Welcome to Canis BLOGus

Canis BLOGus – Dog blogging: making evidence-based fun

A blog about dogs and dog behaviour for critical owners and professionals.

I share news of the dogs I treat, review dog books, explain research articles, and investigate controversial issues. Bursting with pop science, scathing rants, vivid analogies and tongue-in-cheek illustrations.

Who am I

IMG_6610My name is Laure-Anne and I am an English-speaking expat in The Netherlands. I run an evidence-based dog behaviour therapy practice (Canis bonus) and dog training school (OhMyDog!) in The Hague. I graduated in Zoology (University of Newcastle), then specialized in applied companion animal behaviour (postgrad dip). When I am not working on rehabilitating dogs with behaviour problems, I relax by examining ideas in the pet and behaviour world critically. I am also quite a passionate advocate for critical thinking on the human scene.

For more about me, visit the homepage.

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.

What do I write about?

I share the ups and downs of the dogs I treat and explain the hidden sides of the techniques.

I also break down the finer technical or academic points on:

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

And then of course, I interview interesting dog pros and tell you about my latest dog book review.

Oh, and whatever takes my fancy, as long as it’s mildly dog-related and I think you’ll enjoy it.

To find the articles

  • Click on a category (panel to the right) such as ‘Dog behaviour’ or
  • Enter your search terms in the search bar (top right)

Write a comment

I love comments, no matter how short, off-the-mark, (or contrary). 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.

Canis bonus in blog directories

Laure-Anne Viselé

Dog Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Blog Directory & Business Pages at OnToplist.com
Add blog to our directory.

Posted in Dog writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Responses

Silence is gold, dog. Teaching a dog to be quiet on request

Blog post about how to teach a dog to be quiet on command
By Laure-Anne Visele, April 2015. Full illustration credits at the end of the post.
Method inspired by Karen Pryor’s Reaching the Animal Mind. Review out soon on Canis bonus 

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I am a behaviour therapist for dogs. I help dog owners in The Hague (and Delft, Westland, Wassenaar, Rijswijk, etc.) fix their dog’s behaviour problems.

Be it obedience issues or dysfunctional behaviour, I give you modern tips on how to fix it. My methods are affordable, evidence-based and dog-friendly.

I am a dog behaviourist for Canis bonus, and Head Trainer at OhMyDog! dog training school. I graduated in Zoology and certified as a dog training instructor. I have a Postgraduate in Applied Animal Behaviour (completed Magna cum laude).

I am The Hague’s dog nerd. If you want help or tips with your dog’s behaviour, and live close to The Hague, tell me about the problem here.

Quiet boy

Here comes my dirty dog trainer’s secret. I HATE the sound of a dog barking. Luckily, my own dog hardly ever makes a peep. Friends have even asked if he was mute or something. He only barks in two avoidable situations, so I don’t mind so much. I figure if I want a completely quiet dog, I should get a statue.

If you want a quiet dog, get a statue

If you want a completely quiet dog, get a statue

Situation 1: Nightmare at the dog training school

One of my intern at OhMyDog! asked if she could bring my dog to her practical dog training exam. She called me halfway through to say she’d been asked to leave early because of the dog’s incessant barking!

So I attended dog training classes with him, to see it with my own eyes. I surveyed the local schools and picked DogLogix – if you’re not going for our school (OhMyDog!), definitely give theirs a go. Sure enough, he started barking the second he wasn’t working. It was frustration/demand/over-arousal barking.

We got tons of improvement by experimenting with (sorry, it gets technical) capturing quiet, opening/closing training sessions, and, I have to admit it, a couple of extinction bursts.

Situation 2: Party pooping dog

He also barks when I try to relax and have a chat with other dog guardians at the dog beach. He stands at the water’s edge and protests at the dive-bombing Labradors for daring to have a good time. Rodge doesn’t like the water, you see, so Dog forbid anyone else should have fun.

Swimming dog

Other dogs frolicking in the water drive my dog insane. Once a party pooper…

A mild barking problem

So my barking issues were definitely not top of my list of priorities, but hey. He has been showing signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (the doggie equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease) so any new trick is therapeutic. As long as I keep him learning, we’re slowing down the decline.

