Maggie and Mimi

Just a couple of photos of my girls, Maggie and Mimi.

Getting to Zero Conference

Last week I went to the fifth Australian Getting to Zero conference. Getting to Zero is part of the ‘No Kill’ movement, which aims to reduce the number of animals that are needlessly euthanised in pounds and shelters.

I have spent a lot of time thinking, reading and writing about the outdated policies that some of Victoria’s biggest and most powerful animal shelters have in place, and how they are completely at odds with what the community expects of them. The conference really highlighted just how far behind Australia in in this respect, and how some of the biggest challenges facing Australia were addressed and put to bed years ago, in other jurisdictions. Today though, I want to focus on some of the positive things that are happening elsewhere in animal welfare.

One of the best ways to show that it doesn’t have to be like this, is to show what the alternative model can do, and what it looks like when other people do things differently. I left the conference feeling completely inspired and motivated, and spent the last week mulling over the various presentations and speakers. I got back to my hotel room each night and bookmarked dozens of websites, and made lists of things to read, letters to write and policies to research and put together.

The best thing to do is keep animals out of shelters
Even in the best shelter with the most innovative and proactive systems in place to rehabilitate and rehome animals, the minute an animal enters a shelter environment, it starts to deteriorate. Physically, mentally, emotionally.. shelters are inherently stressful places, and few dogs and cats really thrive in them.

So, what do you do?

Work with the community
Engage foster carers and volunteers, work with rescue organisations who are able to look after animals until they are adopted. I’m a foster carer for Rescued With Love, and there are numerous rescue organisations in Australia with people who are ready and willing to open their homes to pets who need a place to stay until they’re adopted.

This is my current foster dog, Harrington – he has been with us for about 3 months. I can’t even imagine what 3 months living in a shelter would have done to him – and in Australia, most shelters wouldn’t even consider keeping a dog for that length of time. He would have been euthanised, long ago. But he is a brilliant, inherently worthy little dog and he is going to make somebody a perfect companion. Just like the thousands of other animals that are euthanised before being given that chance.

Work with other shelters and organisations
If your shelter is full, and another one has a space, transfer the animal to that shelter instead of euthanizing it. No brainer. These are the 2012 adoption statistics from the Oregon Human Society, whose executive director Sharon Harmon, gave a number of presentations at the conference.

From their ‘adoption statistics’ page’:
“The rate is even more impressive because it includes 4,175 animals transferred to OHS from 67 animal welfare agencies (such as humane societies and animal control agencies) in Oregon, Washington and California. These animals were given a “second chance” at finding a  home through OHS when time and resources had run out at other   shelters.”

If a dog is being surrendered, get it into foster care before it even sets foot in the shelter. This is par for the course in the Oregon Humane Society. If we know that shelters aren’t good places for animals, why put them there if we don’t have to?

Help people keep their pets
Help people to keep their pets, instead of punishing people who are unable to afford to reclaim their pets from pounds (like the Rutherford RSPCA this week, who killed two healthy Jack Russells whose owner couldn’t afford the $900+ impound fees she was faced with).

Mark Kumpf from the Montgomery Council Animal Resource Centre spoke numerous times about his transition from being an animal control officer who was obsessed with pursuing unregistered animals and issuing citations, to an officer who sought to keep animals in home with people who love them, and are caring for them to the best of their ability. They may not be the pet owner of the year, and the way that some animals are kept may not be what you or I would consider ideal, but removing them from their owners only to be warehoused and euthanised isn’t doing anyone any favours.

I recently started following the Downtown Dog Rescue on facebook, and am constantly amazed at the brilliant work they do, working with people to enable them to keep their pets. If a family is faced with surrendering their dog because they can’t afford the vet work it needs, isn’t it better to help them with the vet work than take the dog, house it, feed it, attempt to rehome it and (given the rate at which most shelters euthanize dogs) euthanize it? These people help loads of animals and people in such a positive way, their site and facebook is really worth looking at.

If animals have to enter the shelter, minimise the harm
Cats and dogs don’t do well in tiny cages, with minimal contact and opportunity for physical and mental exercise and stimulation. The play, training and rehabilitation programs that the Oregon Human Association has put the shelters and pounds that I’ve been to, to shame.

