At the City of Charles Sturt, we know that owning a dog is extremely rewarding. Our furry friends make us happier, healthier and more active.
Dog ownership comes with important responsibilities. Here are some helpful hints, training tips and behavioural information to keep your pooch happy!
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But despite this bond, leaving kids and dogs together even for a moment is risky. Miscommunications and misunderstandings can happen quickly between kids and dogs. When left alone, behaviours change quickly.
With supervision, you can quickly intervene if necessary and avoid behaviours turning nasty.
Sometimes dogs get aggressive if they're feeling scared or stressed. They can become hyper-excitable and boisterous, insecure or overwhelmed when interacting with children.
Can you see signs of fear or stress in your dog? Learn to identify these behaviours, and you can protect pets and children from injury.
Teach your dog and children how to share their environment in a safe way. They can learn to recognise when they need a break from each other.
This may include teaching your child to respect your dog's right to say no to playing. A dog may be trying to get away or take themselves to bed if they are feeling overwhelmed.
Some of the best ways for kids and dogs to interact are through training and games.
- set up treasure hunts (with dog food or toys) around the house or the backyard
- train tricks or easy behaviours like sit or drop
- create enrichment toys with food inside out of cardboard or rinsed bottle
- throw toys around the backyard
- go for walks with mum or dad
- explore new areas together
For more information on dog body language please see our Quiz here:
Here's some ways to keep your pooch mentally and physically active through winter.
Try a morning walk
Dogs can get bored while you're at work all day. A morning walk means exercise and enrichment for your dog, and fresh air and a burst of activity for you. You'll both enjoy the rush of endorphins and the metabolism boost to start each day in a good mood.
Rug up with a warm jacket and gloves, and enjoy the crisp early morning air with your furry friend.
Make dinner time into a game
Dogs are contra-freeloading. This means that the usually prefer to work for their food rather than get it for free.
Instead of dropping a handful of dry biscuits into their bowl, make them work for their supper. There's a range of games and toys available from vets and pet supply stores that make eating time.
Stuff your dog’s breakfast or dinner into food dispensing toys. They love the challenge of problem-solving to get the food out. Scatter their dry food on the back lawn or pavers so they can search for every single piece.
Rotate their toys every few days so they think they’ve got a whole new one to play with!
Explore the world
Take them for car rides on short errands so they can sniff out the window. But please do not leave your dog in the car for long periods unsupervised, and especially in the sun or warm weather.
Snuffle mats help encourage your dog's sniffing skills. This will help calm them down and keep their brain active.
When you're out and about, let them sniff! Dogs perceive the world through their noses. Giving dogs access to smells is very important for their wellbeing.
Exercise with a twist
Go for longer walks in new areas, try running, or play sessions with friends. Let your dog lead the way, allow them to sniff and see where their nose takes you!
Ask for help
If your dog really struggles, there are support services that can help. You might try a dog walker, dog trainer, or doggy day care once a week.
When placing your dog in the care of somebody else, make sure it's the right fit. Interview the people behind the scenes and take your dog to get a feel for the place before committing. Watch your dog's body language to see if they're happy with a new situation.
If your dog hates fireworks they might:
- hide or cower
- attempt to escape
- shake or tremble
- urinate or defecate
- drool excessively
- refuse treats
- bark, howl or whine
Find out more about what your dog is trying to say with their body language here: http://www.charlessturt.sa.gov.au/DogSpeakQuiz
Here are some tips that might help your dog during fireworks:
- Ensure your dog’s ID is up to date. Registered and microchipped dogs, with ID on collars, are easier to reunite with their owners.
- Keep your dog company or ask friends or family they trust to look after them.
- Double check gates and doors are secure, there’s no gaps in the fence, and there’s nothing against the fence (like bins or pot plants) the dog can use to escape.
- Avoid tying your dog up or using a crate to control them – they may injure themselves in a panic.
- Shut blinds or windows to reduce noise and the sight of fireworks.
- An additional walk or training game late in the day will help tire them out and make them calmer.
