Welcome to Canis BLOGus

Canis BLOGus – Dog blogging

Who am I

My name is Laure-Anne and I am an English-speaking expat dog specialist based in the Hague (the Netherlands).
For a detailed bio, click on About me.

What the blog is about

In a nutshell, this blog tries to spread good science about dogs, and relates tales from life in the Netherlands’ dog world.

I am on a mission: spread fact-based and thought-provoking information about dogs. I am relentlessly:

  • busting apocryphal stories, speculation, fallacies and biased tales; and
  • promoting responsible dog ownership.

I enjoy delving into technical subjects and re-surfacing with an article that every dog owner can understand. I am hoping to make specialist subjects like diseases vaccination, genetics, more accessible to a broad audience.

So what qualifies me to write about dogs? I have done A LOT OF self-study, but I also have formal qualifications (professional and academic).

What do I write about?

My specialist subjects are:

  • dog training;
  • evolution; 
  • ethology; and
  • canine first aid.

I also write about:

  • Veterinary care;
  • Dog sports;
  • Dog breeds; and
  • Dogs in society (am a bit of a philosophy nut).

To find the articles

  • Click on a category such as ‘Dog breeds’ or ‘Dogs in the news’ (list on the top-right corner), or
  • Scroll down to browse through all articles (latest on top)

Write a comment

I love comments, no matter how short, off-the-mark, or in disagreement they might be.

You can leave a comment on each article by:

  • clicking on the title for the post you want to read, and
  • completing the comments form at the bottom of the article.

Order an article

I can also write for your magazine, blog or website on demand. If you want to order an article on a canine subject of your choice,  contact me and I’ll be happy to discuss your needs.

To find out more about my dog writing services, go to my Dog writer page.

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Play therapy for Chihahua with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Blog post about play therapy for dogs with Generalized Anxiety and stranger-directed aggression,
Video and article shared with the owner’s permission. Blog post by Laure-Anne Visele, December 2014.

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I also own Canis bonus, a behaviour therapy  practice. I graduated in Zoology, and am a licensed dog trainer and certified applied animal behaviourist. After my day job, I review dog books and write about behaviour for my blog and other specialist websites.

If you are near The Hague and have dog behaviour issues, drop me a line. I work in English, French, or Dutch and only use animal-friendly methods. You can find out more on my training page.

Who is Vincent?

A client filmed me yesterday working with her chihuahua mix, Vincent. Vincent was diagnosed with full-blown Generalized Anxiety. I am collaborating with his vet behaviourist to tackle his crippling behaviour problems and give him and his owner a long-deserved break.

Looking at the video as a dog behaviour specialist, I was really happy with the session. But I imagined looking at it from the layman’s perspective and it made me chuckle. It essentially looked like I was getting paid for having a blast with dogs.

Vincent’s life up to this point had been hard: he interpreted everything unfamiliar as a grave danger. His constant anxiety evolved into fear aggression as he turned into a ‘offence is the best defense’ kind of guy. His owners had tried everything: discipline, books, trainers. They contacted me as a last resort. The videos show you how much progress we’ve made with his fear of visitors using play therapy.

Play can teach GAD patients not to take life so seriously, and that a little surprise once in a while isn’t the end of the world. After less than one session, Vincent had already learnt to trust me, a complete stranger. It’s still a work-in-progress but I am so happy with what we’ve achieved so far.

Read on to find out more about how play therapy and Vincent.

Establishing trust: Slowly slowly catchy doggie

In the first few minutes of a session with a stranger-aggressive dog, I barely make contact. I look only sideways and I only walk away from the dog. I am advertising ‘unintrusive visitor’ from every pore of my body. From the first moment I meet the dog, I give off this constant promise: “I will not get in your space. I will not get in your space. I will not get in your space. Please trust me?“.

First few moments when I meet a fear-aggressive dog can be tense Image from Darwin, Expression of Emotion

First few moments when I meet a fear-aggressive dog on bluff mode can be, well, tense.
Image from Darwin, Expression of Emotion

Once that message is clear – typically within a few seconds – the dog stops acting up and starts inspecting me. Some do it from afar, others come right to my feet, ready to pounce if I make the slightest movement. That moment tends to be, well, stressful, particularly when you think that I don’t just treat chihuahua mixes, but dogs of all sizes. So I have to control my breathing, my posture, my facial expression, so the dog doesn’t pick up on my own nerves. Once that first contact is over, we all breathe a sigh of relief.

