Can Dutch dog training schools take hordes of unwilling high-risk dog owners?

Blog post about the implications of the proposed 2018 Dutch Breed-Specific Legislation for dog training schools
Written in: August 2017. Author: Laure-Anne Visele.
Illustration credits at the end of the post.

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About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

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Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I am the dog behaviour therapist at Canis bonus, and Head Trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school) in The Hague.

I help people from The Hague, Rijswijk, Delft, Westland and region with their dog behaviour.

I have a degree in Zoology, am a certified dog training instructor, and have a Postgraduate in applied animal behaviour (Magna cum laude).

If you want dog-friendly and evidence-based tips, drop me a line briefly explaining the problem and I’ll tell you if I think I can help.

Breed-Specific Legislation from January 2018

You haven’t been living under a rock, right? So you know Breed Specific Legislation is around the corner again here in The Netherlands. A compulsory course for owners of ‘High Risk Dogs’ forms the cornerstone of the regulation. As the manager of a dog training school (OhMyDog! The Hague), I have some questions and worries about the proposed law.

If you have answers or comments, we’d love to hear from you. Click on ‘leave a comment’.

Many questions about the compulsory course

The latest proposed Breed-Specific Legislation in the Netherlands (I cover it here in detail) is causing quite a lot of anxiety in the High Risk Dog community and for dog training schools. The kennel clubs concerned should put together a targeted course for responsibly raising a HRD. The wording of the State Secretary’s letter to the Dutch House of Representatives (17 mei 2017) raises many questions:

  1. Is the course compulsory before purchasing the dog? Or is it for existing owners too?
  2. What difference are they hoping the course will make? If people were going to be idiots about it, they’ll still do as they please at home.
  3. If the training school giving the course suspects abuse, neglect or endangerment, what recourse does it have? Can we withhold this ‘license for responsible dog ownership’? And then what? Must they give the dog back? To whom? Also, the very idiots the law is trying to target are the most likely people to intimidate schools into delivering the certificates. So how will the government protect schools against this harassment?
  4. Will all dog training schools be considered qualified to deliver these courses? How will the Kennel Clubs decide? I shudder to think of the advice that will be given by our less reputable colleagues…
  5. Is the school supposed to report on absenteeism or lack of cooperation?
  6. Who determines the criteria for successful course completion? Individual schools, the Government, Kennel Clubs?
  7. What of dogs with an existing aggression problem? Attending a standard course won’t fix that: these dogs need private training and likely behaviour therapy. Some a lifetime of management measures. Given the cost of private training, is the government going to make these services compulsory too? Will it subsidise these services then?
  8. Will the Government pressure schools to take on dogs or clients that are a poor match?
  9. Some schools turn down certain breeds (we don’t). Will these be forced to take on students they do not feel competent to teach?

These are huge concerns for Dutch dog training schools and we need answers.

Dog training schools rejecting high-risk dogs?

HRD owners tell me they are worried some training schools will reject them, running them afoul of the law through no fault of their own.

Right now, when a HRD dog registers, I high-five myself. So far, my HRD owners have generally been above-average responsive, well-informed, motivated and experienced. But these are the guys who chose to come to us, an expensive school with a reputation for modern courses and force-free methods. These are dedicated breed ambassadors.

Will I be high-fiving the team with each new HRD registration in January? I don’t think so. If anything, it will de-incentivise and stigmatise the fabulous HRD owners and it will prejudice training schools about their potential lack of motivation.

Will we reject HRD applications by default? Certainly not. Our policy is that only individual dogs who are temperamentally suited for group training are allowed to participate in group classes, regardless of breed. We recommend aggressive, over-agitated and fearful dogs follow private lessons. In our experience, our HRD students have not been more aggressive than any other breeds, so the law will make no difference to our registration procedure.

One thing is for sure: I shall certainly be less willing to compromise on borderline cases if I am assailed with requests from owners of aggressive dogs who would not have followed the course if they hadn’t been forced by the law.

Do high-risk dogs need specialist skills?

This AD article (in Dutch) raises concerns that dog training schools won’t have the skills to give these courses, so will either reject applications or botch up the job. I wonder what breed-specific skills they believe are required?

Breed-generic risk management policies can cope: dogs who tense up in fear/over-excitement/hyper-focus/irritation (particularly large dogs) need close supervision and coaching on prevention skills, regardless of the breed. The prevention skills are:

  • (Management skill) Avoid known problem situations: restricted space and close proximity to trigger,
  • (Training skill) Teach the dog to calm itself down from excitement (on command),
  • (Training skill) Never EVER use force to raise them,
  • (Management skill) Avoid over-arousal like the plague, for any emotion, and
  • (Training skill) Socialise in a responsible way (not too much, not too little).

For these dogs, we have a staff (de)briefing before and after every lesson, and we give the owner a weekly status update on progress, preparing them for being rerouted to private lessons if the situation deteriorates.

Conclusion

It will continue to be OhMyDog!‘s honour to welcome all sociable dogs to our group courses, HRD or not. We are also willing and competent to help you with aggressive dogs – HRD or not – through private training.

But we will not train ourselves for breaking up serious dog fights with large, aggressive dogs – regardless of breed. We will not endanger ourselves or our clients for the misguided notion that a compulsory group course would make a difference. If these are the skills required, then no, we do not have them. Nor do we want them.

Illustration credits

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