Port's Road to Recovery: COVID sees rise in number of dogs as pets, says Barkers in Balance owner

Continuing the Port's Road to Recovery series, this week the Examiner looks at how COVID-19 has impacted the animal services in Port Stephens. The Port's Road to Recovery series aims to paint a picture of individual industries and social issues, how they have been impacted and what the future looks like for them - as told by those on the ground.

BALANCING ACT: Barkers in Balance owner Julie Tolliday with her pooches Charlie (groodle) and Lakota (chocolate labrador).

BALANCING ACT: Barkers in Balance owner Julie Tolliday with her pooches Charlie (groodle) and Lakota (chocolate labrador).

The rush to bring home pets as company during the coronavirus pandemic may have been well intended, but according to leading dog behavourist Julie Tolliday, it also has serious consequences into the future.

"We have seen a number of families bringing in dogs for company whilst in isolation, which is quite understandable but many of these new owners may be in for a real shock. They think they are bringing home a soft and fluffy pet but end up with something quite different," said Ms Tolliday, owner and creator of the Port Stephens-based Barkers in Balance.

"Eventually the owners go back to work and it gets to a point where both the owner and dog are not coping withe new addition.

"That is where a dog behavourist can help. We help owners put their lives in balance with their dogs, so essentially it is important to work on the behaviours of both parties."

A trained primary school and special education teacher, Ms Tolliday made the transition from teaching children to pets after bringing home her own rescue dog that had serious behavioural problems.

"My work with humans made the transition a lot more manageable. The challenge for any dog behaviourist is to teach dog owners to put the principals they are taught during class into practice."

Ms Tolliday said that the physical distancing restrictions brought on by the pandemic provided her with the opportunity to diversify.

"I couldn't work face to face so I went online. I am a teacher and teaching online is no different to teaching in the classroom," she said.

"Some of my clients believed it would not work but the vast majority were happy to give it a try and they were amazed at the results. What's more they were able to keep the [video] recording and play it back at their own leisure. I have always provided a written report to clients after every lesson, so now they receive both a report and a video as a recap."

Ms Tolliday said that she was grateful for both the federal and state government initiatives and grants, which kept her business running through the pandemic and the ability to retain an administration staff member.

"I have six trainers which help out at the various puppy and adolescent training schools I operate and they had to be placed on hold, but the JobKeeper and (state) small business grant packages came in very handy."

Barkers in Balance has established a range of schools throughout Port Stephens, from Shoal Bay and Salamander Bay to Bobs Farm and Raymond Terrace, and provides the full compliment of training for both puppies (up to 18 weeks) and adolescent dogs.

"No dog is too old to be trained and all our trainers are experienced in areas such as pulling on lead; separation anxiety; jumping; reacting to other dogs; and barking."

Ms Tolliday said that the growing number of family dogs as pets had provided much certainty in the industry moving forward.

"COVID-19 has seen a rise in the number of dogs so it is important they are well trained for a healthy relationship."