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.

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Laure-Anne Viselé

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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 , | Leave a comment

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

Latest dog book review: Animal madness

Dog book review announcement: Animal madness
By Laure-Anne Visele, February 2015

Braitman Laurel - Animal madness

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.

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.

Animal Madness

Another fabulous comparative psychiatry book written for the layman. Written by science historian Laurel Braitman, the book follows the journey of Laurel’s dog: Oliver. Oliver is a Bernese Mountain Dog suffering from such profound separation panic that he plunged several storeys out of Braitman’s apartment window rather than staying home alone. Dr. Braitman shares the turmoil and helplessness of living with a mentally disturbed dog.

Upon Oliver’s passing, Laurel Braitman researched the literature and talked to leading figures in animal cognition and behavioural disorders. She came back with a fact-packed but oh-so-human book that you’ll find impossible to put down.

For the full review, click here.

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

Dogs and dominance: the fine prints

Counter-counter-counter-counter-counter-counter-apologetics about the dogs and dominance debate
By Laure-Anne Visele, Feb 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 Visele

I am a behaviour therapist for dogs (Canis bonus, The Hague, Westland, Delft and region) and the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague).

I studied Zoology (University of Newcastle), got a postgrad specialization in applied animal behaviour (dip) and am a licensed/certified dog trainer (O&O).

After mocking around with dogs all day, I spend my nights and week-ends reviewing dog books and writing about dog behaviour for my blog and other websites.

If you are near The Hague and have dog behaviour issues, get in touch to make an appointment. I work in English, French, or Dutch and only use animal-friendly methods. Want to find out more about the behaviour therapy practice? Check my training page.

Dogs and dominance: It’s a bit more complicated than that

“If every dog problem was due to dominance, my job as a behaviour therapist would be so easy. He’s dominant, that’ll be … euros”

I am fresh out of a seminar on dogs and dominance by Monique Bladder, a gifted science communicator on dog behaviour. She was introducing dominance skepticism to an audience of Dutch dog trainers.

She took them through the usual questions:

  • Do wolves form competitive hierarchies or cooperative family groups?
  • Do dogs form packs and collaborate in the hunt? Or are they semi-solitary scavengers?
  • Can we really assume our dogs see us as fellow canines? Really? Isn’t it all a little silly?
  • Can we pin down what we mean when we say ‘dominance’? Can a dog be ‘dominant’? What does it even mean?
  • What in the freaking world do pulling on the leash, jumping up, crossing a threshold ahead of us or resting on a higher spot have to do with dominance?

I liked how she boiled it down: “If every dog problem was due to dominance, my job as a behaviour therapist would be a breeze. The problem is… He’s dominant. You can pay by bank transfer”

I am also a dominance-skeptic, but I’d like to play devil’s advocate on some finer points. Word of warning: this is about to get real technical, real fast. If you’d like a nice easy read check one of my less heady posts for now.

I am about to confuse you within an inch of your life. Are you ready?

I am about to confuse you within an inch of your life. Are you ready?

Right, you motivated person you. Are you still there? Go get a glass of wine, sit back, relax, and dive into the sweet, confusing world of dominance.

Dominance and dogs: but this study said something else

It’s fine to be a skeptic about a widely-believed concept, but you can’t expect people will believe you just like that. One of them is bound to say: “You say that, but these gazillion guys says this. Who died and made you the queen of being right? How do I know who’s telling the truth?”

That’s a fair point. We can’t assume they’ll take our word for it. But not everyone is trained in the fine art of critical thinking, in comparing the reliability of different pieces of information. Best-of-breed critical thinking needs quite a bit of knowledge on research methods and formal logic, and a lot of practice. Can we really expect the man on the street to know how to spot red flags and reliability threats (e.g. spot bias, flawed logic, weak research methodology, etc.)?

skeptic

Digging through the relative merits of a claim is a messy, murky, gruelling job. You need to climb mountains of systematic reviews, read your way through a maze of (invariably misquoted) original references, get a sense of the researchers’ possible conflicts of interest and other sources of bias, evaluate the flaws in the research, etc. etc. etc.