Design principles can do wonders for reducing the levels of stress that animals experience, and creating a more relaxed environment. Cats need places to hide, and is there anything more stress-inducing than having rows of dog cages facing each other, so dogs are constantly forced to watch and listen to each other? Visual barriers, which can be as simple as a piece of material over a box laying on its side, can provide a cat with a place to hide. Ensuring that its litter box and food are as far away from each other as possible and providing vantage points and things to look at and play with, are incredibly simple but hugely effective. The photo below is from the Therian presentation – Therian have worked with many animal shelters, boarding kennels and other facilities and focus on designing facilities that consider animals’ needs. The plants in the middle look nice, but they are there to divide the lines of kennels to prevent dogs staring at each other all day.

There’s a better way
Animal sheltering used to be about bringing animals into shelters, holding them for a specified period of time, and euthanising them if they aren’t adopted. That’s unfortunately how it still works in many shelters here, but if the focus is shifted to saving the lives of animals, rather than maintaining the operating procedures that have been in place for decades, the possible outcomes are so much better.

Once you set your aim as saving animals, there are a whole range of tools and programs that you can put in place to that effect. The ‘save rates’ of some of the American shelters, which are geared toward saving the lives of animals, are phenomenal. But they’re not unreachable – it just takes a different attitude, and for actions to flow from that.

Victorian Code of Practice on Breeding and Rearing

The Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries (a match made in industry-stakeholder heaven, no?) recently released a draft Code of Practice on Breeding and Rearing for consultation and comment. I will be writing a submission on behalf of the rescue group that I foster for, and the RSPCA has issued a damning response here. It’s infuriating when you see so many signs that public awareness around puppy farms and domestic animal welfare is improving, and then something like this comes out and sets us back years. Your average person isn’t going to read a Code like this – people assume that the Government’s response to outrage about puppy farms would be to tighten the welfare regulations. In fact, it’s the opposite.

The following is a submission from a friend of mine who has compiled a comprehensive review of the proposed Code, with a draft letter for anybody to send as part of their own submission.


Public comments are open for the second draft of the Breeding and Rearing Code in Victoria. You can email submissions to (click to open email in your email client).

The letter below addresses several key areas:

  • The Regulatory Impact Statement remains unchanged from the first draft. This statement uses just 18 references, not all academic, and none about cats, to inform its recommendations.
  • The draft is more inconsistent than the last. While dogs are undoubtedly individuals, they have very similar needs as a whole. However, this draft defines different welfare standards for working dogs, ‘deer hunting packs’, ANKC registered dogs, and greyhounds. If this code is truly in the best interests of dog welfare, then it would be in the best interest of the welfare of all dogs, and not just dogs designed with a particular purpose.
  • This code practically compels breeders to keep dogs in kennels, which is, on the whole, undesirable for companion animal welfare. The burden of this code on small scale hobby breeders is unjustified.
  • Additionally, the socialisation outlined for puppies in this code is insufficient, and sometimes socialisation opportunities are inhibited by the code itself.
  • Containment options prohibited (crates) and permitted (tethering) are completely misguided.
  • The number of litters bitches can have, in a lifetime and in a defined period, is limited, despite no empirical data that indicates that such is problematic for bitch welfare. In retirement, bitches are compelled to be sterilised.
  • Too many restrictions are placed on whelping and lactating mothers, and hence breeders are prohibited from making best individual choices for their bitches and pups, including allowing bitches to co-parent.
  • This code awards veterinarians a huge amount of power in the management of dogs they neither live with or manage personally. Concerningly, there may be product-upsale as a result of the proposals placed in the code.
  • Vets still have far too much say in this review code. Vets still dictate the nutritional needs of dogs and control what dogs can be bred from. The best person to deterimine welfare choices for dogs are owners of dogs, who spend time with their dogs on a daily basis.
  • Euthanasia is listed as an option for retired breeding animals.


Here is a draft letter for you to use in your email or postal submission. You can email submissions to (click to open email in your email client). You may use any or all parts of this letter in your own personal submission.

