McDowall Vet Dog Behaviour 101 : Enrichment Ideas.

Mcdowall dog behaviourBoredom is by far the biggest cause of behavioural issues in our dogs! Do you have issues with barking, separation anxiety, digging or destructive chewing? Unfortunately, we see a fair amount of this in our patients at McDowall Vets and most pet owners have experienced at least one of these problem behaviours. It’s extremely common, especially as these days we often have less and less time to spend with our pets – inevitably, we all have to work or leave our pets alone at some stage. Altering these problem behaviours can seem like an impossible task, and it’s very difficult to know where to start. Enrichment is a perfect way to ensure they are not bored while we are away, and we can use it to curb boredom related behaviour in our dogs.
Enrichment describes the process of providing a stimulating environment to an animal to keep them busy and interested. This type of training has been used in zoos for many years, and ensures that the animals in captivity are kept stimulated and don’t become bored. Boredom in zoo animals leads to stereotypical behaviours – these are abnormal repetitive behaviours that animals lacking stimulation perform to amuse themselves. This includes things like pacing, weaving and destructive and aggressive behaviours. We see the same sort of stereotypical behaviours in our pets – barking, chewing, digging and escaping – the list goes on. So, if large scale zoos can manage to keep all of their animals entertained and busy using enrichment, surely it is doing something right! We have borrowed some of their great ideas and applied it to our pets to create a list of easy ways to keep them happy and stimulated.
Food puzzle toys
The key to enrichment is to find out what drives your dog – and most dogs love their food! There are endless products on the market which are food related and which your dog will play with for hours! The Kong is the most famous example of this type of toy. Fill these toys with Fido’s favourite titbits – kibble pieces, cooked chicken, canned food, doggy treats and even small amounts of cheese or peanut butter. You can even make your own toy, by taking an old drink or milk bottle and filling it with food. Your dog will push around the bottle until the food falls out of the opening. If you’re using food puzzle toys frequently, feed your dog a little less at meal times.

Hunting for dinner
Wolves and wild dogs hunt for every meal. Meal times for domesticated dogs are generally an unremarkable experience in comparison – we hand all of their meals to them in a bowl. We can make meal times more interesting for our pups by making them “hunt” for their food. This can be as simple as scattering biscuits along on the floor for your dog to gobble up, or as complex as hiding food in the backyard for your dog to sniff out. You can also give raw bones to your pup for them to chew – it can upset their belly however, so try to make this a sometimes treat.

An alternative to the hunting for dinner idea is the working for food idea. If your dog enjoys performing commands, feed some of their daily kibble in the form of rewards during training sessions. Remember, rewards can be given simply for being calm or not jumping up.

Enrichment in hot weather
In summer, use of ice and water in toys is great enrichment but also will help your pup stay cool. Adding ice cubes to their water bowl is a simple way of doing this. You can also turn your food puzzle toys into ice blocks by adding water with your treats and freezing them. If your dog really likes water, taking them to your local beach or creek is a great way to keep them active and stimulated! Swimming is perfect exercise for older dogs. If this isn’t practical for you, try giving your pup water to play with in the backyard in the form of a sprinkler, hose or a small wading pool.

Walking is not only good exercise, but is extremely stimulating for dogs – especially to their sense of sight and smell. Try to make it a habit to take your pup for at least a short walk every day. Not only is it enriching for both of you, but helps control weight and provides a bonding experience between you and your pup.

Social opportunities
If walking isn’t always practical for you, there are other ways to socialise your dog. Organise a puppy play date with a friend’s dog, or take your dog to your local off-leash area! Dogs are social animals, and will usually wear themselves out quite quickly playing with their friends. If you’re going for a drive to pick up the kids or through the drive thru to pick up dinner, a simple way to keep your dog stimulated is to take them along for the ride. This is also a good way to get nervous dogs used to the car! Remember, we always like to see our patients, even if it is just a social visit. Maybe stop by McDowall Vet on your drive so we can say hello!

Dogs that aren’t food motivated may be more interested in games as enrichment! Good games to play with your dog include active games like fetch or tug-of-war. Games like these are really great in terms of bonding with your dog, and also keep them happy and active. Use games as rewards for good behaviour, even if you only take 5 minutes out of your day for a quick game of fetch.

We hope that this has given you some ideas to help prevent boredom in your pets. Please feel free to call us on 3353 6999 if you would like to discuss any behavioural issues that your pet may be displaying.

Happy Enriching – McDowall Vets.

Why we recommend and LOVE puppy school!