- They may want to hide to feel safe. This can be in weird locations like under the bed, under the couch, in the laundry, in a cupboard, or they might try to burrow in with you. Let them find comfort with you if you can.
- Turn the TV up or play music (especially classical music) to help muffle the sound.
- Play games or use long lasting, high-value treats like stuffed Kongs, chews or bones as a distraction.
- Speak to your vet about short-term medication as an option.
- Leave your dog at home if you’re celebrating near fireworks. The closer they are, the more frightening it can be!
- Invest in training. You can find a list of qualified, experienced trainers at RSPCA SA.
Most importantly: comfort them. ‘Reinforcing fear’ is a myth – you can’t make an emotion worse by being compassionate. None of us choose to be scared – if your dog is scared, they need your patience and support! Be there for them.
Some dogs are especially vulnerable to heat. These include dogs that are older, overweight, puppies or brachycephalic (short-nosed, like pugs, bulldogs and boxers).
It’s safest to keep them at home on hot days (even over 27° and sunny).
Never leave your dog in a vehicle, even in the shade with the windows down. Dogs die in hot cars.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect your dog has, or is recovering from, heatstroke, don’t hesitate - get them to a vet immediately.
What are the signs of heatstroke?
- heavy panting
- drooling, excessive salivation
- very red or pale gums
- bright red tongue
- difficulty breathing
- vomiting or diarrhoea
- lethargy, weakness
- muscle tremors or seizures
- little or no urination
- collapsing, stumbling, staggering
Some dogs may look happy to continue their walks regardless of whether it’s good for them or not. It’s safest to shorten your walk so they can cool off quickly. In fact, missing a walk every now and then won’t be detrimental if the alternative is a risk of heat stroke.
Exercise tips for hot days:
- Fill a paddling pool with water and bob for treats or toys in the shade.
- Fill it with sand and bury some treats for them to dig up.
- Create a treasure hunt for hidden treats around the house.
- Freeze your dog’s breakfast or dinner to cool them down while they eat.
- Freeze large blocks of ice for them to play with during the day.
- Play tug-o-war inside or do some trick training.
- It’s never too early or too late to start training – and it’s mentally stimulating!
- Use treat dispensers, or cardboard boxes to feed your dog in – they love problem solving and working for their food.
- Organise a supervised play date with a really good friend in the cool of the evening, or inside.
- Some dogs like to dig in their water to cool down, so ensure your dog has various sources of water and shade at home on hot days.
- If you have to walk your dog on a hot day, do it really early in the morning. Make sure the ground is cool, keep the walk short, and choose a route that has lots of shade.
If you can't stand bare foot on the pavement for 7 seconds, it's too hot for your dog's paws.
Living with dogs is rewarding. They give us companionship, unconditional love, social interaction and a happier, healthier lifestyle.
Our pets communicate with their body language. They use posture and movement to let us know if they are happy and relaxed, nervous and stressed or fearful and aggressive. They might be trying to show us that they need space, activity or comfort.
Learn your pet's body language
Pay attention and if they're stressed, comfort them or give them space if it's safe to do so.
Body language can let you know when they're happy and content, too. You can ask your dog or cat what their favourite place for pats is.
Scratch them in one spot, like their chin, chest, rump, shoulders or ears, then stop for a second. If they look back at you, lean in, paw or nudge to continue, you'll know they loved it.
If they stay still, turn their head, lean away or walk way, that's valuable information. That weren't interested at that moment.
This is especially important to teach children when interacting with any animal! Allow the animal space to approach them, and then stop pats after a few seconds. See whether the animal is still comfortable. Continue to check in to confirm consent in every interaction you have. It’s a small thing you can do for your pet, but will make a world of difference to them.
Take a moment to study your pet so that you can tell what is ‘normal’ for them. Below are some examples of dog and cat body language by Lili Chin that can get you started.
Have you seen your dog or cat display these body language signs before? Discuss it with your family. Let your pet’s behaviour give you the information you need about what they enjoy or dislike.