To whom it may concern,

Re: Breeding and Rearing Code Review – Round 2

I write to express my concern regarding a number of areas of the Breeding and Rearing Code, and my comments concern only the elements that apply to dog husbandry. While I understand that this review is not intended to revise the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS), there are a number of gross deficiencies in the statement that necessitate its review. Significantly:

  • The RIS only has 18 references, not all academic, to substantiate the whole paper.
  • None of these 18 references refer to cats.
  • The paper references as Kustritz (2012) is grossly misinterpreted and deceptively presented by the RIS.

Considering these inadequate and inaccurate representations inform the proposed Breeding and Rearing Code, there is a substantial need to review the RIS in order to ensure it covers academic literature, on relevant species, and authentically represents this literature.

Furthermore, this code attempts to please a number of parties with breeding dogs by varying regulation depending on a particular dog’s purpose. Presumably, this code seeks to outline best welfare practice, yet is is unclear why differing husbandry recommendations would be made within the same species (i.e. Canis lupus familiaris). This code outlines a number of exemptions, including:

  • Excluding greyhound husbandry entirely.
  • Providing exemptions for ANKC registered breeders, working dogs, and ‘deer hunting packs’.
  • Exclusion of individuals with very few fertile dogs.

It is illogical to propose that different dogs have different welfare requirements, as they all have principally the same basic needs. The code currently in review is far more inconsistent than the last code, and seems to be pander to pressure from different lobby groups instead of applying core and established animal welfare needs.

In addition, this code practically compels breeders to keep their dog in a kennel environment. While kennel environments can be well maintained, kennels generally apply psychologically stress dogs to some extent. They are certainly not the ideal environment to raise puppies through their critical window (as chances for generalisation are minimised). As such, the scope of this entire code needs to be re-evaluated. Simply, it’s undesirable for dogs and puppies to live in kennel environments, especially because legislation compels them to. Moreover, many of the requirements listed for breeders (such as keeping records for 5 years and using disinfectant for a number of purposes) would be prohibitive to small scale breeders. Effectively, this code legitimises the kennelling of dogs at the expense of more domestic breeding setups, which in turn is detrimental to animal welfare.

Socialisation is also a problem for this proposed code. The socialisation outlined for puppies is insufficent at best, but more bordering on neglient. Scientific literature has concluded that puppies have a critical period from 4-12 weeks where they are particularly receptive to new experiences, and are most likely to generalise these experiences to the rest of their lives. However, the code actively prohibits puppies from leaving the premises prior to 8 weeks of age (thereby halving the time available for the puppy to experience new environments) and prohibts puppies from leaving their mother before 8 weeks (thereby producing puppies that leave their mother when they leave to their new home, causing settling, crying, and disharmony issues in their new home). While the code at least requires puppies to be handled, it does not specify a number of people that a puppy should be handled by. Theoretically, a litter of puppies could be handled by just one individual up until 8 weeks and be within the scope of this code. This falls far short of Dr Ian Dunbar’s recommendations of puppy socialisation, where puppies should meet 100 people before they turn 8 weeks old. Furthermore, puppies are not required to socialise with other dogs in this code, and so early socialisation opportunities are also potentially lost by this oversight.

Similarly, the code’s recommendations regarding containment are also lacking. The code permits the practice of tethering, which is an antiquated manner of containment that prohibits dogs from exhibiting free behaviours, and has been correlated with aggression. It is nonsensical for the code to permit this practice to continue. However, the code also effectively bans the use of crates for dogs by using minimal pen sizes. Crates are naturally ‘den-like’ for dogs, and often allow them to feel safe, assist in transport stress minimisation, and otherwise provide stability for dogs in new and challenging environments. It is problematic that crates, a positive form of confinement, does not comply with this proposed code, yet tethering is permitted. This area needs to be immediately rectified for animal welfare reasons.

While many animal welfare groups publicly comment on brood bitch welfare, there is no empirical data that explictedly states, on grounds of animal welfare:

  • How many litters a bitch may have in a lifetime.
  • How many litters a bitch may have in a particular time period.

Considering the lack of empirical evidence in this area, it is flawed for the code to include baseless recommendations brought about only through vocal lobby groups. It is also concerning that retired bitches are required to have ‘veterinarian direction’ to prevent further litters. This suggests that surgical interventions are recommended, and that breeders cannot be trusted to effectively manage retired bitches to prevent further litters.