I started last week and, to my surprise, a couple of two-minute sessions later, and Mr. Oldiepants could bark on request! I am verrrry proud of my old guy. Here’s how I taught him.

Puppy steps

Imagine you are teaching your dog to sit, but he doesn’t yet sit reliably when you try to help him into that position. If you said ‘sit’ before every fumbled attempt, he would take ages to learn what the word meant. He’ll be thinking that it means sitting then bouncing back up; or not-quite-sitting; or lying down; or whatever mistakes he/you made on your way to the perfect sit. It’s always best to wait until you can reliably put the dog into position before you introduce a word for it.

All this to say: please do not say the word ‘bark’ quite yet. Let’s get him to do it reliably for a couple of sessions, and then add the request. Now that I’ve rained on your parade, let’s get started.

  • Put your dog in a situation where you are 150% certain he is going to bark. Please do not make him upset or aggressive in the process (tell me about these problems if you live close to The Hague.) You could have someone ring your doorbell, for example.
  • As soon as he barks, say ‘yes!’ in a jovial voice (or click if you are a clicker trainer) then give him a treat.
  • He has to be quiet to chomp on the treat, so you can click again for him being quiet (and give him a treat again).
  • Keep alternating between clicking for quiet and clicking for barking, to make the dog more conscious of both types of behaviours.

Keep this up for a couple of minutes. Stop way before the dog gets bored or frustrated. We want him to be dying for his next training session, not dragging himself through it.

Give the dog a cue

  • When you can confidently predict he is about to bark, say ‘bark’ in a jovial way just before he does it. It goes something like this: the doorbell goes, you say ‘Bark’, he barks.
  • Click/say ‘yes!’ and give him a treat.
  • He is now quiet, so say ‘shush’ in a whisper. Put your finger in front of your lips (i.e. the universal shush gesture) after the shush for extra effect.
  • Immediately click/treat for his quiet.
  • Repeat the ‘shush -> reward’ thing a few times. You’ll have to be quick on the reward once you’ve said ‘shush’, so he doesn’t have time to start barking.
  • When you feel he’s about to bark again, give the ‘bark’ request. And reward when he barks, then immediately go back to asking for a shush. If your dog barks before you had time to ask for it, take a step to the side and start again. Just try to capture whatever comes next (say ‘bark’ before he barks, say ‘shush’ before he shushes).
His Masters Voice

Learning when to listen, and when to speak.

This is my guy at that stage. That was after two or three tiny little sessions. And this is an old dog with learning issues. So if my dog can learn it so quickly, so can yours.

Husky marathon, not greyhound sprint

To build up duration – no point in a dog who stays quiet for only a split second – start delaying your click after you said ‘shush’. Bring about the increase gradually. The sweet spot, the right duration, is somewhere between demotivatingly easy and frustratingly impossible. It is challenging but not impossible.

Greyhounds

Teaching duration: These guys are short-burst sprinters. We want our dogs to be marathon athletes.

Alternate between the short and gradually longer durations so he doesn’t guess a pattern. You could reward for:

  • 2 (easy) seconds of quiet
  • then 10 (challenging) seconds
  • then 2 (easy) seconds
  • then 3 (easy) seconds
  • then 9 (challenging) seconds
  • then 10 (challenging) seconds
  • then 2 (easy) seconds
  • then 10 (challenging) seconds
  • then 11 (challenging) seconds
  • then 3 (easy) seconds
  • then 15 (challenging) seconds
  • then 2 (easy) seconds
  • then 2 (easy) seconds
  • then 11 (challenging) seconds
  • then 14 (challenging) seconds

You don’t have to be that precise, just play it by ear. But do switch between short and challenging in an unpredictable way, and don’t go up in large increments.

Cosmopolitan dog

Practice in different places so he can generalize what he’s learnt, and learn that it applies everywhere.

Don’t be the dog training fool I was when, after he did it well just one time, I took him home to show it off. I had really oversold the surprise trick and my friends were half-expecting him to start flying a jet engine. So I said ‘Bark’ and he… looked at me quizzically. Total silence – aside from my friend clearing her throat and eventually saying “Aherm. Nice?”.