Science communicators do that job for you. Your side of the deal is to have a little bit of faith in what they’re saying unless you’re ready to roll up your sleeve and get down and dirty with the science bit. Which brings us back to square one: “How do I know you’re telling the truth?” Here’s a shortcut to evaluating your science communicator’s reliability:

  • Is the person animated by a passion for truth or do they clearly have another agenda?
  • Do they demand blind allegiance or do they encourage questions and criticism?
  • Do they engage in personal attacks or do they stick to criticizing methods and ideas?

I am not bashing people across the head and asking them to ‘believe me or else’. I invite them to reach their own conclusion with a little bit of help. Monique Bladder did just that, if you’re wondering: she encouraged questions and criticism and didn’t try to brainwash the audience into blindly believing her claims.

I shall stay skeptical of claims of dominant dogs until such a time that the evidence justifies changing my mind. But I am not anti-dominance for the hell of it.

As objective as I try to be, I find it hard not to be blind-sided by loyalty to dominance skepticism and its ramifications in dog welfare. The best I can do is try to keep myself in check and stay critical of my own biases.

My stance? I shall stay skeptical of claims of dominant dogs until such a time that the evidence justifies changing my mind. I try not to be anti-dominance for the hell of it. And it’s a tough job.

Dominance and dogs: what is the academic consensus anyway?

Bear with me if you chuckled at the ‘academic consensus’ oxymoron. Science is the annoying doubting Thomas of our society. It doubts, it prods, it questions, it tests, it says ‘Prove it!’, and then ‘Prove it better!’ and then ‘Prove it some more!’. I defy you to name one idea in science that enjoys complete academic consensus

Bear with me if you chuckled at the ‘academic consensus’ oxymoron

Even gravity has its academic enemies. And don’t get me started on evolution. We’re not just talking local fundamentalists here. A handful of card-carrying evolutionary biologists claim to reject Darwinian evolution. So expecting complete academic consensus before getting behind a claim is setting the bar impossibly high. I settle for rejecting ideas that have failed to meet reasonable standards of evidence, and ignore the loud cries of disenfranchised fringe groups that cling to it.

If you want people to walk in line, don't pick scientists

If you want people to walk in line, pick the Navy, not Academy

Some academics support the idea of dominance playing a role in interpreting dog behaviour, some even claim it plays a role in the dog eating before you do, etc. I have checked these claims in the research literature and am unimpressed by the evidence, but these objections are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the question is settled.

The pro-dominance research if you’ll excuse the simplistic generalization tend to put forward these lines of argument:

  1. Many fall into pre-suppositional circular reasoning: Dog A withdrew from Dog B out of submission. Therefore Dominance exists. That’s like saying “X is like this because God, therefore God exists”. Right, but you still haven’t demonstrated the existence of God, nor have you defined the concept in a way that it can be tested.
  2. So then they come up with weird proxies to measure dominance, but all require the presupposition that dominance exists, and require an ever-shifting definition of the concept.
  3. That’s like saying “X is like this because God, therefore God exists”

    They prop up the idea of dominance by pointing out methodological flaws in anti-dominance papers. The thing is, as Goldacre would say: “Flaws in aircraft design do not prove the existence of magic carpets” (from his scathing book Bad pharma), aka the burden of proof is on you. Betrand Russell had a nice analogy along the lines of ‘You wouldn’t believe me if I said there was a teapot orbitting the moon would you? Yet you can’t prove it’s not true”

To wrap this section up: things are a mess and there is no clean consensus but pro-dominance research is wobbly as it gets and can be rejected until they come up with something that holds water.

Dominance and dogs: What is the position in clinical practice?

…many modern veterinary behavioural medicine textbooks are lousy with references to ‘rank reduction’, ‘dominance aggression’ and their various euphemisms.

Veterinary behaviourists enjoy the top position of authority on dog behaviour. They studied veterinary medicine, then specialized in clinically relevant behaviourism and ethology. I refer my clients to these guys if we start stagnating. Think of vet behaviourists as the shrinks of the canine world, the big cheeses.

Here comes the twist: for some dark and unknown reason many veterinary behavioural medicine textbooks are lousy with references to ‘rank reduction’, ‘dominance aggression’ and their various euphemisms.