This is just one of many ways that veterinarians are over-used in the proposed code. This draft awards veterinarians a large amount of unjustified power, considering the small involvement they have with the animals at hand. By this I mean: owners, who handle their dogs on a daily basis, are likely to be more knowledgable regarding their pet than a vet who examines a dog in a 15 minute consult. Furthermore, veterinarians are placed in a position of product up-sale. Because they are required to produce ‘health management plans’ for the dogs on a property, they can sell nutrition and preventative medications that is profitable for their business. In additions, veterinarians can determine the most suitable animals for breeding. There is a huge potential for abuse of power in this legislated relationship, which can see veterinarians win out at the expense of their breeder clients.

The Breeding and Rearing Code is overly prescriptive when it comes to the care of whelping and lactating bitches with puppies, leaving breeders with little choice in deciding best practice for individual bitches and litters. In this code, dual parenting is prohibited, socialisation visits from other dogs is prohibited, and bitches are required to be able to escape their litter at all times. Breeders should be afforded the choice to allow bitches to co parent a litter (especially in cases of a large litter). They should be permitted to allow other dogs to socialise with the puppies from approximately 4 weeks, as we know that is the beginning of the critical period for dogs to learn to interact with others. Additionally, there are cases where bitches should be kept with their puppies constantly to ensure their welfare, especially mothers who are less-than-maternal and may abandon their puppies given the chance. The prescriptive nature of the code limits the options breeders can make, which may be detrimental to puppy welfare.

It is objectionable that this code still lists euthanasia as as an option for retired breeding animals. Many individuals would take ethical rejection of euthanasia as an option for spent breeding animals. Breeders should be compelled to keep or rehome animals, and only use euthanasia on humane grounds (i.e. animals are suffering from an incurable disease). The convenience destruction of companion animals is reprehensible and should not appear as a recommendation within this code.

It is clear that there a number of areas where this proposed Breeding and Rearing Code are lacking. The RIS, which informs the code, is poorly referenced. The code is inconsistent, requiring different types of dogs to be housed and managed in different ways, and practically compels breeders to keep their dogs in kennel environments. Socialisation outlined in the code is limited, and indeed hindered by the code itself. Presumably, this code bans crating as a confinement method, but permits tethering. The breeding of bitches is limited by this code, yet there is no data that indicates that the limitations suggested by the code are in the best interest of bitch welfare. Furthermore, veterinarian input is overused in all elements of this code, increasing business expense but also placing vets in a position to up-sell products. This code limits the breeders options in raising litters, as they are obligated to meet the code, despite what may be in the best interest of the pup’s welfare. Finally, euthanasia is deplorably listed as an option for retired breeding animals.

Considering these many short falls of the RIS and the Code, I suggest that both pieces need to undergo extensive changes before inviting public consultation once again.

Yours sincerely,


For additional criticisms of this code, please see:

The RSPCA’s Analysis

The RSPCA’s inital comments

Rescued With Love’s comments

Oscar’s Law’s Comments


For review of the past draft code, please see (all from Some Thoughts About Dogs):

Breeding and Rearing Code Review in Victoria

Breeding and Rearing Code Review in Victoria – Online Submission

Breeding and Rearing Code Review in Victoria – Email Submission

Where do puppies come from?

Tegan at Leema Kennels has just done some great analysis of where puppies in Australia come from. Broadly, 54% of dogs bought in Australia are from undocumented sales, including backyard breeders.

It’s a brilliant post, which combines information from a number of sources.

Foster Caring for Dummies

In November last year, my fiance and I started fostering for a rescue group in Melbourne. Our first foster was very overweight when he came into care, so his weight loss as well as general health improvements became a talking point among various people who met him. In talking to people about him, it became apparent that many people have no idea that people can and do foster animals, and are often quite interested in doing it themselves. Unless you spend too many waking hours worrying about animal welfare related things like me, and end up basing every social interaction around dogs, you may not have any reason to come across animal welfare or rescue groups. This is where I come in, with this post about fostering!

Many animal rescues run as foster care networks, or volunteers who take animals into their homes and look after them until they are ready to be put up for adoption, and find a home. Some pounds also have foster carers, however the numbers and the size of the foster program varies significantly; some do not use foster carers at all, and others use them only for the youngest puppies and kittens.