Traveling dog

Take this show on the road: practice in lots of different places to get the behaviour solid

Oooops. I had broken one of the sacred oaths dog training oaths: thou shall not expect your dog to perform a new skill in a new location if you have never practiced there. So don’t be the moron I was, and practice in a ton of places before take it in front of an audience.

Veteran dog

Lassie doesn’t exist, my good people, and solid dog training is a question of practice, practice, practice. Carnegie Hall and all that. Once you feel you’ve practiced enough, you can try to use it in real life, to really ask him to be quiet at times when he finds that hard. So please take these on the road:

  • The “shush”: Catch him in the act of being quiet in his daily routine. Say ‘shush’, make your gesture, and clicking/treat.
  • The “bark”: Transform moments of excitement from feeling shame at your dog’s embarrassing behaviour to feeling lucky about the training moment.

Fancy dog

And voila! Your dog goes quiet when you ask him, and you didn’t need to get angry or intimidate him to get there – which, by the way, is shoddy dog training and only serves to make the dog more wound up.

You also didn’t need to train for weeks on end. But the most beautiful thing of all is that, whatever used to drive him bonkers no longer does. He is too busy playing bark/shush for treats to bother about the dive-bombing Labradors. In the lingo, we call that a dog who ‘has gone operant’. I told you it would get fancy. I love big words, me.

Cool dog

Get fancy: teach him to do it everywhere, for a long time, and to stay cool throughout

Want to get even fancier? Say ‘talk’ instead of ‘bark’. It’s sure to get a few laughs at the park, and maybe your fellow dog owners at the dog beach can forgive his previous barking antics.

Illustration credits

No changes were made to any of the illustrations.

Posted in Dog behaviour, Dog training | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latest dog book review: Animal Wise

Dog book review announcement: Virginia Morell’s “Animal Wise”
By Laure-Anne Visele, April 2015

About the review’s author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I can help with your dog’s behaviour questions if you live in The Hague or region.

I am a dog behaviour therapist for Canis bonus, and Head Trainer at OhMyDog! dog training school.

I graduated in Zoology and certified as a dog training instructor. I also have a Postgraduate in applied animal behaviour (completed Magna cum laude).

In short, I am The Hague’s dog nerd. If you want dog-friendly and evidence-based tips, I am your girl.  If you live close to The Hague and have a question about your dog’s behaviour, tell me about the problem here.

 

Animal Wise: How we know animals think and feel

Morell_Animal Wise

Animal Wise takes you down a sweep of the historic animal cognition research to date. Its author, Virginia Morell, is a science journalist. She takes us through pain in fish and self recognition in dogs, and explores plenty more intriguing animal cognition questions. A true gem of a book: as scientifically rigorous as it is pleasant to read.

Check the full review here.

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

Latest dog book review: Dogs don’t look both ways

Dog book review announcement: Jane Hanser’s “Dogs don’t look both ways”
By Laure-Anne Visele, April 2015

 

 

About the review’s author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I can help with your dog’s behaviour questions if you live in The Hague or region.

I am a dog behaviour therapist for Canis bonus, and Head Trainer at OhMyDog! dog training school.

I graduated in Zoology and certified as a dog training instructor. I also have a Postgraduate in applied animal behaviour (completed Magna cum laude).

In short, I am The Hague’s dog nerd. If you want dog-friendly and evidence-based tips, I am your girl.  If you live close to The Hague and have a question about your dog’s behaviour, tell me about the problem here.

Hanser_Both ways

Dogs don’t look both ways

“Dogs don’t look both ways” is the story of Joey, a chocolate Lab with a bad case of wanderlust. Joey tells his own tale in this dog-narrated book. The book was written for entertainment purposes mainly, and makes for a smooth read. It does not purport to have educational value, so don’t pick this one up hoping for the next Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash.

Check the full review here.

Posted in Dog behaviour | Leave a comment

Latest dog book review: Crazy bitch

Dog book review announcement: Crazy bitch
By Laure-Anne Visele, April 2015

 

Tibbett - Crazy Bitch

About the review’s author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne. I am your local dog nerd.

I am a dog behaviour therapist in The Hague and region (Canis bonus), and Head Trainer at OhMyDog! dog training school.

I graduated in Zoology, and am a fully certified dog training instructor. I have also completed my postgraduate program in applied animal behaviour Magna cum laude.

