One of the most important lessons we can teach our children is that ALL feelings are ok, acceptable, and encouraged. This is not to say that all behaviour is acceptable, but we’ll get to that a little later.
When children learn that expressing their emotions is healthy, that asking for help is appreciated, and that feeling unpleasant emotions is not “bad”, this can drastically improve mental health.
We have become conditioned that we should in some form or another, always be “happy”. Or at least content. Or regulated. Or excited. Or joyful. We are taught that unpleasant emotions (anger, fear, disgust, shame, guilt, etc.) should be avoided. But what has this ideal done for society? Depression levels are up, suicide is up, self-reports of personal satisfaction are down.
Why is this?
Because it’s not possible to be on the good side of the spectrum all the time.
We are emotional beings, and while we differ in terms of our experience, expression, and tolerance of unpleasant emotions, we should not be thinking of them as negative.
Firstly, unpleasant feelings are not bad. We create the association that they are bad by telling ourselves that they are bad! We avoid the feeling, and when they arise we immediately try to get back to Positivity-Land. Unfortunately, this mythical country does not exist because that’s not how our brains and chemistry are built, and for good reason: the emotion is there to tell us something! If we can shift into a space of welcoming the emotion, it will 1) pass sooner and 2) provide insight into our situation.
Secondly, if we accept that humans have a vast spectrum of feelings that provide opportunities through which we can thoroughly experience all that life offers, we can begin to move away from the mindset that we are feeling “the wrong things” or that we are in some way broken.
We are not broken.
We are human.
And so are our kids.
Every time a child cries, or shouts, or whines, or moan, or screams, or expresses an emotion in a manner that triggers us to react, it is an opportunity to teach them that feelings come and go and it’s hard but they will pass, which leads to healthy self-regulation. If we jump in to rescue every moment of sadness, or punish every angry outburst, we are communicating that feelings should be suppressed or avoided. Instead, holding space for a child through these periods of overwhelming feelings is the most effective way to support them in becoming mentally healthy adults.
Obviously, with big feelings comes big behaviours, and often these behaviours are disrespectful and socially unacceptable. So how do we make sure our children know that they are allowed to feel anything, and still provide effective discipline?
We don’t try to teach in the moment.
Children are only receptive to learning when they are regulated. When children (and adults!) are having a surge of emotions, the part of the brain that is responsible for logic and critical thinking is switched off. So even if we think we are being logical, we probably aren’t! And neither are our kids.
So first prize is to prepare children by setting boundaries while they are in a calm, connected state. This gives them an idea of what to expect in a given situation. Then, when they push that boundary (which they will—that’s their job!), we can respond with kind and firm limits. This models the behaviour that we expect from them; respect and calmness.
We also need to be upfront with the plan of action by telling our kids what we are going to do. So, when the child is calm and receptive, we can say, “I know that when you get angry, you begin to kick. I can’t let you kick me, so I am going to walk away from you. You can kick this ball/pillow/punching bag instead. I will return when you let me know that you are ready.”
We can also provide options for behaviours that are acceptable. Some ideas are:
Sad: Hugs, cuddling a stuffed pillow, spending time with a pet, listening to music, drawing, colouring, writing, being in nature, etc.
Angry: Screaming into pillows, hitting punching bags, kicking, throwing, or whacking balls, hitting a pole with a bat, ripping up paper, running as fast as possible, dancing, etc.
Anxious: Stuffed animal, favourite blanket, stress putty, finger painting, deep breaths, playing with water, etc.
If the child is too upset to engage in any of these behaviours, that’s ok too. This is where we hold space. We do not try to rush to “fix” the “bad” feeling. Using distractions, becoming the “cheerleader”, or punishing the behaviour communicates that the “bad” emotion must end as quickly as possible. If we gently accept the emotion, and wait for it to pass, we are communicating that there is nothing to be afraid of, that emotions are fleeting, and that we have faith in our children’s ability to handle what life throws at them.
Remember: we don’t need to make children feel bad to make them behave better!
Moving house is an incredibly stressful event. There’s a lot of planning and packing that must take place, and it requires a significant level of physical and emotional energy. And although the preparation causes significant stress and anxiety, our pets have no concept of what’s happening before, during, and after the move. The decision to move likely included a lot of thoughts and considerations and visits to the new location.