There are no hard and fast rules around fostering, or what it involves and requires, as the specifics of the arrangement will be determined by the particular rescue group or organisation involved. Like anything, some groups are run like well oiled machines, and others are run in a very ad-hoc, haphazard way. Note that the size of the group is not an indication of how well it is run – a group with lots of animals in its care or a revolving door of foster carers is not necessarily the best RUN group, or the one that you want to volunteer with.

This post is intended to give an overview of what fostering is all about, and what to think and ask about if you are interested in doing it yourself.

What is fostering?

At the most basic level, fostering is providing temporary care for an animal in need. Fostering a dog involves bringing the dog into your own home and caring for it like it was your own dog until it finds a home. In most cases, the dog or cat will be listed on the rescue’s website and, and will live with you until the right applicant comes along and adopts him/her. Some organisations have set periods for foster care, but most will have animals in care for as long as it takes for them to be adopted. Nobody can tell you exactly how long this will be, unfortunately!

For instance, the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP) of Greyhound Racing Victoria run a foster care program whereby Greyhounds live in a number of homes for short 2 week periods, to get them used to life in a house, as opposed to kennels. Most private rescues do not own or use kennels, pounds or other holding facilities, and don’t have a physical location or base. The dogs and cats remain in foster care for days, weeks or months – depending on how long it takes. Some dogs are adopted almost immediately, whereas others may take longer; nobody can ever tell, it depends entirely on the dog, its needs, and how long it takes for them to be found and adopted by the people who eventually do adopt them.

The group that I foster for take on many dogs needing vet treatment, or time to recover from cruelty and neglect – in this case, they may be in foster care for months before they are ready to be adopted. Some animals will need to be desexed, so will need to spend some time recovering from their surgery before being adopted. Others come into care healthy and happy, and can be put up for adoption immediately. These ones just need a home to live in until the right ‘forever’ home comes along.

The particular arrangements vary from group to group, but generally, a foster family/person will take the animal into their home and look after it. The animal remains owned by the rescue organisation, group or pound, and that organisation is ultimately responsible for the animal. Foster carers don’t own the animals in their care, but provide temporary care – sometimes more temporary than others.

What do foster carers do?

In a nutshell, foster carers look after their foster animals as if they were one of their own. My foster dog is treated like one of my dogs – he gets the same food, love, affection and training as my two little dogs. When people ask me how many dogs I have, I say “three.. well, two.. two plus one.. two and a foster.” I’m still not quite sure what the right thing to say is, and a great many people I know are thoroughly confused at how many dogs I have and how my life operates. It’s great!

The 'before' pic - day 1 in foster care

The nuts and bolts – money, decisions and how it all works

In a nutshell, foster dogs and cats are officially ‘owned’ by the rescue organisation, and looked after by their foster carer. The way the arrangement works in practice, including who pays for what, varies.

In some organisations, carers will pay for all food, bedding, collars, medication etc that the animal will need or use while in foster care. Other organisations provide all food, medication and accessories that an animal will need. Some organisations have relationships with particular vet surgeries, and others are happy for foster carers to use their own local vet and reimburse the carer afterwards.  Each organisation has its own way of doing things. Some organisations will arrange for potential adopters to meet the foster dog in its foster home, while others will have foster carers take the foster dog to meet the potential adopter in the adopter’s home. Some groups have ‘trial periods’ for adopters, and others don’t.

To provide a real example, the organisation that I foster for has an association with two particular vets who look after the care and welfare of all of the group’s animals. As soon as an animal comes into the care of my group, they are given a thorough vet check, and any procedures required at that time or later down the track are provided by that vet surgery. There are procedures in place for what to do if a dog needs emergency or out of hours care, and I know that help from the head of the rescue organisation is a phone call away. All vet work and medication is paid for by the rescue group – I look after the dog as if he were mine, take him to the vet when he needs to go, and pick up his medication – but the group takes care of the financials.

I pay for his food and provide him with bedding and toys, but am welcome to take any food or items that are donated to the group. My personal approach is to just provide for my foster dog like I would for my other two dogs, so I am happy to buy a bit of extra food and have extra beds lying around. This works for us. If I wasn’t open to sharing my home and life with another dog, or provide the same level of care, attention and love that I provide to my own dogs, I wouldn’t be doing this. So they all eat better than most people I know, and live a pretty damn good life!

