Working like a dog: Meet Sydney’s professional pooches on the job

In Rembrandt’s line of work a day at the office can be a long one. Up early, he always needs to fit in some exercise and a hearty breakfast, often followed by a long commute. Despite his young and fit physique the daily grind can take its toll, but he has a chiropractor and a physiotherapist for that. Keen on presentation, young Rembrandt makes a habit of fitting in a wash and blow-dry with his personal hairdresser before work, he just needs to set aside a spare five hours. It may seem like an excessive time slot for a blow-dry, but when you’re a classique artist in residence – a show poodle – it is just another day on the job.

But Rembrandt is not the only dog in Sydney working hard to make a living. Amid talent dogs, rescue dogs, police dogs and service dogs Sydney’s canine working class is well-bred, well-trained and often on call. Some of these most professional pooches will be celebrated this weekend at the inaugural Dog Lovers Show, at the Royal Hall of Industries and the Hordern Pavillion. Up to 20,000 visitors are expected at the three-day festival, which will host more than 200 exhibitors, about 600 dogs and a range of canine entertainment and education experts.

So who are Sydney’s hardest working dogs and what are the tricks of their trade?

Name: Rembrandt “Remi”

Breed: Poodle

Age: 2 years

Occupation: Show dog – Classique artist in residence

Worth: More than $12,000 (after purchase and import to Australia)

A day in the life: Remi, an American, Canadian, Australian champion competes at a two-day show twice a month, and although the standard poodle no doubt works hard, his skills are all in his breeding. In competition Remi is judged on features such as the length of back, the shape of the eye and the length of muzzle, “so they can actually carry a bird in their mouth,” said owner Lorraine Boyd. Hunting is no longer what poodles are commonly used for but once upon a time that was the job for which they were bred. “He’s an athlete,” she said. “For Remi, the build-up is a little like the Melbourne Cup. We build up to the Sydney and Melbourne Royal Show’s.” She said a trip to the chiropractor or the physio is often important before big shows. “He’s just like a footballer who pulls a muscle: someone looks after them. Show dogs have the same.”

Name: Archibald “Archie”

Breed: Labrador

Age: 6 years

Occupation: Guide dog

Worth: more than$30,000 (after training)

A day in the life: Like most service dogs, when Archie’s harness is on it means he is at work. Friend, partner and most importantly guide to owner Allan Pronger, Archie was selected as a puppy to undergo Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s intensive five-month training program. Guided himself by the physical and verbal directions of his owner, Archie guides Mr Pronger, responding to directions as specific as “find left, find the door” and even “find the chemist’. “There is a lot of coming and going,” said Mr Pronger, “I may go out somewhere and come back, then pop up to the school to pick up the kids and come back.” Archie, a boisterous and strong lab, is well-schooled in bus, train and plane travel and is always the first up for breakfast of a morning. “He eats high-quality dry food, though he’d like to eat pretty much anything.”

Name: Aero

Breed:English springer spaniel Age: 3 years

Occupation: Firearms and explosives detection dog

Worth: more than $30,000 (after training)

A day in the life: Every time Sydney plays host to a VIP guest NSW Police are quick to get Aero on the case, trained to ensure a building’s safety clearance using his detection senses. Aero, whom Senior Constable Luke Ellem describes as having “no manners”, is the archetypal spaniel, for whom work is play. “He doesn’t know when to give up,” said Senior Constable Ellem. After 16 weeks of training Aero was ready to work, tasked with the job of searching for explosive, spent bullet casings at shootings and detecting firearms that had been fired. Aero will do “anything for a ball” so is always keen to please, but there is no belittling his dangerous work. “These dogs face threats on a regular basis,” Senior Constable Ellem said.

Name: Madge

Breed: Poodle x bichon frise

Age: 2 years

Occupation: Hearing dog

Worth: Up to $30,000 (after training)

A day in the life: The working partnership between Madge and her owner Francoise Coadou-Porter is a two-way street. After she first heard about Lions Hearing Dogs, Francoise and Madge hosted a trainer from Adelaide, who stayed with them for five days to train them both in their new mode of communication. Madge spends every day by Francoise’s side and even “gets very anxious when she can’t see me.” But she is not there to protect Francoise. “She is there to help me, I am still there to protect her,” Francoise said. Madge touches Francoise to alert her to noises such as the doorbell, the oven or her phone receiving a text message. “It’s important that my iPhone and iPad have the same sound,” added Francoise.

Name: Dash

Breed: Koolie

Age: 6 years

Occupation: TV and talent dog

Charges: About $400 a day

A day in the life: One of the first skills to note on Dash’s resume is skateboarding, along with fetching quoits, “sitting pretty” and walking backwards on hind legs. A standard month for Dash, who began performing at 8 weeks old, involves a few television commercials, some live tricks shows and even children’s parties. Dash’s work is all reward based, so as far as she is concerned “her work is actually just play,” said Animal Talent owner and trainer Louise Harding. She said the main motivators for Dash are play, balls and edible treats. “When she tries really hard I pay effort,” said Ms Harding.

Name: Gurkah

Breed: German shepherd

Age: 4 years

Occupation: General purpose police dog

Worth: more than $30,000 (after training)

A day in the life: Gurkah is on call most days and is happy to serve with the NSW Police, provided there is a tug toy to play with at the end of it. Gurkah went through 16 weeks of training to master his trade in tracking and searching for humans. “The best example is if someone broke into a house and has escaped on foot. Gurkah can detect and follow their scent,” said Senior Constable Luke Ellem, with whom Gurkah lives full-time. The german shepherd’s keen sense of smell also helps him to locate stolen property, of which he alerts police using verbal and physical responses.

Name: Daisy

Breed: Golden retriever

Age: 12 months

Occupation: Therapy dog

Worth: $1000 (after training)

A day in the life: For Daisy the working week most commonly involves a trip to hospital or a group home for intellectually disabled adults. It is her calm and empathetic nature which allows her to connect so well with clients, said Velma Violet Harris, trainer and owner of Velma’s Pets As Therapy. Not only is Daisy a friend and companion, she can also aid with treatment such as physical rehabilitation. “We talk to the occupational therapist and combine the time with Daisy with their exercise,” she said. “It’s still physiotherapy, but they don’t even notice it they are so busy smiling.” Daisy, a rescue dog, visits both individuals and group homes up to three times a week.

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