colour-coded leads or harnesses. The colour codes generally follow traffic light codes – Red means Dog is reactive, stay away. Orange means Dog is in training and please do not disturb unless invited to. Green means Dog is friendly and social. The problem with this system is that not many people in Australia are aware of it, and there are also a great many irresponsible dog owners who let their dogs run off-leash everywhere and anywhere, and then have no way of recalling their dogs, or choose to ignore you when you ask them to call their dogs.  

If ever in doubt, just practice avoidance. It will be less stressful for both you and Lily. For the moment, until Lily is able to tolerate the presence of strange dogs, it is better to avoid group obedience classes, dog parks or the dog beach. 

(Image Source: Google Images)

Behaviour Case : LILY -Pulling, Lunging on lead, no Recall.

This is an actual Question from a client, Zara, who has been having trouble walking her 1 year old rescue dog, Lily. Lily is a Chihuahua cross, and Zara has only had her 6 weeks. For the first 2 weeks, Lily had kennel cough and had to be isolated. Then she was desexed and again had to be isolated and crated. Now that she’s well enough to go for walks, that’s where the problems have started. 

For confidentiality, I have changed the names of the dog and her owner. 

Here is my initial Assessment. Zara initially approached me via email, and I have responded in kind, with a couple of suggestions for her to try first, before arranging to meet up for a practical session. 

How do you indicate to Lily that it’s time for a walk? What is her reaction when you indicate this to her? If she is bouncy and excitable, what have you tried to do to calm her down? Does it work?

Most dogs are naturally excited about going out of the house – all those tantalising smells, sights and sounds! The mere clink of her lead being brought out can act as a trigger for Lily’s excitement and anticipation. Chihuahuas can be quite vocal when excited.

When you say she does not listen to commands once out of the house, what kind of commands do you mean? Do you carry any treats with you? Is Lily food-oriented, or what is the thing she likes best? Most dogs are food-oriented, however some are toy/play oriented. Bear in mind there is a threshold in their brains for these “incentives”, and if the stimulus around them is overpowering, no amount of treats or invitations to play will get through to them once they’ve gone past the “Red Zone”. In that case, the only thing you can do right then is to remove Lily from the stimulus, i.e go back into the house, put away the lead and carry on with your usual activities. And try again later, once Lily has calmed down.

What sort of lead do you use for Lily? Have you tried a dog harness? Many small dogs have fragile tracheas, and constant pulling on a lead attached to just a collar around the throat can lead to collapsed tracheas, a serious condition for which there is no cure apart from expensive reconstructive surgery. 

There are dozens of harness designs on the market, for dogs of all sizes. For a small dog like Lily I’d recommend one that’s padded across the chest, to protect her ribcage as well and take the pressure off her throat.

You can also try a Halti or Gentle Leader on Lily. This is a strap that goes across her nose and attaches to her lead. When she pulls, the strap tightens towards you and her head will get pulled towards you too, stopping her from pulling forward. Some dogs are head shy, and putting it on may prove difficult.

Another harness is the Balance Harness, which clips on the front of the dog’s chest instead of at the back. When the dog pulls forward, the lead will pull it to one side, stopping it from going forward.

All these harnesses are not a cure-all but just aids to help you with training your dog to walk nicely and not pull.

Teaching Lily to come to you consistently whenever called i.e Recall, is very important, and will help you when out walking with her. We will cover Recall later.

(Photo from Google Images. Photographer: Daniel Nicolucci)

My Little Adventure

​I was on the No.27 bus at 3pm heading back from the Refuge to Perth CBD today (Wednesday 27th July 2016). This guy got on at Kings’ Park Road, and a chocolate brown dog got on too – it was off-lead. The bus driver said dogs weren’t allowed on public transport. The guy said “It’s not my dog. I’ve never seen it before”. I went over and asked if anyone could see any tags on it. A lady said “Yes, there’s a name disc with a phone number on it”. I said “I walk dogs at the Dogs’ Refuge Home, I have a lead in my bag. I’ll take the dog off the bus and contact the owner”. It was holding up the bus, you see.

That’s when the guy said, “Ok, it’s my dog. He’s a Service dog. He’s my Seeing Eye dog”. This guy was wearing a high-visibility vest, work clothes and carrying a radio, he certainly was NOT blind! The bus driver said, “It’s not wearing a Guide Dog vest. Sir, dogs are not allowed on the bus”. The guy turned to the dog and shouted “Get out of here!”, and the poor dog turned and ran off the bus. I couldn’t risk that poor dog getting hit by vehicles, getting lost, biting someone, or worse…so I got off the bus and clipped my lead on the dog. 