If you live close to The Hague and need professional help for your dog’s behaviour, drop me a quick line about the problem here.

Crazy Bitch

The autobiography of the Tibbetts’ harrowing journey through their dog’s declining mental health and aggression. A gripping read that is hard to put down at times. The author, despite being a layperson, shows excellent insights into dog behaviour. A little too sprinkled by pseudoscience, but overall a great read if you want to understand, truly understand, what life with a large mentally unstable dog can be like.

Check the full review here.

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

Dutch dog vaccination schedules

Blog post showing vaccination schedules for Dutch dogs
By Laure-Anne Visele, March 2015

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I help with dog behaviour problems around The Hague (Canis bonus). I am also Head Trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I graduated in Zoology, and am a certified dog trainer and applied animal behaviourist.

If you live close to The Hague and are getting worried or annoyed about your dog’s behaviour, tell me about the problem. I’ll get back to you within two business days. You can always read up a little on how it works first if you’re not sure.

Dog vaccinations in The Netherlands

My position on dog vaccination is no mystery: I see it as a civic duty to keep our dogs up to date on their vaccinations. But exactly how often should these take place, and what are the dogs being vaccinated against?

As I needed to brief my staff at our dog training school in The Hague on vaccination policies, I sat down with the veterinary practice with whom I collaborate on behaviour work, and they gave me the low down on vaccinations. I figured my expat readers would be happy to see this information in English.

The big canine diseases

In the Netherlands, dogs are expected to be covered against four diseases:

  1. Distemper (hondenziekte in Dutch)
  2. Parvovirus
  3. Canine hepatitis (leverziekte in Dutch)
  4. Leptospirosis

If your dog attends a training school, or if he needs to stay at a dog pension or walks with a dog walking group, he will also need to be vaccinated against the two forms of kennel cough (kennelhoest in Dutch):

  1. Bordatella
  2. Parainfluenza

And if you brought your dog in from abroad or want to travel with him, he will also need to be vaccinated against rabies.

Dutch canine vaccination schedule

Dogs need to be vaccinated against all the diseases every three years, and against leptospirosis and kennel cough every year.

The vaccine for both variants of the kennel cough is delivered in one go, nasally.

The first set of vaccines is delivered to puppies on three separate occasions, every three weeks starting at six weeks old. So your pup should be fully vaccinated around twelve weeks.

Final note, make sure you ask for the L4 version of the Leptospirosis vaccine. This protects against a forth strain of the Leptospirosis bacteria, whereas the old version only protected against three strains. The forth strain has been known to strike in The Netherlands too, so it’s a good precaution.

Vaccines per dog age

If you want to see the detailed breakdown, here we go:

6 weeks: DP vaccine (Distemper + Parvovirus)

9 weeks:

  • Small cocktail (Parvovirus + Leptospirosis (L4))
  • Kennel cough (Bordatella + Parainfluenza)

12 weeks: Big cocktail (Parvovirus + Distemper + Canine Hepatitis + Leptospirosis (L4))

1, 4, 7, 10, etc. years:

  • Big cocktail (Parvovirus + Distemper + Canine Hepatitis + Leptospirosis (L4))
  • Kennel cough (Bordatella + Parainfluenza)

2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, etc. years:

  • Leptospirosis (L4)
  • Kennel cough (Bordatella + Parainfluenza)

That should cover you! Drop me a line if you have any questions or comments.

Posted in Veterinary care and canine first aid | Tagged , | 1 Response

Latest dog book review: Stress in dogs

Dog book review announcement: Stress in dogs
By Laure-Anne Visele, March 2015

von Reinhardt - Stress in dogs

 

About the review’s author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I help with dog behaviour problems around The Hague (Canis bonus). I am also Head Trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I graduated in Zoology, and am a certified dog trainer and applied animal behaviourist.

If you live close to The Hague and are getting worried or annoyed about your dog’s behaviour, tell me about the problem. I’ll get back to you within two business days. You can always read up a little on how it works first if you’re not sure.

Stress in dogs

A tiny pocket book about… stress in dogs. It is written in a dry, professional tone but gets the job done: you’ll emerge refreshed on the physiology of stress and reflecting more on its various signs, causes and effects.

