A CLICK of the finger, a gentle hand movement, a look, a turn of the body, endless patience and understanding; Sue Merrick is the Coffs Coast's answer to the dog whisperer. And by her side is best friend and "work colleague", Bindi, a loveable and talented red kelpie.
For 25 years Sue has been manager of the RSPCA Coffs Harbour Shelter and she and Bindi are key to the success of the dog rehabilitation program developed here.
"We get dogs flown in or driven in from all over the state because they can't be handled in the big shelters; at the moment we have dogs from Sydney, Newcastle and Broken Hill," Sue said.
"Lots of dogs lose the ability to be dogs when they have human contact. Some dogs are given no direction at all, others are treated likes babies, and this can lead to behavioural problems; aggression to other dogs or people, disrespect, jumping fences, being overly sexual, we've seen it all."
In rehabilitation training Sue uses the "power of the pack" with Bindi as trusted lead dog. It's a process which has resulted in many dogs previously unsuitable for adoption finding forever homes.
"Bindi has saved so many lives, she's the best lead dog, never aggressive. I got her when she was four months old and already at that age she had obvious lead dog potential, smart and assertive - a natural."
With Sue's experience and Bindi's natural ability this duo has formed an impressive tag team. What looks like a few dogs running around a large pen playing is so much more to the trained eye.
"When Bindi moves she uses confidence, she is having a conversation with the other dogs, she's not aggressive but she's confident, she doesn't put up with their high energy silliness. If the energy gets too high Bindi comes in and closes it down. She is reading those dogs, they speak the same language and if a situation arises where she can't handle it she will back out of it and defer to me. I'm her back up."
Skip is a long term rehab dog. Big, black and bossy he's come from another NSW RSPCA shelter and is running around with Bindi and two other pups.
"See how Bindi puts her head over Skip's wither? Bindi is showing him she is the dominant dog. She invites him to play then spins around. It's a delicate balance. Lead dog, puppies and rehab dog."
The balance is just right because Sue is confident that Skip, just like so many rehab dogs before him, will find a forever home.
"Skip is going to be fine. He will have to go to someone who has experience with dogs and will put boundaries in place otherwise he will take over, but he will be a great dog for the right person."