Many pets go missing when they’ve moved because to them, it all happens out of the blue. All of a sudden there are boxes everywhere, the routine has changed, the humans are walking back and forth around the home, stuff keeps disappearing into the boxes, furniture moves. And they don’t know why. Some pets handle change easily, others struggle. So, the best way to help your pets with this transition is to assume that they will struggle. Here are my top tips for a stress-free(ish) move:
Written by Jessica Prinsloo
Companion Animal Behaviourist
We all have things that we value. Dad’s favourite arm chair. The baby’s favourite rattle. Uncle Bob and his spare ribs. There are certain items that we just don’t want to share.
The higher the value of the item, the more likely we would be to fight for the right to keep it. If you were carrying a flower and a mugger told you to hand it over! It would be an easy decision. What about your cellphone? Would you put up a fight? How about an antique watch that your grandfather had as a boy? Your reaction would be determined by the value of the item.
The context also plays a role. Umbrellas are more valuable when it’s raining. Water is more valuable when you are thirsty, food more valuable when famished.
All this is to say that if your dog is showing aggression in response to another animal or human approaching their valued resources, this DOES NOT mean that your dog is being bad, rude, or dominant. This is a perfectly understandable and adaptive response.
That said, there are inherent risks to any kind of aggressive behaviour, so it’s best to prevent this behaviour from developing by teaching your dog to LOVE relinquishing valued items. This is done by:
Clicker training is a fun and simple method to train your dog anything from basic obedience to complex behaviour chains like filling the tumble dryer or fetching you a drink from the fridge. Clicker training allows dogs to use their brains to troubleshoot and problem solve. When you are using force-free methods, all training is trick training in a dog’s eyes. Whether you are teaching your dog to sit, down or jump through your arms, it’s a fun learning experience that burns a lot of mental energy and it builds your relationship.
A clicker is a small (usually plastic) box that fits into your hand and has a button or metal plate that is depressed to create a “click” sound. The click marks the behaviour that you want to capture from the dog. It’s essentially a way to tell your dog, “Yes! That’s what I wanted you to do!” while giving you time to deliver a reward.
There is nothing “special” about the click sound; it is merely a neutral tone. The magic happens when this tone is paired with a positive experience, such as eating a tasty treat or tugging a favourite toy.
The basic concept for teaching any behaviour is exactly the same:
*Dog performs behaviour > click > reward the behaviour*
It’s really that simple!
If you want to enrich your dog’s life, promote mental stimulation, encourage problem solving and create an unbreakable bond with your dog, start clicker training now! There are 100s of videos online to get you started. Here are a few of our favourite tricks:
Although the concept is simple, you can achieve more successful training sessions by following a few rules:
Eating faeces. An owner’s least and a dog’s most favourite behaviour!
Firstly, it actually is quite normal. As repulsive as it is to us, eating faeces played a role in how dogs evolved; when humans transitioned from hunter-gatherers to agriculture, human settlements arose. Our beloved canine’s ancestors began to approach these areas because dumps and latrines provided a stable source of food. So eating faeces is essentially part of their DNA. That said, it’s not a something that we want to encourage so it’s best to try to stop it.
There are a few reasons why your dog may engage in this behaviour:
Before trying to “train” the behaviour away, physical reasons need to be ruled out by a veterinarian. From the behavioural side, management and redirection are key. Adding nasty tastes to the faeces rarely works to stop the behaviour.
The first step is to clean up any faeces as soon as your dog eliminates. The second is to redirect to a more appropriate activity. There are tons of enrichment ideas on the Beyond The Bowl - Canine Enrichment group (
), which will help to elevate boredom and provide a more appropriate way for your dog to pass the time.
TOP TIP: If you make a huge fuss over your dog each time they go near a poo (i.e. No no no! Don’t eat that! Bad dog! Get back here!), this attention can reinforce the behaviour. Instead, calmly call your dog away and provide a brain game or chew toy (away from that area) to keep them busy while you clear away the mess.