We sometimes think of training and pats as something we do to our pets. But to have a better understanding of how they feel we are better able to train, walk and communicate with our pets.
You'll be surprised at how a simple change, like respecting their right to say 'no' for pats, can strengthen your relationship with your pet.
Also try our Dog Body Language Quiz
Bringing a new pet home is an incredible experience. They add so much to our daily lives and teach us so much about living in the present and enjoying life to its fullest. They also help us teach our children about compassion, patience and responsibility. In fact, living with pets has been associated with healthy living and overall greater enjoyment of life. Australians have among the highest rates of pet ownership around the world, with more than 2 million homes owning more than one type of pet. In fact, approximately 38% of Australian households have dogs and 29% of homes have cats (AMA, 2016).
However, bringing a new pet home needs careful consideration – after all, the quality of life of our pets is vitally dependent on how well and compassionately we care for them. The RSPCA highlights the importance of not only caring for your pet’s obvious needs like food, exercise, housing, grooming and veterinary or preventative health, but also emphasises how vital meeting their psychological, behavioural and social needs are.
Before you commit to your new pet, here are some things to consider:
- Is everyone in the household ready?
It’s important everyone is eager to add a new member to the family before you take the leap. Dogs and cats can live for over a decade, and some birds or reptiles longer still – that’s a long time to live with an animal whose care and wellbeing is partly or wholly your responsibility.
- Why are you thinking about it?
Often, pet owners purchase a second pet in order to keep their first pet company. This can be a wonderful source of social interaction and comfort for your first pet, but equally can result in double the effort and resources for the owner. Animals are often social learners, so while it is possible that the well-trained first pet can teach the new one the ropes, the reverse is equally true. And if your first pet doesn’t have great manners to start with the chances of having double the trouble are high. Your pet does not need a pet – purchase a second pet when you are ready.
- What type of pet will suit you the best?
Investigate all the options. Do your research on the care, and mental and physical welfare requirements for a variety of pets (including different breeds/ species). Are you a busy family? Do you have the time and resources to provide for each of your pets’ physical, mental and social well-being? Pets bring so much into our lives with their unconditional love and loyalty, but can you give them the time and enrichment they deserve individually too? Are you aware of any potential health issues to prevent or manage for the pet you choose? If you’re unsure, chat to a qualified trainer or vet about which pet might suit you best. You can find a list of qualified trainers in Adelaide here: https://www.rspcasa.org.au/the-issues/force-free-dog-trainers/.
Bringing a new pet into your home is exciting. But please bear in mind that it can be quite a culture shock for the pet to be moved from their existing home (potentially all they’ve known) into a new social situation with new rules and expectations. Be patient as they adapt. Here are few things you can do to help them acclimatise:
- Does the family agree on the house rules?
What are the expectations around feeding from the table, access to bedrooms, beds or couches? Where will you leave the pet when you’re out of the house? Walking, feeding, cleaning up and training responsibilities? Your house rules need to suit you, your family and your pet first and foremost. If you want the dog on the couch that’s great, just make sure you teach them to get off when you ask. Don’t mind feeding them from the table – all good! Just feed when they’re as settled as possible, and not looking at you or begging for scraps. Avoid getting a social animal if you don’t want them inside the house and a part of the family. Social animals rarely thrive as outside or isolated pets. For instance - unless you spend all of your time at home outside with your dog, they will benefit greatly from being allowed inside (even if it’s restricted access to parts of the house and under supervision). All pets will learn best and most efficiently through consistency and routine, so making sure the family is on the same page is essential to a smooth transition for your pet.
- Is the house or their area pet-friendly and safe?