I then rang the number on the dog’s name disc. True enough, the guy on the bus answered the call. I said “Come off the bus so it can drive on, you’re holding everyone up. I have your dog Ponch on my lead, let’s take him home safely together”. He replied, “I’ve somewhere to go to in the City. YOU take him home for me!” He gave me his address and said to open the gate and leave the dog tied to his verandah. I said I couldn’t just go to his house with his dog, that would be trespassing and the cops could arrest me. He replied “I’m not getting off this bus. Just let my dog go. He knows the way home.”

Anyway, the bus driver then said he had to go, and so the bus drove off, with the dog’s owner still on it. I tried calling the Refuge, but the number was engaged. So I called the Subiaco Rangers instead. About 30 minutes later, Andrew the Ranger turned up. I explained the whole incident to Andrew, and he took Ponch the dog and put him in his van. The Refuge probably has Ponch now. 

I wonder what explanation Ponch’s owner had for the Ranger when he got a phone call from them. 

I did some research and found this info (attached) – the owner faces a fine of up to $800, for his negligence and irresponsibility.

What a day!

The “Moonshadow” Dog Harness

Well, after much deliberation and consideration, I have decided to officially call my “Deconstructed Dog Harness” the “Moonshadow Dog Harness”. I know, I know, not very original 😄. But it’s something I thought up and made up myself, so I might as well put my own stamp on it.

I took my original prototype “Deconstructed Harness” (back when it was called that) to the Refuge last week, and had a friend,Greg, test it out on one of the dogs, Laddy. We first took Laddy out on a Sporn Harness, got him to a secure yard, then swapped harnesses and Greg got to test it out. After it was evident that Laddy could not wriggle out of the harness, and that my seams and the fabric and webbing were strong enough to withstand the strain, Greg took Laddy out for a bushwalk.

Well, we got a big Thumbs Up from Greg. He suggested shortening the front Connector strap, as it was a wee bit too long. Thanks for the feedback, Greg! He said it worked on Laddy really well, as Laddy was quite a “pully” dog and reactive to other dogs. With the “Deconstructed Harness” on, Greg was able to control Laddy without any trouble.

Here’s Laddy and Greg in the yard.

Below is a closer view of Laddy wearing the Harness, you can see how extraeneously long the connector part is:

Laddy looks like a fat, rotund version of my own Scruffy dog 😄. So cute!!

Anyway, I told Greg he could be my test-pilot for the new, improved version of the harness. He said he couldn’t wait to try it out on his own dog, Poppy.

So, back to the drawing board, and 5 hours (and 2 broken needles) later, ta da! 

Pretty in pink! This is the whole shebang: my 4-in-1 convertible lead, the collar with the extra ring, and the harness. 

The Convertible Lead. 

The components of the Harness and Collar.

I present to you the “Moonshadow Dog Harness”. Or, more accurately, the “Moonshadow Front-Leading No-Pull Dog Harness With Collar”.😄

And who better to try it out on than my own faithful Muse, Shelagh. 

Here the lead has been shortened to a standard 4 foot length. (The grey collar around Shelagh’s neck has her registration tag on it, I should’ve taken it off before taking this photo). Isn’t that pink just shocking?!  😄😄😄 Cerise, I think the colour’s called.

Do you know how hard it is to source proper snaphook clips? These ones from China via eBay were tiny and came with rings to make them the 25mm size I needed. Not really ideal, but the big ones would have cost much, much more and I was also concerned about the extra weight on the dog’s body.

Basically, the “Moonshadow Harness” has a Girdle piece which goes round the dog’s body, behind its front legs; a small Top Connector that clips the Girdle to the Collar, and a Front Connector which connects the Girdle to the Collar between the dog’s front legs. 

The Front Connector also has a D-ring at the end, which slips through the Collar’s O-ring. The dog’s lead then clips to the D-ring. When the dog pulls ahead during a walk, the lead pulls the Front Connector, which in turn tugs on the Girdle round the dog’s chest, checking it gently. 

Here you can see how the Front Connector’s D-ring goes through the Collar and is attached to the Lead.

Shelagh can’t believe her eyes. The “Moonshadow Harness” Mach 2 matches the colour of her ball and its flinger!