Check the full review here.

Posted in Dog writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Latest dog book review: Bad pharma

Dog book review announcement: Bad Pharma. How medicine is broken, and how we can fix it
By Laure-Anne Visele, March 2015

Goldacre_bad pharma

About the review’s author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I help with dog behaviour problems around The Hague (Canis bonus). I am also Head Trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I graduated in Zoology, and am a certified dog trainer and applied animal behaviourist.

 

  • If you are worried or annoyed about your dog’s behaviour and live in The Hague, tell me about the problem on this page. It can be for minor things like jumping on guests or more serious issues like aggression. I’ll come meet you and the dog and explain what happened and how to solve it. Together we’ll choose the approach that you like best. I work in The Hague, Delft, Rijswijk, Wassenaar, Westland and region.
  • Do you want to read more about how it works first? I explain in all here.
  • Do you just want regular, reliable information about dog behaviour? You can read my latest dog book reviews and follow my blog. That’s where I keep my finger on the latest findings in animal behaviour and training, and share the progress of my clients with you.

Bad Pharma: How medicine is broken, and how we can fix it

Another scathing book by Ben Goldacre.

This time, he points his sci-skept [did I just invent a new word there?] finger at the dodgy practices of the pharmaceutical industry: from brushing adverse effects under the carpet to exaggerating therapeutic benefits or bribing GP’s. A shocking and disheartening look at the mess that is the pharmaceutical industry. You will be outraged, but at least you will be informed.

Why is this relevant to dog behaviour? Because psychopharmacology is increasingly used as an adjuvant to behavioural therapies for dogs with severe behaviour problems. Behaviourists owe it to their patients to be minimally informed on the issues surrounding this controversial topic.

Lest you go all big-bad-modern-medicine-conspiracy-theory on me, do consider Ben Goldacre’s warnings not to fall into naturopathic extremes. As he puts it: “Problems in medicine do not mean that homeopathic sugar pills work; just because there are problems with aircraft design, that does not mean that magic carpets really fly.”

If I’ve whet your appetite, check the full review here.

Posted in Dog writing | Leave a comment

Teach an old dog new tricks and get rich in the process

Dog trick instructions: teach your dog to find you money
By Laure-Anne Visele, March 2015

About the review’s author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

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

I work in English, French, or Dutch and only use animal-friendly methods. Find out more on my training page.

Do you live close to The Hague and are you wondering if your dog’s behaviour is normal or whether we can do something about it? Tell me what’s going on in a few words in the contact form and I’ll get back to you in the next two days.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

My dog is old. I am not even sure how old.

Animal control officers found him roaming the streets of France five years ago, and put him in a shelter. He was deemed unadoptable (too ugly, too fat, too scared). He got moved in extremis to a Dutch shelter where I found him, trembling and obese, in the corner of a room. As soon as I saw him my heart broke. I came close and he climbed into my arms, shaking. That is the moment I knew he would be my dog. 

… I found him, trembling and obese, in the corner of a room. As soon as I saw him my heart broke. I came close and he climbed into my arms, shaking. That is the moment I knew he would be my dog.

His chances of adoption had been slim, but the looks/weight/behaviour problems wouldn’t be an issue for us. On the looks front, we’d fostered a ridiculously beautiful dog and my husband couldn’t wait to downgrade as he got tired of the constant attention. We were also ready to tackle the obesity problem. The behaviour issues were going to be a gamble but who better than a behaviourist to take up the challenge?

So I convinced my husband to take a chance and after much deliberation, we took him home. It was Valentine’s day 2009. That is when I drove my guy home. That’s the kind of dog we got at first:

  1. Looks: He looked – still does – like a Frankensteinian cross between English Bulldog and Jack Russell.
  2. Weight: Morbidly obese doesn’t cut it. There was no other way to describe him than “hairy traffic cone”: a fat,broad base with a pointy head and orange-white stripes. It took us a few months, but he shed six kilos and now weighs a (still plump) nineteen.
  3. Behaviour: He was scared of e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. Spotted another dog? Ran away. Heard a car? Crawled and froze. TV was on? Barked and lunged. Saw bubbles in a drink glass? Stared and growled. You name it, he was scared of it.
ursine sloth

My dog is no looker. He has a lot in common with the ursine sloth on the looks front.

he looked like a hairy traffic cone: a fat broad base with a pointy head and orange-white stripes

So we systematically desensitized him to his demons and taught him to trust again, and to take life less seriously. We taught him not to worry about beer and television and puppies and tall strangers.