Clinical veterinary behavioural medicine books: one giant exercise in pinch-of-salt'ing

Clinical veterinary behavioural medicine books: one giant exercise in pinch-of-salt’ing

No self-respecting vet behaviourist would push for confrontational methods but some treatment protocols are direct throw-backs to the Alpha-super-wolf-labrador idea. 

No self-respecting vet behaviourist would push for confrontational methods but some treatment protocols are direct throw-backs to the romantic idea of the Alpha-super-wolf-labrador.

Don’t dig into behavioural medicine textbooks if you’re hoping to find a uniformly anti-dominance stance or you’re in for a few disappointing mega-reads (these heavy lifters average five hundred pages… Am still recovering from the last one I read).

I would love to say that the research-savvy vanguard of our profession take a uniform position on the concept but that would be wishful thinking. The concept is divisive even in the highest rungs of  the professional ladder.

As an aside, if comparative psychology and cognitive ethology played a larger role in veterinary behavioural medicine we wouldn’t be where we are right now. Let’s look at underlying emotional states and not double-guess profound ethological origins. As Tinbergen would have said, “Keep it proximate dudes”.

Dominance and dogs: But Mech says it, right?

I reject the layman’s idea of dominance and dogs for many reasons, but not primarily because of ‘the Mech argument’

Mech is a behaviour biologist specializing in wolves. He wrote a seminal book about wolf behaviour in the seventies. The book looked at Second World War research by R. Schenkel on a group of previously unacquainted wolves who had been thrown together in captivity. The wolves formed a brittle power hierarchy primarily with tons of conflict. We later found out that any species would react in the same way given the circumstances, and that these guys were hardly representative of typical wolves in the wild.

The Alpha-poodle idea had opened a door of abuse in dog training that we are still trying to close today.

Subsequent studies on wild groups increasingly shed doubt on the Schenkel conclusions, but it was too late. The romantic concept of the Alpha wolf had been popularized by David Mech’s book and caught on like wild fire. Before you knew it, dog owners fancied Fido a wolf-in-pooch-clothing and trainers were telling you to ‘alpha-roll’ your pup into submission among other horrors. The Alpha-poodle idea had opened a door of abuse in dog training that we are still trying to close today. A nasty chapter in our history with dogs.

wolves

Good pro-sciencer that I fancied myself, I followed the bandwagon and shared the popular Mech’s video where he retracts the alpha concept and talks of wolves forming small nuclear families, not large hierarchical packs. 

Good pro-sciencer that I fancied myself, I followed the bandwagon and shared the popular Mech’s video.

Here comes my pinch of salt moment. David Mech doesn’t claim to represent all wolf biologists in the video, and his filmed remarks are often taken out of context. Some wolves do aggregate in large groups and do adopt social structures akin to a dominance hierarchy. Granted, these hierarchies are fluid, rely on affectionate bonds, and fluctuate with season, climate, food resources, etc.

The point is this: not all wolf groups are a nuclear family. Once again things turned out to be… a little bit more complicated than that.

Dominance and dogs: What about the dominant aggressive dog?

Many vet behaviourists still use the ‘dominantly aggressive’ diagnosis aka ‘status-related aggression’ (and countless euphemisms) to describe a pushy, controlling dog using offensive aggression to control their human family.

We are not talking of a dog who is defensively aggressive, here, or exuberrant. We are not talking of a dog who has some seizure-like neurological condition. We are talking of a ‘dominant’ dog. Gasp. I’ll go wash my mouth now. Let’s call them ‘temperamentally domineering’ or even ‘jerks’ if you prefer the technical term.

I haven’t seen many of them but they exist. Just like humans, dogs are distributed on the jerkiness spectrum and not every one of them is a conciliatory angel. I have had to perform intellectual tap dancing not to use the D-word on some of them, despite ‘temperamentally domineering’ being such a good fit for their personalities.

My diagnostic criteria for the jerk-dog are:

  • Think that life is a zero sum game and that if they don’t get to it first, someone else will; and
  • Fight off attempts at getting them to cooperate and just please do as they’re told; and
  • Protest by threatening and aggressing, rather than sighing or slowing down; and
  • Claim resources or space they don’t even want. Just like that, out of habit. Because they can.
grumpy

And then some dogs, like people, can just be jerks. But like people, in 99% of the cases there’s a reason behind it.