You’ll need to dog/cat/bird/ferret/rabbit proof your house, just like you would baby proof it – invest in pens, baby gates or crates, pet-friendly cleaning products and ensure electrical wires, bins and valuable items are out of reach. Should they remain in mostly carpet or tiled areas – small pets (rabbits, ferrets, etc.) can make a big mess and be destructive too. Please ensure each of your pets have their own safe space to escape to (from children or each other) if they need. Do your research on your backyard plants and fertilisers – many can be poisonous to pets (and they might differ per pet). Can they dig under your fence or jump over it? Solid, high fences are most appropriate for ensuring dogs are safe in your backyard. Cats can also be kept safe (and very happy) with outdoor cat runs or oscillot-style fencing systems to prevent them from exploring the neighbourhood after dark and potentially getting into fights or crossing busy roads. Find out more about keeping cats safe and happy indoors in our Animal Management Kit
- Have you done your research?
Just like all professions, some vets, trainers, groomers, pet-sitters or other animal care professionals are better than others. Have you chosen yours? Call a few and make a decision based on the connection you made over the phone, as well as their fees and availability and, most importantly, their attitude toward caring for your animal. Good pet industry professionals are often busy and need to be booked perhaps weeks in advance. Do you know how to read your pet? Do some research on what their body language means and how to tell whether they’re comfortable in different circumstances. You may find they’re not too happy with pats on the head, but love scratches on the chest – knowing how to read them will help you ensure they feel safe and comfortable as they learn more about their new home and life.
- Do you have everything ready?
Different pets will need different home area set ups, equipment, food and enrichment products to ensure they thrive with you. Ensure the equipment you purchase for your pet is humane and follows the recommendations by the RSPCA SA Lead By Example campaign. Food and water bowls, bedding, toilet areas, play pens, toys, food, shampoos, nail clippers, brushes and scratch posts can be purchased from pet stores. Good pet stores also provide a variety of enrichment toys and products for dogs, cats, and sometimes birds, but other options specific for any pet can be found in places like: http://www.petsneedalifetoo.com/products/index.php.
Your vet can provide you with recommendations on food, enrichment, and preventative medical care like vaccinations and regular treatments for worms or fleas. Do you know what you’ll feed them? How will you transition them to the new food? Have you booked in their first health check or for dogs, booked in for puppy pre school? Puppy school is specifically for unvaccinated puppies 8-12-16 weeks of age. Many qualified trainers offer in home consultations prior to your pet arriving to help brainstorm the house rules, set up and transition process, or they can help with a smooth transition once the pet has arrived. Legally, you will also need to register your new dog with council (www.dogsandcatsonline.com.au) within 2 weeks of getting them, or by 3 months of age. Dogs and cats must also be microchipped, and must be desexed by 6 months of age if born after 1 July 2018.
- Can you ease the transition?
Are you able to spend ample time with the pet in their original home before bringing them to yours? Sometimes this isn’t possible, but it’s always worth asking the question. Any extra visits you can do while they’re in their original home (even just an hour at a time, for a few visits) before you bring them home can really help – you are then no longer a stranger, but someone they’ve met before and enjoyed spending time with. Can you take something of their original home with you? Again old smells may help them feel more comfortable in a new environment – literally a security blanket. For cats and dogs, pheromones may also help. These are specifies-specific, synthetically created smells that help dogs and cats feel safe and calmer that mimic those given off by their mums. There are no known negative side effects, and they might really help. You can purchase Adaptil for dogs or Feliway for cats from most good pet stores or vets.
- How will you build your relationship with them?
Training using positive reinforcement (using toys, treats or social interaction as rewards for nice behaviour) is one of the best ways to build a trusting and lasting relationship with your new pet. Not only does it give them valuable information about the behaviours that will work well for them in their new home, but also help them associate you with good things. Training animals to go to a place (pen or aviary, or a specific place within those like a bed or perch) is a great first step that can help you manage your pet around the home. Similarly, teaching them to come to you (or to choose to step up onto your hand) are equally invaluable. Reinforce them with parts of their breakfast/ dinner as often as possible for performing these behaviours, even if they’re not perfect to begin with.
Bringing a new pet into your home is a big deal. Taking time to consider the above carefully will help make the transition from original home to yours as easy and simple as possible and give you a great foundation to start your new adventures together on the right foot.