Dogs and zebras and parrots: it’s all zoology to me

To increase the dog’s curiosity towards me, I then start pretending to be fascinated by the wallpaper, my pen, the lamp, whatever is close by. I am just being a big old primate getting on with my big old primate business, and I pay no attention to the dog whatsoever. It’s Economics – and Dating – 101: I am hard to get, so I instantly become more valuable.

dog parrot

Dogs and parrots, same difference ©premierco from Pixabay CC0

This technique is also used with undomesticated species like parrots, or zoo animals, when they need a vet procedure. But I often recycle it for my work with dogs. The beauty of this technique is that there is no pressure on the animal to make contact, and that has an instantaneous appeasing effect.

My favorite part is the look on the owner’s face when, for the first time in forever, their dog is sharing a room with a visitor without barking himself stupid.

Teaching emotional bounce-back: play therapy for dogs

Even when we have a heavy training to do list, I devote the initial stage to working on the emotional side of things. I work on putting the dog in a state of happy anticipation, rather than silent dread. Once I have him there, I start pushing his limits every so lightly, so he experiences a mild stress and the bounce back that follows. I let him practice that bounce-back moment again and again, so he gets better and better at recovering from little surprises.

I start with lots of distance, frequent rewards, soft speech, and barely moving. I then sprinkle in a stress moment or two, then immediately start playing again. I might speak a bit louder, or stand up, or move my arm quickly. Immediately aftewards, it’s business as usual and we just go on playing.

Emotional bounce, a skill needing a lot of practice Courtesy of anytimebouncers.com

Emotional bounce, a skill needing a lot of practice
Courtesy of anytimebouncers.com

I will push him hard enough that he notices my odd movement, but not hard enough that he minds. I get him to rehearse this choice: “Do I retreat again in my world of fear and aggression, or do I shake myself off and play again?” If he lunges or barks, I haven’t done my job and I’ve pushed him too far.

‘Chase!’ A therapy tool for fearful dogs

When working with stranger-directed aggression, I distribute all rewards away from me until his body language tells me that he is comfortable. To do this, I say ‘chase!’ in an excited voice, then send a treat rolling so the dog can run after it.

The chase boosts the dog’s sense of control: it confirms he is not forced to be close to me. And for anxious dogs, control is key. So the dog chooses to come back to me. If you do this game again and again, you end up with a dog who understands that approaching a visitor can actually be a ton of fun.

Amazin' chasin' By Adam Gustavus Ball on Google Art Project

Chasing will do the trick
By Adam Gustavus Ball on Google Art Project

The added bonus of chasing is that instantly sheds stress. No matter how you try to protect them, these sessions are hard on the dogs. Imagine being in the same room as a tarantula to help treat your spider phobia. It can be the world’s most charming arachnid, you’ll still be on your toes. So the dog might be tentatively discovering that visitors can be fun, but the fear is always lurking and could come bursting out at a hair’s trigger.

So when I see a dog get too tense, I give him a ‘chase’ break. It has a magic rebooting effect so we can start again when he’s obsessed with chasing the treat rather than how scary I really am.

Be a seeker, dog, not a fearer

I also intersperse my therapy sessions with ‘Xmas tree’ breaks. I hide treats in an object with nooks and crannies, then I step away and give the dog permission to ‘go find’. Rooting around, searching, sniffing, digging, etc. all use what Jaak Panksepp (neuroscientist) calls the ‘seeking circuits’. These are largely incompatible with the ‘fear circuits’. The more curious and exploratory you are, the less you are influenced by fear.

This golden tip, along with countless others, illustrates why I insist people calling themselves ‘behaviourists’ have a multidisciplinary understanding of behaviour, and are not purely coming at it with their trainer’s hat on.

Using these little emotional recovery tips can really help a dog cope during a session, and can promote the general good association you want the dog to make with visitors.

Promoting self-control: great things come to dogs who wait

There is an added bonus to the whole Xmas tree situation: when I prepare the ‘tree’, the dog has to back off and wait until I give him permission before he digs in. I won’t say anything, I won’t push him back. I will just cover the object until the dog backs off again. So he soon learns that self-control pays off. For fear aggressive dogs, self-control can mean the difference between a bite and no bite. So we have to teach them to think with their brains, and not their mouth.

I might use a real tree – sticking treats in the bark – or a crumbled up piece of paper for this.

