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Dog therapy clinics proving popular for urban pooches suffering anxiety
“Smart, good-looking and driven” reads like a resume for successful high-achievers in the city, but Australia’s smartest working dogs can find their temperament is a recipe for disaster in the big smoke.
- Vets are noticing an increase in anxiety among popular breeds of dogs
- Experts say working dogs living in cities need mental stimulation
- Dog therapy and behavioural classes are increasing in popularity
Border collies and kelpies are turning up in increasing numbers to dog therapy clinics and behaviour classes as desperate urban owners try to find ways to channel their pet’s inherent physical and mental energy.
Behavioural veterinarian Nicole Lobry de Bruyn said working dogs — including kelpies, kelpie crosses, border collies and German shepherds — were particularly susceptible to behavioural issues.
“We tend to see an increase in anxiety in breeds that become popular,” 她说.
“So when breeds become popular you have more indiscriminate breeding, and when people start breeding for colour they may not be focussed on temperament.”
Mental stimulation needed
Ms Lobry de Bruyn runs Animal Sense, a clinic providing help to owners of dogs that jump at shadows, bark at anything and exhibit signs of anxiety.
“Generally they are high-drive dogs, so they need lives that are fully enriched, but not just with physical exercise, “她说.
“They need, especially when they are living in the metro area, the mental enrichment.”
One of her patients is Vader, a two-year-old kelpie living on a semi-rural property on the outskirts of Perth.
Owner Kelly Thatcher had spent hours training him but soon came to the realisation he was a highly reactive dog.
“The trouble we are having with him is resource guarding, barking at things, herding and chasing the cats and that sort of thing,” Ms Thatcher said.
“I’ve been trying everything I can to make sure he’s as happy as he can be in the environment that he’s in.”
Sheep help anxiety issues
Ms Lobry de Bruyn said it was a complex procedure to find out why a dog was anxious, requiring “slow, kind and very gradated work”.
“We look at the frequency, the intensity and the duration of some of these behaviours because it’s normal for dogs to bark to dig and it’s normal for dogs to jump up,” 她说.
“And then we work on modifying, changing the emotion behind the behaviour.”
In conjunction with the anxiety therapy sessions, Ms Thatcher also takes Vader to training sessions with Simon Leaning, who has been training and working with sheepdogs for the last 20 years in the Perth Hills.
“I had a lot of people asking me for help with their dogs,” Mr Leaning said.
“Some of them, a lot of them, were city dogs that just needed some stimulus, mental stimulus to get them out of their behaviours that might be causing some destruction or problems at home.
“Anti-social behaviour, barking, shadow chasing, chasing bikes other sorts of things like that, and we found that herding was a good solution to a lot of those problems.”
Mr Leaning said encouraging the dogs to stay focused despite external stimulation was important.
“We get them to pay attention to us in this great stimulus. So when a bicycle rider rides by and their instinct kicks in to chase the bike you can say ‘Come here, I’m not doing that today’,” 他说
“And that transfers very readily to the beach when they are chasing local dogs, perhaps when they are stimulated by movement.
“A lot of dogs have issues with shadows and leaves, or ball obsession. It just allows you to control them in what is the greatest stimulus for them which is sheep work.”
Ash Basich brings his kelpie Max to the weekend sessions at Mr Leaning’s Mount Helena property.
“He’s a dog that needs stimulation,” Mr Basich said.
“He can run further than he will today. But today he will have to use his head instead of fetching a ball or a stick or going for a swim.”
“So this is more about him getting to work and using his brain a bit more because he’s equally exhausted as running in a paddock or chasing a ball for half an hour than doing this for ten minutes.”
Plan before you get a dog: vet
Ms Lobry de Bruyn said people often picked dogs based on their looks and colour, instead of thinking about the suitability of the dog for their lifestyle.
“My advice would be you should do your research,” 她说.
“You should be picking a dog that is not from working lines, and that isn’t bred from parents with strong working tendencies, you should be selecting a more show type dog.”
Mr Basich agrees.
“I thought about it a lot. Months and months, whether I could handle one, but I did want a smart dog and I wanted a dog that would push me, active and walking and running and stuff so it’s been good,” 他说.
“Think about it for a few months and consider it, and maybe spend some time with another owner of a kelpie because they are readily available.
“There’s lots of them around, but, in the wrong hands, it’s pretty cruel.”