For years we enjoyed the fruit of our love and labour: a dog with superficial quirks but happy and cooperative. Until about two years ago, that is.

The C-word: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

A couple of years back, he started to unlearn things he’d known for years, forgetting:

  1. that 6am is not the greatest of times for getting up
  2. that not all small dogs are the devil’s spawn
  3. that he has his own dog-flap door to the garden and that the garden is where we go potty.
  4. (and most heart-breakingly) that my husband does not turn into an axe-wielding murderer at night.

dog alzheimer's

The diagnosis made sense, but it left us feeling powerless. After all, it was an organic disease so there was nothing we could do right?

Wrong.

A lot of head scratching, systematic desensitisation, and many consults with colleagues later, I took the trip to the vet behaviourist. She concurred that he was showing symptoms of cognitive dysfunction – roughly speaking, the equivalent to Alzheimer’s disease. The signs he was showing where:

  • Occasionally confused about space
  • Occasionally confused about time
  • Unlearning toilet training
  • New fears
  • More prone to anxiety.

The diagnosis made sense, but it left us feeling powerless. After all, it was an organic disease so there was nothing we could do right?

Wrong.

Tackling Canine Cognitive Dysfunction: it’s not just pills

So I was going to get my old dog to do the canine equivalent to the Guardian’s crossword puzzle every day.

Sure you can moderate some of the symptoms (e.g. anxiety, fear, insomnia) with medication but you can also slow down mental decline through cognitive training. Human sufferers are often advised to learn a new language or do crossword puzzles at the early stages, to slow down the disease’s progression.

So I was going to get my old dog to do the canine equivalent to the Guardian’s crossword puzzle every day. I was going to teach that old dog new tricks. Relentlessly so.

Crossword helper

Keeping cognitively declining dogs from falling apart: keep that gray matter working

I started experimenting with all sorts of training tricks and techniques (all force-free, needless to say). I took him out of retirement and we:

  • started clicker training again: free-shaping him in endless guess-what-I-want-you-to-do games with hilarious missions and even more hilarious guesses;
  • dusted off the old SATS training manual: teaching him to touch a tree or a bin or a bench with a colder/warmer signal;
  • worked through our Do-As-I-Do DVD’s: teaching him to copy my body language;
  • played around with assistance dog tasks: teaching him to ‘find home’, ‘find my phone’ or ‘find my car';
  • ‘ditched that dish': he got all his food through games or food puzzles; and
  • learnt new tricks: we are happily ploughing through the Kikopup tricks catalog together (Emily Larlham).

It didn’t matter how slow or imperfect he was, all I wanted was to keep him mentally stimulated.

Fighting cognitive decline with dog tricks: where we are

…I am rediscovering how much fun it is to engage with my dog instead of leading two parallel lives

Not only does it seem to be working – he is more alert and less forgetful again – but I am rediscovering how much fun it is to engage with my dog instead of leading two parallel lives. And I am having a ball coming up with new tricks to keep my old guy busy. 

One of the tricks that gets us the most laughs at the park is “find the cash”. I hide a bank note in the woods for him to find – yup, it also works if someone else hides it and I’ve never touched the note.

dog trick

Teach your old dog new tricks

Many people have asked me to teach them this trick, and it happens to be one of the easiest in the book, so I figured I’d share it with you here. And if my elderly dog can learn it in under three minutes, so can yours.

Dog trick phase I: Sniffing a note pays off

  1. Ask your dog to wait.
  2. Take a bank note and throw it on the floor close to your dog, and say ‘OK’ or whatever your release word is.
  3. As soon as the dog looks at it, or even better, sniffs it, say ‘good boy’ (or click if your dog is clicker-trained) and give him a treat.
  4. Repeat until he pounces on the note on your ‘OK’.

Dog trick phase II: Sniffing a note is called ‘Where’s the cash?’