Bend that orbito-frontal cortex now, that's where impulse control's at ©Paul Wicks from Wikipedia public domain

Bend that orbito-frontal cortex now, that’s where impulse control’s at
©Paul Wicks from Wikipedia public domain

Starting with training with plenty of play breaks

After a while, I start introducing more training to the sessions. In this case, on request by the treating vet behaviourist, I am teaching him Overall’s deference protocol: he will eventually need to sit and look at his handler in the presence of a trigger, instead of lunging and exploding into a fit of fear aggression.

Right now, we’re teaching him to look up at me once he’s sitting. We’re starting easy. He can take his time and there are no triggers. Once we have it rock solid, we’ll be road-testing it with real triggers. Look at the video, then know that one of his triggers is being looked in the eyes by visitors. What an impressive achievement.

Where we are now

Check out little Vincent here. I wish we’d filmed his first encounter with me so so you could see the leap of faith he has taken. In our first session,  I just had to look at him and he would crouch. Last session, he jump on my lap and curled up there, contented.

Thank you, Vincent, for giving me one of the most touching moments of my careers.

 

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Jolein van Weperen on creative dog training

Interview with de Laar’s head trainer and author, Jolein van Weperen
Interview conducted November 2014
Article by Laure-Anne Visele, December 2014

Emily Larlham training at de Laar

Jolein van Weperen

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I also own Canis bonus, a behaviour therapy  practice. I graduated in Zoology, and am a licensed dog trainer and certified applied animal behaviourist. After my day job, I review dog books and write about behaviour for my blog and other specialist websites.

If you are near The Hague and have dog behaviour issues, drop me a line. I work in English, French, or Dutch and only use animal-friendly methods. You can find out more on my training page.

Introducing a Dutch force-free trainer: Jolein van Weperen

Jolein van Weperen lives with Henry – or the love of her life as she’d rather call him – and their canine female trio: Mees, Pleun, and Jonne.

The Jolein-Henry tandem run de Laar, one of the most influential Dutch dog training school. The school (located near Arnhem in the Netherlands) is reputed for its creative teaching style and the countless happy and self-controlled canine graduates it churns out. As THE Dutch venue for international trainers, de Laar is also one of the most important cultural hubs for force-free training in the country.

Jolein has recently published her training philosophy in her book ‘Luisteren is leuk’. By popular demand, ‘Luisteren’ also got translated into English and yours truly had the honour of helping a little with that project [see ‘Find out more about Jolein’ for details].

A traumatic start in dog behaviour

LV: Have you always had something for dogs?

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Jolein, 12, with her first dog Maro

JvW: Oh yes. I remember this female at the shipyard when I was little. She was scared of everyone. I would sneak out there to feed her treats. I got my first dog, Maro, on my seventh birthday and it’s been an endless string since.

LV: Tell me about Pino, the dog in your book.

JvW: I took him in after his owner, a neighbour, unceremoniously left him on the pavement when he was just twelve weeks old. He said he “didn’t have time to look after him.”

We noticed that he was always getting sick. Also, as he got older, his behaviour towards other male dogs got worse and worse. I went to my vet for advice and he said I had to be “firmer” with him. I also went to my local training club and they said I needed to jerk hard on a choke chain each time he did it. I managed to do this three times but it was too heart-breaking. The mere sight of the chain was enough to make him crouch… That’s when I decided that if others couldn’t help me, I would have to find out by myself. So I started plowing through what feels like a million dog books.

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Pino

In the meantime, the vet had recommended castration so we followed his advice. Pino died right there on the operating table. The post-mortem revealed he suffered from a heart disease, among other things. Many of his organs were so damaged. We finally knew what had contributed to the behaviour problems.

So it was a traumatic start to dog behaviour.

LV: But you continued to find out more, and educate yourself?

JvW: Yes. I first got Quiebus’ Ethology certificate. Then I followed their Dog training instructor program, and finally I got the certificate in Behaviour therapy. I started training professionally in 2005.

LV: When did you start adding your own twist to the programs?

JvW: It started pretty much as soon as I got my certificate. I was drawn to creative teaching from the start.

LV: What do you mean with ‘creative teaching’?

JvW: We focus on keeping the dog engaged and showing self-control, through all sorts of real-life exercises. And we keep things varied.

Ecole des Bones Arts: On creative dog training

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Jolein and her girls: (L to R) Jonne, Mees and Pleun

LV: So you don’t teach the traditional sit and stay at your school. What do you typically teach then?

JvW: Broadly speaking, we teach people how to guide their dogs, how to give their dogs the framework they need. We work towards four objectives: ‘BH/WC’

LV: That literally means ‘bra WC’ in Dutch, right? Quite the mnemotechnic! What does it stand for?

