Vizby (left) and her Hungarian Vizsla friends who inspired the children’s book series. Photo. Andrea Macleod
Vizby (left) and her Hungarian Vizsla friends who inspired the children’s book series. Photo. Andrea Macleod

How a ‘naughty dog’ is helping anxious kids

A new children's book puts the spotlight on teaching children how to overcome anxiety and why the naughtiest of dogs might just be the one to show them how to do it.

Vizby the Naughty Dog written by well-known Gordon Park psychologist Dr Karla Johnston and illustrated by Dr Julia Pike, takes a look at teaching children kindness and compassion in an age when "too often we speak before we think".

Against the backdrop of social media bullying and a generation dubbed selfish and narcissistic, Dr Johnston was drawn to create Vizby as a way of sharing with parents and children how they can learn to overcome fear and anxiety.

 

The real Vizby whose adventures inspired the “Vizby The Naughty Dog” series for children. Photo. Andrea Macleod
The real Vizby whose adventures inspired the “Vizby The Naughty Dog” series for children. Photo. Andrea Macleod

Drawing on decades of professional experience and the recent acquisition of three Hungarian Vizslas the series of books centre on naughty Vizby's adventures.

From learning to play, explore and take risks, to understanding emotional distress and regulation, the books playfully embark on highlighting many of the core issues facing young children including anxiety and dealing with difference.

"The Vizby books hope to reinforce that message to both caregivers and children that we need to care about and encourage difference in ourselves and others," she said.

"Love, compassion, and sharing are the panacea for a more peaceful existence, and animals show us how to do that all the time."

"The answer is always in your heart, you have to trust yourself, and you are perfect the way you are no matter what anyone else tells you. Just as my dogs are perfect the way they are too."

 

Author and psychologist Dr Karla Johnston has written the Vizby series to help children with anxiety and empathy. Photo. Andrea Macleod
Author and psychologist Dr Karla Johnston has written the Vizby series to help children with anxiety and empathy. Photo. Andrea Macleod

 

Dr Johnston said one of the side-effects of living in stressful environments was often a loss of compassion, understanding and kindness.

The goal is for us as humans is to help each other, at any age … so we can heal or feel at peace," she said.

"Even more importantly, we need to treat ourselves with compassion, forgiveness, kindness and care so that we have the capacity to do that for others."

"This care might not always come from biological family - it can be accessed in many ways including friends, carers, teachers, health professionals for example, and the relationships we have with animals."

The books reinforces concepts like "safely helping neighbours resulting in positive friendships; being brave enough to try new activities to expand your world experiences; the benefits of sharing; self-soothing routines as helpful coping mechanisms; compassionate caring of others as well as the self and learning to think about others' thoughts and feelings".

Growing up in the country, Dr Johnston said learning the "unique city etiquette for dogs and their owners" had also been inspiration for the books.

"People in the city were more fearful of larger dogs than I had ever experienced as a child," she said.

"I had a lot to learn to be accepted into local dog parks and neighbourhoods by knowing unwritten rules and expectations."

"Fight, flight, freeze reactions from humans often resulted in unnecessary confrontation .... we had to learn how to manage those reactions so others could get to know and love our dogs and their particular ebullient breed."

She said the "spontaneous way (dogs) have of showing us how to engage with the environment, others and even how to express our feelings" could help many children (and adults) learn more about their own behaviours.

"Dogs live in the moment, are curious and exploratory of their worlds," she said.

"They are great role models for us to do the same rather than shutting ourselves off and feeling lonely or hopeless that are dreams are not coming true."

"They show us just to get out there and do it."

The books also highlight a shared "parenting" role as Vizby is co-owned.

"We wanted to show it was possible to share a dog with a neighbour, so that the dog's needs became the priority in terms of regular exercise and care," Dr Johnston said.

The books are available through Amazon.



School teacher busted for high-range drink-driving

premium_icon School teacher busted for high-range drink-driving

A GLADSTONE school teacher was told he had “let his students down” when he fronted...

REVEALED: Schools with fastest growth

premium_icon REVEALED: Schools with fastest growth

An analysis of federal government data has revealed the Gladstone region schools...

Heartbreaking search for son's 'best mate' after fatal crash

premium_icon Heartbreaking search for son's 'best mate' after fatal crash

Desperate search in bushland for missing passenger