Welcome to our inaugural Who’s the Boss? We chat with renowned animal behaviourist Dr Joanne Righetti about her special relationship with her pets.  Dr Jo knows all about pets including cats, dogs and chickens.  She helps pet owners to better understand their pet’s behaviour and solve problems with their cat or dog.

Dr Joanne Righetti and her pets share a home with her husband and three sons. Dr Jo reveals how her pets get their own way in their busy household and she shares top three tips for a happy life with pets.  Find out who’s really the boss between Dr Joanne Righetti and her pets!

Who’s the boss? Where did your passion for animals come from?  Did you grow up with pets? 

Dr Joanne Righetti: I have always been passionate about animals. Watching animal behaviour is so interesting – whether a dog, a cat, a wildlife documentary or a fish tank – I am lucky that I have managed to develop a career working with my passion. I grew up with cats, dogs, birds, rabbits. When I was 8 years old I was given my first cat – best present ever! I have 3 sons and each of them has been given their own cat on their 8th birthday!

Who’s the Boss? How did you come to choose your dog, Chilli and your 3 cats, Mew, Ginger and Leo?

Dr Joanne Righetti and her pets

Dr Joanne Righetti with her cat, Leo

Dr Joanne Righetti: With Chilli, we were filling a dog-less vacuum in our family after the death of our previous Dalmatian. Each family member chose breeds they were interested in and we met adult dogs, puppies and breeders of these dogs. We still could not come to a consensus and so I decided that a rescue dog (a pup) could be our best option. We then went to visit a few at pounds and shelters. Chilli dog came from one of those. Two of our three cats, Mew and Ginger, are rescue kittens, from Animal Welfare League and they have turned out to be adorable family members. Our third cat, Leo, is a rather large Maine Coon, the largest breed of cat in Australia. I chose a responsible breeder and we actually flew Leo interstate to be with us.

Who’s the Boss? You have a busy family, how do your dogs and cats make sure they get noticed?

Dr Joanne Righetti:  Oh boy! No problem in that department. Cats and dogs do tend to be attention seekers and their stomachs rule! Every morning they line up to be fed! One of our cats Ginger is a little shy with strangers and so people sometimes don’t know he exists. Everyone knows Chilli exists, as she meets, greets, sniffs and attempts to lick all who enter our home!

Who’s the Boss? How do your pets get their own way? 

Dr Joanne Righetti: Well, I like to think I’m in charge but that’s probably wishful thinking! Our cats sleep on our beds, when they choose to but I actually don’t have a problem with this. Although it’s not the habit for everyone, it does keep me lovely and cosy in winter!  Cats use a beautiful communication tool with humans, called the meow or specifically the ‘solicitation purr or meow’. This is a chirrupy half meow-half purr that gets our attention, often when they want fed. My cats, just like most others, are experts at this.

My dog loves to play and loves her food so when she runs to me, then runs to her treat ball, I know she would like to be fed and play at the same time. I just make sure that I ask her to obey a command, such as a ‘Sit’, ‘Shake hands’ or ‘Speak’ before I give her anything. Then I feel that we are working together.

Who’s the Boss? Do you have any funny stories?

Dr Joanne Righetti: I think the best go back to my Dalmatian called Cherry, who was obsessed with food. I was having a Christmas party with nibbles drinks and so on. I placed a whole round of Brie on my dining table, turned round to get the crackers and next thing everyone is shouting “Who knows an animal behaviourist?”…as my dog Cherry was disappearing out of the room with the entire cheese in her mouth.

Then there are the problems people bring me. While most are serious, such as excessive barking, aggression or anxiety, some people are just curious as to why their dogs insist on stealing their underwear or if it is ok to let their dog kiss then on the lips! With people and pets, you can never be bored!

Who’s the Boss? What are your three tips for a happy life with pets?

Dr Joanne Righetti:

  1. Choose the best pet for your lifestyle (remembering that you may have them for the next 20 years.
  2. Understand your pet’s needs and behaviour and keep learning about your pet.
  3. Choose a little extra animal activity every so often such as a walk at a beach; a new trick (even cats can be trained!) or an hour volunteering at a local shelter.

Check out our Paw Perfect Introductions podcast series with Dr Joanne Righetti.