JvW: It stands for:

  • Beheersing (Self-control)
  • Hierkomen (Come here)
  • Wandelen zonder trekken (Walk without pulling)
  • Contact (Contact)
Creative training field at de Laar

Creative training field at de Laar

So, for example, we help them practice self-control around bikes or joggers through specially designed exercises.

LV: And what is the ‘contact’ part?

JvW: It’s the habit of keeping a connection to the handler, particularly around every day distractions. When you have reached that level of self-control it makes it much easier to succeed in formal tests like the GG [Gedrag en Gehoorzaamheid, Dutch national exam in (dog) ‘Behaviour and Obedience’].

LV: Say I wanted to register for one of your courses, how many classes do I need to make it through one cycle?

JvW: We don’t teach in modules of a fixed number of classes. We sell in blocks of five classes for administrative reasons, but there is no fixed end. It’s more a program where people keep coming as long as they’re enjoying themselves. That can be three months or… five years.

LV: How in the world can you keep someone interested for FIVE years?!

JvW: We focus on creative training, so we use lots of variety in our exercises and their rewards.

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De Laar’s homemade dog toys

LV: Talking of creative training, you started giving creative training workshops for instructors. Can you tell me about that?

JvW: It’s called ‘Les geven hondenschool dat kan anders’ [Teaching in dog training schools: things can be different] We show instructors how to teach with more variety, and how to design exercises that really prepare the dog for real-life situations.

LV: De Laar is renowned for its use of enrichment tools in training. So you’re not a ‘cookie reward school’?

JvW: That’s true. We don’t necessarily use food in rewards. We keep it varied.

So we work a lot with brain games, and with the Green, with balls, etc. And we make our own toys too. We try to come up with rewards that are engaging for the dog, not just a quick treat. Take the tug-of-war exercise. We have designed a few variations around that central theme to keep it fresh. We made a nice video of that, actually [see below].

LV: Why do you focus on play so much?

JvW: We find that many dogs – particularly pups – are more motivated by play than by a quick treat. Play can also prevent lots of unwanted behaviour and it’s great for your relationship with the dog.

We actually give each student a Fleece rope toy to take home, as a present. We ask them to bring it everywhere and to really integrate it to their everyday life.

Bones of contention: Stepping away from training controversy

LV: I share your values when it comes to force-free training, and as a result I am often confronted with this question: doesn’t force-free mean a lack of boundaries? How do you address such criticisms?

Teaching the contact exercise

Teaching the contact exercise

JvW: I would say the opposite is true, actually. We focus greatly on guiding the dog within a clear framework. The dogs can’t just do whatever they want whenever they feel like it. We always say “A dog with boundaries is a free dog.

Take the 1.3-meter leash, for example. That 1.3 meter becomes the dog’s framework: when its taut, the dog can’t go where he wants to go; when it is loose, the dog gets to keep on walking. So we teach the handlers to become the provider of all good things for their dog, as a reward for the dog showing self-control.

LV: And how do you respond to the perception that positive training takes longer to show results? How do you compete with the deceptive appeal of a quick fix?

JvW: In my experience, we actually get quite quick results. Take using daily meals as enrichment opportunities. You can make it a habit with very little effort, and you nearly instantly get a calmer dog.

Also, we reach our goal through gradual steps that are so small the dog can’t make a mistake. So we end up with reliable behaviour much quicker. But people have to give it a chance in the early stages.

LV: For some people, using force has become second nature. I find it a very hard sell to turn that around in the more extreme cases. How do you approach this?

JvW: Telling off your dog, or jerking his leash, can be deeply rooted habits. Some people have been rehearsing these for years. But when they come and see one lesson, they are always struck by how calm everything is in our training.

To us, ‘rust is een must’ [roughly translated, ‘calm is a must’. Sorry guys, it just doesn’t have the same ring in English]. We give the dogs relatively few instructions, as we let them work it out themselves. But that can only be done from a place of calm.

One of the most rewarding thing to hear is when people come back to me to tell me that our training has also changed the way they interact within their family, not just towards the dog.

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Jonne, 3 1/2 years old, one of Henry’s and Jolein’s girls

LV: Oh that’s lovely!