All dogs have the potential to do damage when they bite. We need to teach them how to control the pressure of their bite by teaching them how to inhibit their bite. If your dog has good bite inhibition, the risk of injury is greatly reduced. Dogs learn this in a few stages:
When puppies are born they begin to suckle on their mom. Their teeth emerge at around 14 days and are very sharp. At this stage, if the put any pressure on the mom while suckling, she will move away, restricting access to her teat. The removal of milk teaches them to suckle gently.
As the puppies grow they play with their litter mates and spend a great deal of time mouthing each other. If they use too much pressure during play, the pup will immediately stop playing. The removal of play tells the puppy to be more gentle next time.
The last stage is for people to teach the puppy to mouth gently on human skin:
TOP TIP: If you have an adolescent or adult dog with a hard mouth, follow the same steps, but use heavy duty gloves to protect your hands (available from gardening centres and hardware stores). Hand feed meals one kibble at a time. If the dog tries to snatch, remove the food quickly for a few seconds. Only allow the dog to take a pellet when they are showing impulse control and are able to take gently.
The Adjustment period is essential when bringing a new cat or kitten into your home. Although cats are predators, they are also considered a prey species. This means they may be naturally wary in a new environment for fear of becoming another animal’s dinner. Therefore, their first response to threat is to run away and hide. Many cats go missing from new homes because they haven’t yet learnt where to return.
Your new kitty will transfer his scent onto new items through glands on his face and paws. This lets him know that the environment is safe. When he greets you with a rub (known as bunting) he’s saying, “You’re my human because you smell like me now.” How sweet!
There will naturally be a lot of excitement on Fido’s welcome to the family. It is beneficial to have everything you and he needs before he arrives to help make a smooth introduction to the household.
Secure the fences and gates of the property so that Fido can’t escape.
Restrict access to hazardous items and anything that he should not chew (e.g. swimming pool, poisonous plants, cables, remote controls, gardening equipment etc).
Research which breed types will fit with your family and lifestyle. For example a Collie type will not suit a family of couch potatoes, but a Great Dane might!
Contact a qualified positive reinforcement trainer in your area to arrange puppy classes or adult training sessions.
Address any behaviour concerns you have with current pets first; a new dog is very rarely a solution.
Familiarise yourself with the correct way to introduce dogs. Watch this video for help with stress free introductions: https://youtu.be/sZVJyE-KLS0
If possible, plan to bring Fido home over a weekend so that you can be at home to help him settle in.
TOP TIP: Provide Fido with:
It’s the big day! You’re super excited because you’ve been planning this for a while, but Fido doesn’t know what to expect so we need to set him up for success!
Avoid training at first, rather play pressure free games. Fido needs a few weeks to settle in first before he starts going for walks or attending any kind of training classes. While he’s getting settled, play games with him in your home or garden. This will reduce his stress and build your relationship!
This transition is exciting but can also be quite stressful, so don’t panic if he doesn’t eat right away or has a few tummy upsets. Consult your vet if you are concerned about the severity of symptoms.
If recently spayed/neutered Fido may be in some pain, which could make him sad, grumpy or even nippy. Be patient and gentle throughout the recovery period.
Dogs don’t arrive house trained—do not punish him for going in the “wrong” place if you have not spent time teaching where the right place is. Teach him where the right place is by taking him to this spot often and rewarding with delicious treats when he does his business in the designated toilet area.
Don’t take it personally if your new friend gives you the cold shoulder at first; give him time to learn that you are trustworthy.
For their safety, do not allow children to approach Fido, especially when he is sleeping/eating. Have them sit quietly with a nice treat and invite Fido to interact. He needs time to learn to trust little people too!
TOP TIP: Provide love and patience, don’t expect too much too soon. The rule of threes is quite easy to remember:
Dogs generally take at least:
Pet owners dread holidays and occasions that feature fireworks. These events usually send domestic animals into a frenzy of worry or a state of frozen terror. And although the absence of fireworks would be first prize, it’s an unrealistic expectation.
The good news is that there is so much you can do during off-season to prepare your pets for fireworks.
TOP TIP: Watch this video for more information: https://youtu.be/6fq8z8_3qpM