Cooper from Albany Creek Vet puppy school

Cute Cocker Cooper

Who doesn’t love puppies!! We have the best jobs ever here at McDowall Vet Practice, and never is it more evident than during our free puppy school meetings! These run every Monday and Tuesday evening from 6.30pm to 7.30pm and each course runs for one month. Because we believe so strongly in the positive benefits of dogs attending puppy school, we have made the decision to offer this class free to our clients, which is quite unique – we are the first vet practice in Australia to offer this service! Our puppy school is run by our wonderful, friendly certified veterinary nurses Laura and Steph.

There are so many benefits to attending Puppy school. Firstly it allows your bundle of fluff to experience positive socialisation with puppies of differing sizes- and with other people from outside their family. Often this is the first time puppies have seen another dog apart from their litter mates and it can be quite a culture shock! It is really fun to watch puppies mature and come out of their shells over the 4 weeks of puppy school. Ultimately, a well socialised dog is a happy one and means you are much more likely to take them out and about with you exploring.

Coco Sienna from Everton Park vet puppy school

Cuddly Coco Sienna

We offer a relaxed and safe place for puppies to have fun and experience new things. Our practice is a clean, disinfected and controlled environment, so we are happy that puppies who have not yet had their full set of vaccinations can safely mix with other puppies who are at the same stage. Laura and Steph watch closely to make sure that nobody becomes too overwhelmed by the experience or picked on by bigger dogs!

Another benefit of attending puppy school with us is that it allows your puppy to become accustomed to all the sights and smells of the clinic. Most dogs only visit the vets when something bad happens and so naturally, they can find it a daunting place. If we can make your dog’s first few visits a fun and happy experience, the next time they have to visit us, it’s not so scary for them- or for you! Our puppy school graduates usually come bounding through the front door and often are confused as to why all their friends aren’t there as well!

We will also go into more detail on all of those puppy care topics like diet, flea and tick control, toilet training, teething, prevention of biting and so on which Rob, Tara and Jenny may have discussed with you already. In this environment we can spend more time on the topics and give you plenty of time to ask questions about anything that is concerning you. We know how “full on” those first few weeks of puppy ownership can be!

Another aim of puppy school is to get our puppies to learn basic commands, such as ‘sit’ and ‘drop’, and you will learn how to gently train your pets and get them to start toeing the line! However this isn’t the main focus of puppy school – we are more interested in teaching the puppies to be well socialized than obedient- at least during this stage in their life! And of course the main idea behind puppy school is to have fun!

Newton from Mcdowall vet puppy school

Giant Newton – the Dane!

Puppy school 101 also teaches our fluff bags to recognize the body language of other puppies and become aware of what is socially acceptable in the doggy world. They’ll learn that some dogs want to play and others don’t; that some are shy and some want to be the centre of attention. They will learn the behavior that other dogs display when they are interested in interacting and when they want to be left alone, which can save them some trouble as they get older and mix with more dogs that they don’t know.

Observing the puppies in a busy environment also allows us to identity some of the common problems that puppies can develop, such as guarding food, social anxiety or jumping up. If noticed, we will work with you to help resolve them before they become a more serious problem as the puppies grow into dogs.

In summary, we LOVE our Puppy school and I am sure you will to! It allows us to really get to experience the characters of the individual puppies and start to become great friends with them. If you are passing the clinic on a Monday or Tuesday evening and would like to brighten up your day, just pop your head in and say hello!

Dr Rob’s Ramblings: Happiness is ……..


Boxers must be the happiest dogs around. It is hard to look at a Boxer and not smile or laugh! I was reminded of this, this week, when we had a wonderful Boxer called “Oli” in for treatment. Oli is undergoing treatment for a reasonably invasive cancer and had to have several X – rays and tests performed on him. Throughout the whole process he was wagging from the tip of his tail to the end of his nose in a whole body wag that Boxers are so good at doing! His happiness and exuberance was infectious!

Currently, there is a trend doing the rounds on Facebook which you may have seen, focusing on gratitude, whereby people post three things every day that they are grateful for. Often it is the simple things in life that we take for granted most. I wondered what Oli’s list would be!

Day 1:
I am grateful that:

  • I woke up in such a good mood!
  • The sun is shining!
  • I had such a delicious breakfast!

Day 2:

  • I woke up in such a good mood!
  • The cat allowed me to chase it!
  • Pats from my master!

Day 3:

  • I woke up in such a good mood!
  • The postie drove past!
  • The postie drove past again!

You get the idea! I hope your week is as good as Oli’s!