My final question on the training controversies: I frequently get confronted by trainers following what they have coined the ‘natural method’. They swear by the pack theory, assuming the motivation behind every canine behaviour is to raise their status in the ‘pack’. That ‘back to nature’ message is very appealing to the public, despite being strained by severe criticism through decades of inconclusive research. How do you avoid getting frustrated at the eternal popularity of that message?

JvW: I don’t react to everyone’s opinion, I don’t pick every fight.

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One of de Laar’s famous seminars

But if I must talk about leadership, I use this example: imagine your dog wants to go to the garden. Then you can see yourself like his gatekeeper. To get out, he must do the contact exercise – sitting and making eye contact [The contact exercise requires the dog to spontaneously sit and make eye contact with you]. It’s just about making his access to good things dependent on his behaviour. Before you know it, that contact exercise becomes automatic and the dog is sitting and asking nicely for every privilege, and showing great self-control. And there is no need to use leadership as an explanation for this.

LV: But sometimes it’s hard to shut up, no?

JvW: I have a rule for myself: I never give unsolicited advice. We have a Facebook group for our interns, for example, and I know that I should just skip past some videos there. I don’t get let myself be disturbed by people who think differently.

I keep the company of people who give me energy. At the start, I wanted to save every dog but now I only invest my energy in people who genuinely give it a chance.

Dog training trends in The Netherlands

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Emily Larlham at de Laar

LV: You got some world-famous trainers to give seminars and workshops at De Laar. How on earth do you pull it off? Take Emily Larlham from Kiko Pup for example.

JvW: Emily is a real mentor to me. She actually looked through our course materials and gave very specific input about what exercises should be in and which ones should be scrapped. That’s how I took out the ‘no’ exercise, for example.

The first time she came to present here was Henry’s surprise birthday present to me!

LV: Wow, what a husband! And it’s not just Kiko Pup. You also got Grisha Stewart, and plenty more. Do you apply specific criteria for the kinds of speakers you invite to speak at de Laar?

JvW: I don’t necessarily have to agree with every little point, but it must be thoroughly positive methods at the very least.

LV: You are carving quite a name for yourself in Dutch dog training. What is your proudest achievement since you’ve started?

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Jolein and Grisha at de Laar

JvW: I love that the ‘happy here’ has become such a household name [the recall protocol recommended by De Laar]. Our students tell us they hear it all over the country now. And we see more and more people just bringing a rope toy wherever they go as a means of rewarding the dog there and then. And of course we see more and more people carrying that actual fleece rope toy we give away.

LV: You have worked tirelessly for a move away from the use of force in training. Do you think that us, the Netherlands-based force-free trainers, are collectively making a dent? Do you see a trend in the right direction?

JvW: I do notice a move in the right direction. I think the social media is playing an important role here. If people are curious about it, they have an easy place to find out more nowadays. So I do see progress towards more positive training in The Netherlands, and who knows how far it will go.

There is one thing I am sure of: if you keep your eyes and ears open for them, and you’ll see and hear beautiful things.

Find out more about Jolein

Posted in Dog pros: a day in the life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mutts on meds

Opinion piece on veterinary psychopharmacology
By Laure-Anne Visele, November 2014

Facile use: Just pop him a chill pill

I am staunchly against the willy-nilly use of medication. But when the problems are so serious that the dog is suffering severely, or just can’t learn anything – including behavioural therapy – it’s time to do something.

©Will Keightley Flicker CC Some rights reserved

©Will Keightley Flicker CC Some rights reserved

Let’s be crystal clear here: I do NOT promote the facile prescription of psychopharmacology – I promote its responsible use:

  • For the right cases: Based on a behavioural evaluation by a qualified professional, and only for the cases that will not respond to behaviour therapy alone.
  • At the right dose: Aiming for the Goldie Lock zone (therapeutic range) showing improvement without adverse effect,
  • For the right duration: Ramping down as soon as the improvements are stable,
  • Together with the right behavioural treatment: Only used in the context of supporting behaviour therapy
  • Using the right product: Surgical precision, not scorched earth, and
  • With the owner’s informed consent: With the owners fully briefed about the potential adverse effects (and their likelihood).

Adverse effect: And then he turned green and grew wings

Do me a favour: do some reading on veterinary psychopharmacology (this one is a good start, but try this one too – the 2013 edition) before you join the latest conspiracy theory bandwagon.

The vets want to prescribe in the Goldie Lock range: high enough for a therapeutic effect, but low enough to avoid severe adverse effects. What adverse effects you might encounter should be either mild and transient. If you report serious adverse effects, your vet will seriously consider the costs and benefits under this medication/dose and switch to a more appropriate medication/dose if need be.