The 'after' photo - all ready for his new home

But how do you give the dog away?

I feel like a bit of a fraud writing this section, because so far, I’ve only parted with one foster dog. That was Snow the Greyhound, back in 2010. The little dog I am fostering at the moment is just perfect, and when he leaves I will be distraught – that much I know. The two nights that he has been away from us in the time we’ve had him (since mid-November 2012), the house has been eerily quiet. Strange, since this dog is one of the calmest, quietest little things I’ve ever seen, and spends 90% of his life sleeping upstairs. When he leaves, I’m sure it will be bittersweet – he’s not leaving until the perfect home comes along, that may be in a day or a year. The home he eventually goes to will be fantastic though (he’s not going to anyone that is anything less!) and I don’t have the monopoly on loving and caring for him. I love him – I am completely in love with him, actually – but I know that someone else will be able to love him too.

It would be so, so easy to keep him. He fits in perfectly with our house, and is a gem to look after. But if we kept him, there’d be no more fostering, and there are so many other little dogs that need a place to rest up for a while.

Nobody finds it easy to give a dog away, but fostering is not about the foster carer. It’s about helping dogs who need it get a bit of a break from the pound environment, or giving dogs who would otherwise not have a chance, to have a chance at a new life.

Not everybody is cut out for it, and some people “fail” at their first attempt, keeping their first foster dog! Any dog that finds a loving home is a lucky dog, but the world needs more carers who can put aside their own emotions and attachment for the sake of the bigger picture.

Fostering is also a great way to ease yourself into pet ownership, or get to live with an animal if you’re unable to commit to one for life. If you’re only in the country or state for a few months or years and can’t commit to pet ownership for life, fostering might just be perfect!

One of the reasons I first wanted to foster was to see whether I could actually be a good dog owner. Wanting a dog is one thing, having one and actually meeting all its needs properly is quite another. I had moved out of home some years prior and lived in sharehouses ever since, not having to get home from work at any particular time, or plan around anything other than myself. I knew it would be a big change, needing to get home as soon after work as possible to look after the dog and adjust my schedule and routine. The day I picked up Snow the Greyhound my life changed dramatically, and I haven’t looked back.

 Want to start fostering? What to look for and what to avoid

If you’re thinking about fostering, make sure you do your research. Investigate rescue areas in your area and how they operate, the dogs they take on, who their carers are, and how it all works. Be prepared to ask lots of questions and be asked lots of questions. The main things to check for are clear arrangements around liability, responsibility, and who is responsible for what.

Who actually owns the dog? What happens if the dog gets out? What happens if the dog becomes sick or injured while in your care? Who pays for the vet? How is payment arranged? Who communicates with potential adopters, and who has final say over who adopts the dog? What if something unforeseen happens and you can no longer look after the dog? These are some questions that you need to be able to answer, and that the group must also be able to answer.

You want to make sure that you are working with a group that knows what they are doing and has dotted their ‘I’s and crossed their ‘T’s. Remember, if you are bringing a strange dog into your home, you want to make sure that you and your pets are safe, and there is support for you should anything go wrong. In most cases it will probably be smooth sailing, but inevitably there are sometimes problems.

Some of the things I know of include foster carers not being reimbursed for vet treatment, foster animals doing damage to foster families’ property, foster carers struggling with animals they are unable to adequately care for. Generally, these come down to inadequate support provided by the group, to the carer. Some dogs will require training or behavioural assessments – who organises, authorises and pays for this?

If you contact a rescue group to express interest in fostering and they thrust a dog at you and ask no questions, run a mile.  If you’re not asked numerous questions and provided with adequate information to satisfy the most basic enquiries (ie, who pays for what, what the adoption process is, who owns the dog), this is not a group you want to support. There are lots of brilliant rescues who know what they are doing and are experienced, dedicated and most importantly, VALUE their carers. There are unfortunately many groups popping up with the best intentions but without the experience or understanding of rescue behind them. Don’t let yourself get caught up in somebody else’s teething problems.

Speak to other carers, or people who have cared for them in the past. Make sure you are clear in your own mind about the kind of dogs that you are really willing and able to take on – if you have only ever owned geriatric little white fluffies, is an adolescent Bull Arab that has found itself in the pound because it regularly clears 7 foot fences going to be the right dog for you? It may be! But be honest with yourself, and with the rescue group. If you’ve never owned a puppy before and are not sure about toilet training, let them know, ask for help, and keep the lines of communication open.

