He talks to the animals

GOOD COMPANY: Mark Vette hangs out at his Waimauku home with Tommy the terrier, front, and from left, Monty, Blue, and Smitty.
GOOD COMPANY: Mark Vette hangs out at his Waimauku home with Tommy the terrier, front, and from left, Monty, Blue, and Smitty.

Pukeko are smart. Who knew?

Animal behaviourist and trainer Mark Vette of Waimauku says they are one of the most trainable birds he has worked with.

And Mark knows his stuff. He has even trained three SPCA dogs to drive.

Mark taught his pukeko 20 different commands for their big debut into stardom on the Genesis Energy TV commercial.

"They are highly trainable and quite smart animals. The TV ad got people understanding they are actually really cool birds," he says.

"We've got them all over the place here at our home, I love them. When you get to know them you find they are such characters."

Mark has spent most of his life immersed in the animal world, with a long list of pets including monkeys, spiders, snakes, chickens and kittens.

He had 45 sheep dog puppies at one stage for part of his masters thesis on sheep dog behaviour and genetics.

After managing a farm for 10 years, Mark lived in Clevedon running an animal behaviour clinic and kennel.

He went on to run Franklin Zoo for three years before looking for a home in West Auckland.

"My house here is perfect. It felt like coming home when we arrived six years ago."

Since then his list of film projects has grown and his company Animals on Q is one of the busiest of its type in the country.

Last year Mark took up the challenge of teaching three Auckland SPCA dogs to drive and proving rescue dogs are smart.

Their stunt was aired on TV and the dogs were dubbed the first in the world to drive. Their video went viral.

Mark has thousands of animals on his talent books and says it usually takes three weeks to complete basic training, teaching animals to come, sit and stay.

Helping animals through a total behavioural transformation is also something he is passionate about.

His clinic has been helping pets out of aggression, phobias and other bad behaviours and teaching them how to socialise safely with humans and peers.

Dogs are the most common animal he works with.

"Any mental problem a human has, a dog can have," Mark says.

The best way to help prevent bad behaviour is by training and socialising the dog with other people and peers while it is still in the formative period, between two and four months old.

"Get it used to travelling and socialising and take it to dog training classes.

"Because they have a social order and so do we, they will look to the more dominant one who controls the resources. In the pack you establish control by resources, not by bullying."

But training cats is a whole new kettle of fish.

Mark says dogs have owners but cats have staff.

"They are a solitary species and so have no heirarchy, no respect for the dominant one. They are the boss. But they are also opportunists.

"They are smart but not as trainable. They are motivated by different drivers than dogs, namely food."

Cats are also very territorial and stay in the same area.

"That makes them harder to train and move around for different film locations."

Mark will feature in a TV series being released globally called Purina's Pound Pups to Dog Stars It will be on TVOne next year.


Choosing the right breed for the job is important for people looking at getting a new pet. "Different breeds were designed to do different things," Mark Vette says. "It's definitely something you would want to consider." Mark prefers cross breeds. Usually pets that are highly trainable are perceived as intelligent, so here's a few breeds on both ends of the smart scale. Smart kitties: Siamese, burmese, orientals Fickle felines: Persians, chinchillas Performance pooches: Collies, poodles, german shepherds Daft doggies: Bulldogs, afghans, sighthounds.

Rodney Times