If you are a little familiar with big pharma testing, you’ll know that they have to report adverse effect, even if these concern a minority of the patients, and at very high doses. The label warns you of them so you can tell the vet pronto. So severe adverse effects are not normal and need to be addressed.

© Tom Varco from Wiki CC

©Tom Varco from Wiki CC

I am not trivializing the very real adverse effects reported, particularly when the dosage/medication was contraindicated for that individual patient. If something is demonstrably effective, chance is it will have side effects. In pharmacology like in anything, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But I am asking you check their frequency and severity from sources other than emotional testimonies and anecdotal evidence before you go on a scaremongering campaign that might deny some dogs the help they need.

Please be a good advocate to your clients and guide them without bias, even if it goes against your dislike of psychopharma. People going through the hell of owning a dog who is severely disturbed do not need to carry the weight of your blanket mistrust of big pharma.

Same debate rages with human mental health

The parallels with human mental health abound: human psychological disorders are no more a question of ‘getting used to it’ or tough love than canine ones. Dogs, much like us, can suffer from genuine mental health conditions that require more than behaviour therapy alone.

Sad dog

©hjorleifur Pixabay CC

Recognizing an individual dog might need pharmacological help is not an admission of failure on the part of the (canine) behaviour therapist; no more than a human psychologist is incompetent because he recommends medication. The meds are meant to support behavioural treatment, not replace it.

Determining whether meds might be indicated is as much part of our job as mastering training protocols. Sure it bruises our egos and wallets (referring out can mean we transfer the whole behavioural plan to the vet). But that’s tough luck. We’re big boys and girls and we have to get over ourselves and keep an eye on what really matters: the dog.

Help with dog behaviour in and around The Hague

IMG_6639I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I also run a behaviour therapy practice at Canis bonus for clients in and around The  Hague.

I graduated in Zoology, certified as a dog training instructor, and got a postgraduate specialization in applied companion animal behaviour.

When I am not training or rehabilitating dogs, I obsessively review dog books and write about dog behaviour for my own blog and other websites.

If you’d like some help with your dog’s behaviour in The Hague or region, get in touch. I use evidence-based and force-free methods so your dog gets the best chance of success. Find out more on my training page.

Posted in Dog behaviour | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Latest dog book review: Veterinary psychopharmacology

Dog book review announcement: Veterinary psychopharmacology
By Laure-Anne Visele, November 2014

Veterinary psychopharmacology

Veterinary psychopharmacology is a 2006 text book on using medication to treat pervasive behavioural disorders in the cat, parrot, horse and dog. The topic is controversial and you may be a staunch psychopharma opponent, but reading the book will ensure you bring informed arguments to the discussion.

Check out the full review here.

Help with dog behaviour in and around The Hague

IMG_6639I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I also run a behaviour therapy practice at Canis bonus for clients in and around The  Hague.

I graduated in Zoology, certified as a dog training instructor, and got a postgraduate specialization in applied companion animal behaviour.

When I am not training or rehabilitating dogs, I obsessively review dog books and write about dog behaviour for my own blog and other websites.

If you’d like some help with your dog’s behaviour in The Hague or region, get in touch. I use evidence-based and force-free methods so your dog gets the best chance of success. Find out more on my training page.

Posted in Dog writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

High expectations and puppy training: a match made in hell

Blog post about turning dog owners away from the demons of perfectionism
By Laure-Anne Visele, November 2014

From shameful pup to model student

My colleague at OhMyDog! told me something great last night. A student had walked in ready to murder her pup and asked: “Is that behaviour normal for a pup?”

Three weeks later, and the next set of overwhelmed beginners come in and ask “Is our dog’s behaviour really normal? Shouldn’t our pup be more like hers?” Guess who that model pup was? Yup, the lady who was screaming bloody murder three weeks before.

©Matt Hosford

©Matt Hosford

Dog training first aid

We spot the high-expectation owners immediately. They barge onto the field tangled up in the puppy’s leash, swearing under their breath and ready to sell the dog to the highest bidder. They expected puppy cuteness and deference. They got puppy tantrums and defiance.

They’re embarrassed, frustrated, … conflicted. It’s tough standing in a force-free school when you have canine murder on your mind. We can see them think: “I wanted to walk in like the calm and collected trainer of a Lassie. What the hell am I doing wrong and who gave me this lemon of a dog?”