Anything else?

If you’ve got any questions or would like some frank and honest advice, leave a comment or send me an email – I’m more than happy to have a chat.



Review of fatal dog attacks in the US (2012)

In 2012 there were 36 fatal dog attacks recorded in the United States. This post provides a brief outline of the known factors of each, including the age of the victim, breed of dog, relationship to the victim, and circumstances of the attack.

The summary at the end is particularly important, and very telling. These passages in particular are

“In total, there were 36 people who were fatally injured in dog attacks this year.

— 6 were infants less than 8 months old

— 13 were children aged 8 months – 8 years

— 17 of the victims were adults over the age of 23”


… In every single case the infant was left unattended with the dog.

In the remaining 11 cases, the victims were 4 years of age or less.

— In at least 8 of these 11 cases, the child was left unattended. In two cases it is unclear if adults were present or not, and in one case, a small toddler appeared to have startled, or possibly injured the dog causing a quick snap that was ill-placed and proved fatal.

— 3 incidents occurred when a child was left unattended with the dog in the home (consistent with the situation with infants above)

— 2 incidents involved a child leaving the home unbeknown to the adults present and being attacked in the yard by stray dogs

— 3 incidents involved the child wandering onto a neighbor’s property (once, more than 1/2 mile away from home) and wandering up to dogs that were contained on the owner’s property. In two of these cases the dogs were chained, and in one case, two dogs were contained by an electronic fence that kept the dogs in, but not the toddler out.


Dogs don’t attack for no reason, or without warning. If they attack “for no reason” or “without warning”, chances are the dog has some sort of neurological condition (which is a [b]reason[/b]) or the dog’s warnings were missed or misinterepreted (missing a warning doesn’t mean there was no warning).

Children, let alone infants, should never be left alone with any dog. The fact that the breeds involved in the above fatalities were larger breeds is most likely attributable to the fact that large breeds can do more damage. And a bite on an infant may be fatal, whereas a bite to an adult is less likely to be.

I’d never leave either of my dogs unattended with a child, despite the fact that they’re small, well socialised and great with children. If a toddler grabbed a chunk of Maggie’s hair and pulled hard, she may very well turn around and snap. A toddler knows no better, and Maggie’s response would be perfectly reasonable in that scenario. I’ve seen well meaning people approach dogs tied up outside shops and gritted my teeth as they completely ignore the dog looking away, ducking away, and eyeballing the person. Some people can’t read dog language – it doesn’t mean that the dog isn’t radiating loud and clear warning signs. They’re just not being understood.

There were 17 cases involving adult victims in 2012.

— 6 incidents involved elderly or disabled victims

— 6 incidents occurred inside the home

— In 5 cases, a history of aggressive behavior was specifically noted previously. In 2 other cases, a history of abuse/neglect was present.

— 10 of the incidents involved multiple dogs — showing that pack-bahavior is different in these cases than solo behavior.

The quotes above are a select few – the post has many great insights, and lots of great information.

A little update

Last week, I was invited to be on the board of an animal shelter in Melbourne. I am absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to be involved in setting and managing the direction of this shelter, and to work with a wonderful group of people who are passionate about turning it into the great organisation that it can be. In light of this, I just placed what was to be an order for one book, but which turned into a nice little parcel of 4.

My collection of dog books is steadily growing, to the point that it’s soon going to need its own bookshelf. This is largely thanks to the ‘recommendations based on your order’ and ‘customers who bought this also bought..’ sections on various online book stores (which I am fully aware are the online equivalent of chocolate next to the supermarket check out.. I always fall for that one, too).

 I’m hoping these will arrive before my fiancé and I head to Tasmania next week – but er, I also bought this book on Friday.

This wouldn’t necessarily be such a problem if I wasn’t nearing the end of my Masters, and also amassing swathes of reading and assignments for that. Hmm.

So here is an unrelated picture of my two little foster dogs. The little girl on the left is staying with us until the weekend while her foster carer is away, and the gorgeous boy on the right is with us until the perfect home comes along. Which as far as I am concerned, can be in ten years if that’s what it takes – he is the most perfect little dog, he’s welcome to stay as long as he needs. I’m going to be a mess when he leaves.