Side view showing pretty much how the entire contraption is set up. Ok, we remembered to remove her grey collar this time. 

And we’re off to the park to test this out! I like this better than the Sporn or Balance Harness, that you can buy from pet shops (for between $35-45, depending on size). It doesn’t go under and round the dog’s armpits, so there’s no chafing from pulling. There’s also no strap going across the dog’s chest, which, if pulled from the back, may encourage the dog’s Opposition Reflex to pull forward. The Collar is basically a standard side-release clip collar with an extra ring for attachment, so it can be used as the dog’s normal everyday collar. 

Must.Have.A.Sniff! It’s funny how long the Front Connector strap appears to be, even after being shortened by 3 inches. This is such a pretty colour on Shelagh, don’t you agree?

Pokemon No!

Mr Yip And Mrs Chew are 2 doggy best furry friends. They have this to say about the whole idea of walking dogs while playing Pokemon Go. 

Pokemon NO! Read their reasons why. Mr Yip and Mrs Chew know that dogs are voiceless animals in the human world, so that’s why they’ve taken to Social Media via me, their ghost writer, to bring to your attention aspects of canine behaviour and welfare that you may not be aware of.

Mr Yip and Mrs Chew believe it’s imperative that some keep their heads while others are busy losing them. Someone has to speak on behalf of the dogs. Someone has to be the voice of reason. Even if there’s only one voice. 

Please read their post and Share with as many people as you can. That’s if you agree with their viewpoint, of course. Many people simply choose to blindly follow what others are doing, but Mr Yip and Mrs Chew believe people need to see it from a more responsible viewpoint, and always, always prioritise the welfare of dogs over some stupid mobile phone game. 

Please help get the message out to the world that playing Pokemon Go while walking dogs, or walking dogs while playing Pokemon Go, is irresponsible, so just Pokemon NO!

Cooper the Chihuahua

I love my Staffy/Bully dog breeds, but somewhere along the way Chihuahuas have somehow managed to wriggle their way into my heart.

Last year I fell for a little brown Chihuahua at the Refuge, called Mojo. He was supposedly a resource guarder, but the only thing he ever guarded that I noticed was his soft round dog bed. He was in love with that bed, and would hump it. Sometimes he’d get so carried away humpinh that bed that he’d fall asleep mid-hump. Which was hilarious to see.

Then there was Harry. He was a little white Chihuahua who supposedly liked nipping people and wasn’t too keen on men. I was told to be careful with Harry, but he was totally fine with me. He was a bit timid and wary of me when we first met, but 5 minutes and some tasty tidbits later he was quite content to be my lapdog. Harry was around a couple of weeks, before he got adopted, so we got to know each other quite well. He’d come rushing up to the fence to greet me whenever he saw me, tail wagging, with a great big grin on his face. I missed him quite a bit when he got adopted.

Recently, it was another timid Chihuahua that captured my heart. What is it about these diminutive little dogs with their big perdonalities? This time it was a dog called Cooper.

Again, 5 minutes was all it took for Cooper to trust me enough to come nosing around for treats and a cuddle. Damn, he’s such a cutie pie! The first time I played with Cooper in his enclosure, but when I found out he was still around the week after, I decided to take him into the Refuge’s Snuffle Yard, so he could have some mental enrichment exploring the different herbs and shrubs there.

Cooper, like Harry and Mojo before him, was adopted soon after. But I will always remember these gallant little beasts that we know as Chihuahuas.














The concluding part of my Diploma Thesis:

Now, let’s say a dog has just been adopted and has arrived in its new home. Now what?

One of the biggest mistakes a new owner can make with a dog, any dog, is to automatically assume that the dog knows exactly what it’s supposed to do. They treat it like a human houseguest, and expect it to unpack its suitcase in the guestroom, put its feet up and the kettle on, and settle right in. What they don’t seem to realise is that the dog has never set foot in their house before, and has absolutely no idea where it is, what it’s supposed to be doing, or what is expected of it. Depending on its personality, some dogs may start sniffing around excitedly, climb up onto furniture, pee against the side of the sofa, or decide to play Catch, Tug or Hide-n-Seek with its new owners. Timid and fearful dogs, on the other hand, may cower on the floor and even urinate as a gesture of appeasement, just in case it’s done something wrong by being there in the first place! They may simply crawl off into a dark and quiet corner, and not come out for hours.