That’s where our interns swoop in to give ‘dog training first aid’. We trained them in zooming in on the biggest problem, and fixing it quickly. Once the pup is settled, the embarrassment and frustration magically lift and the owner can relax, and take the lesson in.

©nomadic lass

©nomadic lass

That tantrum-to-settle moment is an epiphany for the owners. It gives them a little bit of hope, makes them feel a little bit empowered. So they try a spot of troubleshooting themselves. When it works, they think: “I’ll try doing my dog training homework too. You never know” (yes, we give homework) They try out the results the week after, and blow me down, the pup is performing like a little Ferrari! So they practice some more and, come the third week, the latest newbies come in and ask: “Why can’t my dog be more like yours?” Three short weeks after they were ready to throw in the towel…

A leap of faith

As instructors, we get a kick out of that transformation moment. We know how hard it is to take a leap of faith and change the way you do things; to get away from nagging and getting in coaching mode.

With every puppycidal owner who walks onto our field we take our own leap of faith: “Will we be able to turn this one around?” Time and time again, our students prove to us what their pups prove to them: we were right to invest in them.

Help with dog behaviour in and around The Hague

IMG_6639I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I also run a behaviour therapy practice at Canis bonus for clients in and around The  Hague.

I graduated in Zoology, certified as a dog training instructor, and got a postgraduate specialization in applied companion animal behaviour.

When I am not training or rehabilitating dogs, I obsessively review dog books and write about dog behaviour for my own blog and other websites.

If you’d like some help with your dog’s behaviour in The Hague or region, get in touch. I use evidence-based and force-free methods so your dog gets the best chance of success. Find out more on my training page.

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The helpdesk syndrome of dog training

Blog post about the sod’s law of dog training
By Laure-Anne Visele, November 2014

About the author

IMG_6639I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague) and run a behaviour therapy practice at Canis bonus. I graduated in Zoology, certified in dog training, and got a postgrad specialization in applied animal behaviour. When I am not training or rehabilitating dogs, I obsessively review dog books and write about dog behaviour for my own blog and other websites.

I swear he never does that!

That all-too familiar phrase. The one you hear your friend mutter as her dog is humping your leg underneath what’s left of your Sunday best trousers.

I’ve noticed the opposite too: when my clients want to show me the problem all is quiet on the misbehaviour front. It’s like just having called the dog trainer made the problem disappear… Until the trainer in question is out the door. This makes teaching how to stop a dog from jumping up a legendary headache among trainers, as the pups tend to chose that moment to offer the world’s most beautiful unprompted sits…

Training Munchausen by proxy

Owners can describe your dog’s behaviour until their face goes blue, nothing beats letting the trainer seeing it with their own eyes. So we try to set the dog up when it’s safe and ethical. Sure enough, nine times out of ten, sweet nothing happens then and Fido behaves like butter wouldn’t melt.

©Beverly & Pack (Flickr CC)

©Beverly & Pack (Flickr CC)

I can practically hear my client frantically thinking: “She’s going to think I have training Munchausen by proxy. Go on, Fido, misbehave already!”

It’s like when you call PC support only for your PC to magically start working again. And the second helpdesk guy is out the door, Mr. computer goes all “error 50210″ again. And don’t get me started on Doctors’ midnight house calls.

Aherm, this is a class for REACTIVE dogs

I had to chuckle today when I was on the client end of the deal. I was having my own dog screened for a reactive dogs class and he just wouldn’t show any reactivity. The problem I’d like fixed is tiny but I figured it would be a nice way of getting back in a class environment. It’s just that he chases everything and everyone away if I lie down on a blanket in the grass to read a book in the park. The second I stand up, he’s an angel. But for some reason, he feels the need to defend me when am lying down.

The trainer was trying to play the stranger but Rodge was having none of it, ingratiating himself to him no matter what angle he approached us from. I was amused by catching myself having that exact same thought my clients sometimes admit to me: “He’s not going to believe me and I am looking verrrrry weird right now.”

©eleni boulasiki (Flickr CC)

©eleni boulasiki (Flickr CC)

I suspect what’s happening is that the trainer is never a fresh stranger as they’ve spent a bit of time chatting with the owners before the test. And I also hope that most trainers are pretty on-target with putting dogs at ease. We tend to automatically offer appeasement postures in response to signs of stress in the dog, sometimes without even realizing it.

It got me thinking: “Maybe there’s a market for fresh strangers”. It’s a good job opportunity for someone who doesn’t mind being jumped on, barked at, or knocked over. The good news is it’s for the good of canine-kind. The bad news is… am not paying you!