Copying TV trainers – Fear and Aggression

This 2009 article from the Daily Telegraph is a nice, quick little overview of why copying the methods of “TV dog trainers” (which is a euphemism if ever I read one) can be harmful.

Generally in life, you get what you give. I don’t believe in karma as a mystical, paranormal or other universe-driven force; I think it’s much more simple. If you treat people with respect and kindness, they’ll like you more and be nice to you. If someone is rude or aggressive toward you, particularly in your first encounter, you’re much more likely to respond in kind. It’s not necessarily a conscious thing – in many cases, it’s more of an instant, emotional response. I don’t think that dogs treated kindly by their owners are any nicer than those that aren’t. But responding to what looks like ‘bad behaviour’ with punishment can be a really, really bad idea.

Responding to what looks like an “aggressive” dog with aggressive tactics is a recipe for disaster. Dogs can behave aggressively for numerous reasons, and most people aren’t that good at reading and understanding them. If your dog snaps or lashes out, there’s a good chance that it’s because he’s scared or feels threatened by something. That’s not the case in all situations of course, but I guarantee that it’s the case in more situations than most people realise. If your dog is scared and snaps, lunges or growls, and you hit or yell at him in response, you’re not teaching him that snapping, lunging or growling are wrong. You might be teaching him that being scared is going to get him yelled at, but how is that helping to address your dog’s fear? You can’t cure fear by punishing it. (And if you think you can, you’re not the kind of person I ever want anywhere near my dogs.) What you’re more likely to be doing is confusing your dog, and exacerbating his fear and uncertainty.


If you have a fearful dog – whether they’re scared of people, dogs, balloons, statues, or anything else – a great resource is the little book(let) The Cautious Canine, by Patricia McConnell. It’s about 40 pages long, and is a brilliant insight into fear and anxiety and how to help your dog to overcome it using ‘counter-conditioning’. It’s about $6, so there’s really no excuse and you’ll thank me for it.

If you’d like to learn more about dog body language and how better to communicate with and understand your dog, Patricia McConnell’s book For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend. (I wish it didn’t have such a touchy feely subject, I was embarrassed reading it in public.. but it’s really very good!)

Another suggestion is On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas.

And on another note

For the last 6 weeks we have been fostering a gorgeous little dog with a rather unfortunate past. He’s just perfect and I’m going to be devastated when he is adopted, but he has taught me a lot. Including how forgiving dogs can be when any human in their situation would be dead, homicidal (or in jail) or at the very least, very hateful. Fostering him has also alerted me to how few people know what fostering is, and that you can actually DO it! That will be the subject of my next post – all about fostering, and whether it’s something that you could do.

In the mean time, here’s a picture of our little foster boy, and one of him and my girls Mimi and Maggie at the beach.


Michael Ellis – How to deal with a dog “challenging” you.

Michael Ellis answers a customer’s question about how to deal with their dog “challenging” them by biting them.

What the questioner didn’t realise was that she had both misread her dog’s signals, and how her own actions were reinforcing undesirable behaviour. A fearful dog who is scared (and perhaps also in pain) does not bite their owner to challenge them – they bite because they are scared and have been taught (albeit unintentionally) that that behaviour works to alleviate the source of fear or pain.

It’s a classic example of miscommunication, and an owner attributing dominance and perhaps malice to what is in actual fact, a case of fear. This demonstrates why it is so important for us as dog owners and handlers to be conscious of the signals we give our dogs, both consciously and unconsciously. And just as importantly, to understand that not every negative thing they do (whether it’s a growl, a bite, jumping up, humping, playing tug, pulling on the lead, pushing out the door ahead of you, etc) is a dominance challenge.

Resources for New Puppy Owners

Tegan at Leema Kennels has compiled a brilliant and extremely comprehensive list of resources for new puppy owners.

It spans a whole gamut of topics, from before you get your pup, toilet training, common issues, socialisation, health issues.. it’s a great resource, and I’m sure it will be useful to a great many people.

Check it out – Resources for New Puppy Owners. Tegan’s blog is choc full of interesting articles and links too, well worth immersing yourself in!