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Your dog’s a mirror reflecting you

PEOPLE WHISPERER: Jennie Dell’s dog Firefly yawns politely for Australia’s best-known expert on dog behaviour, Martin McKenna.
PEOPLE WHISPERER: Jennie Dell’s dog Firefly yawns politely for Australia’s best-known expert on dog behaviour, Martin McKenna.

DOG behavioural expert Martin McKenna's new book is not so much a manual about how to care for your dog, as it is a treatise on how to care for yourself in the presence of your dog.

What's Your Dog Teaching You? was published last month and is a new take on human/dog relationships.

"Your dog is a mirror; your mistakes are there written on its face," Martin said.

"If you go out to work in the morning and come home angry because of something that happened during the day, your dog will immediately know.

"Dogs don't hang on to anger and will sense yours, and feel that you shouldn't have brought your bad mood home.

"If you get the feeling your dog's afraid of you and wonder why - after all, you walk the dog, feed it and love it - you need to understand it's the way you deal with your own emotions that can make the dog stay out of your way."

Martin credits his expertise to the fact that he lived in a hay barn with a pack of stray dogs after running away from his drunken, abusive father in Limerick, Ireland, at the tender age of 11.

Known as "The Dog Man", he was a popular broadcaster on ABC Radio, answering listeners' questions in his rapid-fire Irish brogue, with a good dose of humour and an endless supply of anecdotes.

"Just as we learn to read dogs' emotions, dogs use all their senses to read us: how we look, sound, smell, our body language and tone of voice," Martin said. "Dogs have taught me more about people than people ever did.

"People with self-worth issues might take on a rescue dog because they're looking for love. They'll try and control the dog by hugging and kissing it, but dogs - who don't like being hugged - will smell distress on them.

"A dog just wants to be treated with respect. They need their human to be kind, but not a doormat.

"We are higher-

thinking creatures and if we behave in a servile way towards our dog, the dog wonders why we are always giving way instead of standing our ground.

"Dogs want us to set boundaries and stick to the rules - they'll respect and honour us for that."

Martin said having lived with dogs himself, he has used dog language and learnt their ways by intuition and experience.

"The major thing I learnt was that humans have to stop dumping their own emotional problems on their dogs," he said.

"Dog owners have to learn not to use their dogs as emotional sponges, but to show leadership by being firm, quiet and gentle."

Throughout the new book, Martin resolves many of the troubled humans and pets in his case studies by having a quiet word with the dog, the content of which he doesn't disclose to the reader.

His previous book, What's Your Dog Telling You, holds the key to how to refine your dog's behaviour.

The new book is all about you.


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