Dog behaviour problem? Get in touch

If you’d like some help with your dog’s behaviour and you’re located in The Hague or region, get in touch. I use evidence-based and force-free methods so the dog gets the best behavioural care possible. You can find out how it all works on my training page. And of course, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to offer your services as a fresh stranger!

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Latest dog book review is out: 101 dog tricks

Book review announcement on Kyra Sundance’s “101 dog tricks”
By Laure-Anne Visele, November 2014

About the author

IMG_6639I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague) and run a behaviour therapy practice at Canis bonus. I graduated in Zoology, certified in dog training, and got a postgrad specialization in applied animal behaviour. When I am not training or rehabilitating dogs, I obsessively review dog books and write about dog behaviour for my own blog and other websites.

101 Dog Tricks

Kyra Sundance is a famous dog trainer and I was curious about her tricks book. I loved that it was illustrated and very very very well designed. It used too much prompting for my liking though (pushing the dog’s rump down for a sit, instead of luring him there or just capturing a spontaneous sit). Still, it had tons of tricks, it was well-illustrated and extremely well explained.

Check out the full review here. Happy reading!

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Latest book review is out: Do as I do

Book review announcement on “Do as I do”
By Laure-Anne Visele, October 2014

About the author

IMG_6639I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague) and run a behaviour therapy practice at Canis bonus. I graduated in Zoology, certified in dog training, and got a postgrad specialization in applied animal behaviour. When I am not training or rehabilitating dogs, I obsessively review dog books and write about dog behaviour for my own blog and other websites.

Do as I do

“Do as I do” is Claudia Fugazza’s baby. She’s a dog training cum ethology researcher – the bee’s knees when it comes to understanding applied dog behaviour. She refined a dog training technique that cuts teaching time to a fraction of what it used to be.

The technique couldn’t be more elegant: you show to your dog what you’d like him to do, then ask him to imitate you. This is revolutionizing the service dog industry, among other training sectors: you could teach the dog to empty the washing machine by showing him, instead of painstakingly breaking it down into its component behaviour and teaching each part separately.

The book is tiny, so you should be done in a day or so. It teaches you how to teach your dog this wonderful skill, as well as the history behind the discovery of the technique in research. A little dry, but light on jargon and definitely accessible to motivated dog owners. The book also comes with a DVD to demonstrate the techniques. Anyone who’s anyone in dog training has already started cross-training to DAID, so don’t be left behind and get reading!

You can read the full review here.

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Latest dog book review is out: When pigs fly

Book review announcement on ‘When pigs fly…” dog training manual
By Laure-Anne Visele, October 2014

About the author

IMG_6639I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague) and run a behaviour therapy practice at Canis bonus. I graduated in Zoology, certified in dog training, and got a postgrad specialization in applied animal behaviour. When I am not training or rehabilitating dogs, I obsessively review dog books and write about dog behaviour for my own blog and other websites.

When pigs fly: Training success with impossible dogs

Killion When pigs fly“When pigs fly” was written by Jane Killion, an internationally successful  dog trainer. She promotes capitalizing on what hyper dogs find intrinsically rewarding to turn them into best-in-class obedience champions. She also uses minimal prompting of the dog and prefers catching the dog in the act of performing the desired behaviour instead – having created a clever set up beforehand of course. Very ambitious program, but great chapters explaining the clicker and other training concepts and techniques for beginners. I recommend it.

You can read the complete review for ‘When pigs fly’ here.

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Latest book review is out: Clinical behavioral medicine for small animals

Book review announcement on manual for behavioural medicine
By Laure-Anne Visele, October 2014

About the author

IMG_6639I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague) and run a behaviour therapy practice at Canis bonus. I graduated in Zoology, certified in dog training, and got a postgrad specialization in applied animal behaviour. When I am not training or rehabilitating dogs, I obsessively review dog books and write about dog behaviour for my own blog and other websites.

Clinical behavioral medicine for small animals

Overall Clinical 1e‘Clinical…’ is a class is among vets and trainers dealing with dog behaviour problems. It’s a tough read though: it’s thick, it’s dense, and it’s – well – clinical. Over the years, it has gone on to acquire DSM-like fame (the DSM is the diagnostic classification manual for human psychological/psychiatric disorders). More reference material rather than bedside reading, ‘Clinical…’ is a complete must-have for the dog behaviour professional who wants a diagnosis-treatment approach to his/her interventions.

You can read the full review here

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