It is up to the owner to show the dog where to do its toileting, where its food and water bowls are, where it is to sleep, where the garden or yard is where it can sniff around and play, what toys it can play with, areas that are off-limits to it (like the toilet and home office, studio or baby’s room). The owner needs to show or teach their new dog basic “house rules”, where and what its boundaries are. It’s got nothing to do with dominance. Dogs that know what’s expected of them tend to behave better and are more confident in themselves, than dogs that are constantly confused and afraid to put one paw wrong, and who live in constant bewilderment in a state of constant agitation and stress. If a dog is not relaxed, but is constantly aroused, it will not be in any frame of mind to learn much, or even eat.

Before being adopted, the dog would have already been introduced to other members of its new family, including any other pets. It may take the dog a while to settle in, but with time and patience on the part of the new owner, this will happen.

The settling in period for Shelter dogs can be anything from 1 to 2 weeks to several months. The more extroverted dogs will “come out of their shell” within a few days, and settle right in at home like they were always there. Others may take a long while to come round. People can be too impatient sometimes, and give up too easily or too early, before they’ve even seen the dog’s true character emerge. These people are the ones who surrender or return their dogs and then try to get another one, one that they believe will be Perfect from Day One.

Such a dog does not exist.

Most Shelters have Trainers who will attempt to work through any teething problems or behavioural issues with new owners, in the first few weeks after they’ve adopted a dog. Many Shelters offer Training sessions for owners, to help them and their dogs get accustomed to each other. Such training can be in groups, such as Puppy Classes, or singly for dogs that need individually tailored help.

Shelters work hard to match the lifestyles and requirements of new owners to their dogs, before allowing a dog to be adopted out. It’s against anyone’s interest, especially the dog’s, for a dog to be treated as a “recyclable” commodity, being adopted and then returned, over and over again. There is only so much a dog’s psyche can take, before it starts developing bad habits and then has to be taught to unlearn such behaviour.

A good Shelter will thoroughly screen prospective adopters, by way of a Questionnaire, in order to determine if the person is a good match for the dog’s character and space requirements. Big dogs don’t necessarily need big yards, but they do need space indoors, so apartment dwellings may not be the best place for them. Some dogs are natural fence-jumpers, or escape artists, so the prospective owner must have secure fencing or high walls, or a secure yard to keep the dog in. Separation Anxiety can be a major issue for some Shelter dogs, so it is important to not let the dog go to someone who’s away at work all day long and only comes home at night. Some dogs may only suit part-time workers, or those who work from home, because they fret too much if left alone for more than a couple of hours.

Many dogs have been returned to Shelters because they were reportedly “destructive” and tore up the owner’s mattresses or sofas, chewed through all the wood in the house, ripped the curtains and carpets up, toileted in the most inappropriate places, or killed the cat while the owner was out.

Such behaviour is not necessarily genetic or inherent in the dog. It may be a sign of frustration or anxiety that the dog has “self-pacified” itself by chewing, digging or generally destroying the objects around it.

Dog Trainers are generally trained to make dogs do a certain behaviour on cue – walk on a loose lead, sit, lie down, stay, etc. Dog Behaviourists try to make dogs Stop doing a certain behaviour, by offering it alternatives with the aim of extinguishing the unwanted behaviour. Most if not all Shelters have Dog Trainers, but they are already hard-pressed to do their daily jobs looking after hundreds of dogs, and may not have the resources to devote an hour or so each day to each dog on an individual basis, over a period of time. That’s when a dedicated Dog Behaviourist can play an important part in a Shelter, 1) for dogs awaiting adoption, to increase their chances of getting adopted, and perhaps more importantly, 2) for dogs who have already been adopted but are at risk of being returned because their owners don’t know what to do about their problem. A good Dog Behaviourist will be able to offer owners real options and a plan of action for shaping their Shelter dog into their Best.Dog.Ever.

The secret to a long and happy life with any dog, are these 4 simple things:


You have a dog because you LOVE it. You develop PATIENCE when it’s learning how to be your dog in your house, you never, ever use anything but Positive Reinforcement to guide it. Certainly NO electric or prong collars and Never any hitting. With TIME and REPETITION, your dog will be shaped by you into the most beautiful dog you have ever had the privilege of knowing. It will be your faithful companion for Life, until it passes over the Rainbow Bridge. And when the time is right, you will do it all over again…for the Love of Dogs.