McDowall and Everton Park Vet Tips to combat Dog Separation Anxiety

Everton Park Vet


Canine separation anxiety is something that we are seeing more frequently in our dog patients, like “Bella” the Cocker Spaniel from Everton Park.   As dogs become a bigger part of our lives and truly become a part of the family, we are spending more time with them.  Gone are the days when our dogs were solely relegated to the backyard.  Now they sit by our feet as we eat our meals, lounge with us as we watch television and sleep on (or even in!) our beds.

Obviously we love our pets and want them to feel included as part of the family but some dogs can become very distressed when all of a sudden, they feel as if they are excluded from our lives.  Unfortunately we can’t explain to them that we’re just going to the shops or heading out for work.  It’s not only stressful and upsetting for the dogs, but also for us as owners when we see them in that state.

Typical symptoms of separation anxiety are destructive behaviour, excessive persistent vocalisation, toileting accidents and drooling (a sign of anxiety).  These are some of the symptoms that “Bella” displayed which allowed Dr Rob the McDowall and Everton Park Vet to diagnose the separation anxiety. Although they tend to occur when your dog has been left alone some of these symptoms may be simply the behaviour of a bored dog.

The main thing to combat separation anxiety is to teach your dog to be comfortable in your absence.  One of the easiest ways to do this is to not make a huge fuss when you leave and return to your dog.  After all, you do come back every time so it doesn’t have to be a big drama!  Some owners find that distracting their dog with a fun toy or a yummy treat gives them time to slip out unnoticed.  That way your dog doesn’t even register your departure.  In the same way, when you come home, ignore all the barking and the jumping up (we know it can be hard!!).  Once your dog has settled, then you can say hello as a way to reward their calm behaviour.  The more you do this, the sooner your dog will realise that your leaving isn’t a cause for concern.

Regular exercise is great for your dog, as well as you!  Exercise not only gives your dog a chance to stretch their legs, it gives them a chance to sniff and see what’s going on in the neighbourhood.  It’s an effective way for them to stretch their brains, in addition to getting some social interaction.  A well exercised dog is much less likely to be anxious and display the behaviours seen with separation anxiety.

There are some dogs that can start to get anxious at certain points in their owner’s routine because they know this means that the family is getting ready to leave.  If this is the case, one thing to try is to go about your normal routine at a different time–  and not leave.  It may feel funny to put your work shoes on or jingle the car keys but this will desensitise your dog to the usual cues that they associate with you getting ready to leave.

Studies show that most of the destructive behaviour caused by dogs occurs within twenty minutes of the owner leaving.  By providing environmental enrichment for our dogs, we can keep their bodies and minds active while we’re away.  There is a wide range of toys on the market that can help you with this.  We find that toys that involve food work especially well!  ‘Kongs’ are probably the best known toy of this variety and they can be stuffed with treats or even your dog’s breakfast so that they have to work at getting their food.  Another possibility is a timed feeder that will provide your dog with regular snacks!

If you come home and there has been a mess due to separation anxiety, there’s nothing you can do about it.  Your dog won’t be able to put two and two together and realise that you are angry about something that probably happened hours ago.  Have a think about what you might have done differently that may have upset the dog and caused him/her to feel particularly anxious.  Although sometimes, you might have done everything as normal and there’s still an accident.  With training, sometimes it’s one step forward and two steps back.  Don’t feel disheartened!

Dog should be rewarded for calm behaviour when you’re around as this will encourage them to continue this in your absence.  If your dog is settling on its mat at home, that’s great.  Give a treat and a pat.  If your dog sits quickly and calmly when you return home, they should again be rewarded.  Let them have their own safe space to relax at home.  Mats or crates are perfect tools for this.  Some owners will leave a piece of clothing that has their scent on it to encourage the dog to settle.

An old favourite for dealing with separation anxiety is to leave the TV or radio on for your pet.  The background noise may help to soothe your dog by providing audio company.

We have had a good success rate using DAP (Dog Appeasement Pheromones) therapy.  This uses a synthetic pheromone that mimics the pheromone that a mother dog gives off to her puppies.  It seems to work best as a plug-in diffuser to be used inside but there are alternative versions that can be sprayed onto various items or even collars for your dog to wear 24/7.  This helps to calm the dog so it is not as anxious while you are away.

In severe cases, dogs may need some form of anti-anxiety medication.  This is not a quick fix option and should be used alongside the behavioural retraining techniques your vet will provide for you.

This article is only the starting point for helping your dog with their separation anxiety, for further help, please get in touch with the Everton Park Vet.  Don’t expect changes overnight with your dog, it’s often a long road to treating this condition.  In addition, please be aware that any of the symptoms described can also be indicators of other unrelated medical issues your dog may have.  If you are concerned about any behaviours your dog is exhibiting, please call us for a chat.