  1. (Next session) Ask your dog to wait.
  2. Say ‘Where’s the cash?’ in your happiest, chirpiest training voice.
  3. Take a bank note and throw it on the floor close to your dog.
  4. As soon as the dog sniffs it, say ‘good boy’ and give him a treat.
  5. Start from 2 again: take the bank note back in your hand, ask him “Where’s the cash?” and throw it again. Only this time a little further away.
  6. Repeat until he totally gets it. Most dogs – even mine – will get there in a few seconds.

Dog trick phase III: Move the bank note

  1. Do not let him see where you’re hiding the cash this time. Just send him on a mission to find a treat or something.
  2. When the dog is busy finding the decoy treat, place the bank note in a different place to where you’d been working, but still in full view and still reasonably close to you.
  3. When the dog is back from his treat foray, ask ‘Where’s the cash?’
  4. He’ll start looking and sniffing around. If he’s having trouble, try to hold on before you give him a hint. Don’t wait so long that he gives up in frustration, but try to encourage persistence.
  5. As soon as the dog bumps his nose on the note, say ‘good boy’ and give him a treat.
  6. Repeat a few times in reasonably easy spots (in plain view and close-by), picking a new spot each time.

Dog trick phase IV: Take it outside

  1. (start in a reasonably distraction-free environment the first few times you try outside) Send your dog away so he doesn’t see you hide the bank note, and hide the note somewhere reasonably easy the first few times, and very close to you.
  2. Ask him ‘Where’s the cash?’ when he’s back, and watch him search the note. As soon as he bumps the money with his nose, say ‘good boy’ and give him a treat.
  3. Repeat a few times in spots increasingly further from you, and where the money is increasingly hard to find (start lodging the cash in higher surfaces like tree bark, for example). There are endless hiding places in the woods:  in the grass, in a bush, under a stone. Just use your imagination.

Dog trick phase V: Showing off your money making trick

When out on a walk, wait until someone passes you by then casually drop a bank note and say ‘where’s the cash?’ It’s bound to start a conversation and most people will even offer their own money to make sure you’re not cheating.

MONEY

Take it from me: don’t play this on a windy day

Have fun, and heed this one last word to the wise: do NOT play this game on a windy day…

Comments

What do you reckon? Do you have experience dealing with Cognitive Dysfunction? Do you also use tricks as a therapeutic tool? Does your dog make you a million dollars a month? Don’t be shy and leave a comment.

Illustration credits

No changes were made to any of the illustrations.

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

Latest dog book review: Dogs bite but balloons and slippers are more dangerous

Dog book review announcement: Dogs bite: but balloons and slippers are more dangerous
By Laure-Anne Visele, February 2015

 

Bradley - Dogs biteAbout the review’s author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

I run Canis bonus, a behaviour therapy  practice for dogs with behaviour problems. I am also the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). 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 to make an appointment. I work in English, French, or Dutch and only use animal-friendly methods. You can find out more on my training page.

Dogs bite: but balloons and slippers are more dangerous

Janis Bradley has achieved the holy grail of non-fiction: writing about statistics, yet compelling the readers. And Janis Bradley isn’t just about punchy writing: she demonstrated some gargantuan background research work.

The book is as unsettling as it is reassuring.  On the one hand, it points at the abyss of misinformation that is bite epidemiology; on the other hand, we get to relax about dog bites.

A great read, and one I would advise every dog professional to sink their teeth into.

For the full review, click here.

Posted in Dog writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Gasp! They treat their dog like a child

Blog post on intelligent anthropomorphism
By Laure-Anne Viselé, February 2015
Full illustration credits at the end of the post

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Viselé

I run Canis bonus, a behaviour therapy  practice for dogs with behaviour problems. I am also the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). 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 to make an appointment. I work in English, French, or Dutch and only use animal-friendly methods. You can find out more on my training page.

Dog training clichés: How I resource-guarded my Doritos

I feel a tinge of resource guarding but decide to forgive the finger food faux-pas…

 I was at this party. I’d found THE best spot between the Doritos and the olives. Then this guy pushes me over to get to the prized spot himself. I feel a tinge of resource guarding but decide to forgive the finger food faux-pas so we get chatting – as I sneakily inch myself closer to the Doritos again you understand.

The conversation turns to work and I brace myself for the painful moment. That moment someone asks what I do for a living. It can open a floodgate of misguided clichés, cringe-worthy anecdotes and hasty opinions.

Oh, you’re like that Dog Whisperer right? Oscar or Cesar something’.

I take another sip of my beer before I go for my trusty formula. The formula that keeps people from thinking all I do is teach rich old ladies how to keep their spoilt Yorkies from biting the mailman: “I am a behaviourist. I studied zoology then specialized in dog behaviour. I consult on cases of dogs with disturbed behaviour. I am also a dog trainer and help with straight manners cases.”

Cliche

Dog trainers, when they say what they do for a living, expect a litany of clichés back

My interlocutor, the dog, sneaks a handful of Doritos into his mouth then shares his insights.

  1. “Oh, you’re like that Dog Whisperer right? Oscar or Cesar something’.” (sigh)
  2. “My mother’s dog is so dominant. He jumps up, steals food and barks all the time.” (sigh)
  3. (in a conspiratory tone) “She treats that dog like a child, you know. No wonder.” (another couple of Doritos and a gulp of beer to keep my mouth shut)
  4. “By the way, my neighbour’s dog barks all day. Can I make him stop?” (sigh, and heartbreak)

Raising dogs: Beyond being a ‘benevolent leader’

I see nothing inherently wrong with treating a dog like a child. On the contrary, I encourage it. It beats treating the dog like a prisoner of war

Faced with such a deluge, I decided to pick my battles and go for point three – and another Dorito. I took a deep breath and explained: “I see nothing inherently wrong with treating a dog like a child. On the contrary, I encourage it. It beats treating the dog like a prisoner of war” (thanks to a colleague from the Human Side of Dog Training for coming up with that).

He looked confused, then raised the usual objection: “But you have to be your dog’s leader right?” So I asked him: “Do you see yourself as your kids’ leader?”

Kim Jong Il

‘Be a leader’ they said

You can call that being a leader. I call it being a parent.

The role of dog guardian is similar to that of a parent. You:

  • Keep them warm, fed, healthy, happy and safe.
  • (Try to) keep them from causing trouble, teaching them the manners and boundaries they need to be well-adjusted members of society.
  • Teach them your rules, even the arbitrary ones. You are entitled to read your newspaper in peace and sometimes, just sometimes, you just don’t want to play and yes that means they have to quit it and settle down just because. As long as they live under your roof, they need to follow your rules.

You can call that being a leader. I call it being a parent.

Raising dogs: Be a parent, not a sergeant

“But if you don’t come down on dogs hard they’ll walk all over you,” he says.

You raise dogs and kids, you don’t subjugate them.

Compare this to some fundamentalist religious communities. Communities that value obedience more than compassion and individualism. Communities that expect cookie-cutter kids no matter what. Without a hair out of place these kids seem well-behaved, sure, but are they well-balanced? Are they thriving? What is their quality of life? And how rich is their relationship with their parents?

Toy soldier

If all you want is blind obedience, the authoritarian approach might be for you

I am not suggesting we let our kids and dogs walk all over us, but I am saying that rules and boundaries need to be taught patiently, compassionately and intelligently.

You raise dogs and kids, you don’t subjugate them.

Treating your dog like a SPOILT child

What people mean with ‘treating a dog like a child’ is ‘treating a dog like a spoilt child’. Treating your dog like a child in itself is not the root of all evils. And treating them like soldiers won’t cure all their behaviour problems. To be effective, you need to look at the dog’s history, temperament and psychological/emotional issues. As Monique Bladder, a fellow behaviourist, puts it: if diagnosing and prescribing was as simple as that, we’d be out of a job.

Beer

Raising dogs: don’t worry so much and grab another beer

So the world is not going to end because you treat your dog with a modicum of compassion and respect. Just give them the boundaries to go with it. Do me a favour and stop worrying about treating dogs like kids. And whilst you’re at it, can you please grab me another beer?

Comments

What do you reckon? Are you still worried? Do you think we need to beware of seeing dogs like kids? Or do you often come across this type of blanket anti-anthropomorphism reaction? Don’t be shy and leave a comment.

Illustration credits

No changes were made to any of the illustrations.

Posted in Dog behaviour | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Responses