Before you burn my name in effigy, let me clarify a couple of things:

  • I am not implying their ‘jerkdom’ is driven by some status-related idea. But Freudian explanations about ‘Everything is ultimately driven by anxiety’ or ‘He is just asking information about his environment’ don’t do it for me. Not without more supporting evidence.
  • I am STILL not condoning confrontational methods. Nope, not even for Mr. Entitled Jerk. I treat these cases like you would the human equivalent. I use cognitive and behavioural methods to teach:
    • the dog refined social/emotional skills
    • the humans how to set clear boundaries.

In plain English, I teach the family to make it rewarding for the dog to be nice, and to remove any kicks for being a nasty piece of work.

My point? Trigger-happy entitled brats with big teeth occasionally pop up in the behaviourist’s case load. When they do, let’s not be blind-sided by our anti-dominance sentiments. Let’s not plug in fear in the diagnostic vaccuum we caused ourselves by rejecting the notion of ‘dominance aggression’ en bloc. Let’s not.. throw the baby out with the bath water, as Patricia McConnell puts it.

Dogs and dominance: confused yet?

That closes my ‘it’s a bit more complicated than that’ chapter on dominance. Thanks for sticking through the obscure bits. I tried not to get technical, but it’s tough when you’ve called your blog post the ‘fine prints’

So what do you reckon? Do you have some answers to these questions yourself? Do you think we should include even more ‘pack theory’ elements back into training? Why? If you disagree, don’t sulk and share your points, leave a comment so we can explore the issue together. If you agree, let me know. It’s always nice to hear I am not totally insane.

confusion

References

If you want to read a little more on this nastily complicated subject, check these out:

  1. Benal – 2011 – Dog trainer’s guide to a happy, well-behaved pet – Practical but pithy dog training manual with one of the most honest, transparent, well-written chapters on the topic of dominance.
  2. Bradshaw, Blackwell & Casey – 2009 – Dominance in dogs: useful construct or bad habit? – Journal article. A little bit partisan, but well written. Focus on a research project with criticized methodology, but a good place to survey the relevant literature.
  3. Eaton – 2010 – Dominance: fact or fiction? – Short book for the layman. Quite partisan but gives you a simple overview of the main dominance-skeptics points.
  4. O’Heare – 2008 – Dominance theory and dogs – Extremely technical book, but you will gain a very very very thorough understanding of the research landscape on dominance.
  5. Schilder, Vinke & van der Berg – 2014 – Dominance in domestic dogs revisited: useful habit and useful construct? – Journal article. Rather partisan, weakened by many logical flaws, but a great source of balanced references on the subject and food for thought on small pro-dominance points.

Photo credits

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Do as I do: introducing a revolutionary dog training technique

Shout out about latest dog training article on Art for Barks
By Laure-Anne Visele, Jan 2015

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

I am a behaviour therapist for dogs (Canis bonus, The Hague, Westland, Delft and region) and the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague).

I studied Zoology (University of Newcastle), got a postgrad specialization in applied animal behaviour (dip) and am a licensed/certified dog trainer (O&O).

After mocking around with dogs all day, I spend my nights and week-ends reviewing dog books and writing about dog behaviour for my blog and other websites.

If you are near The Hague and have dog behaviour issues, get in touch to make an appointment. I work in English, French, or Dutch and only use animal-friendly methods. Want to find out more about the behaviour therapy practice? Check my training page.

Do as I do: a quick introduction

My article for Art for Barks is fresh off the press. In it, I give you a quick history of the concept, and the toolbox to try it at home. Go amaze your friends and family by teaching your dog thousands of tricks in one fell swoop.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Do As I Do.

 

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Review of Monique Bladder seminar on dogs and dominance

Review of Monique Bladder’s 22 January seminar about dogs and dominance in Maasland, The Netherlands
By Laure-Anne Visele, Jan 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 Visele

I am a behaviour therapist for dogs (Canis bonus, The Hague, Westland, Delft and region) and the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague).

I studied Zoology (University of Newcastle), got a postgrad specialization in applied animal behaviour (dip) and am a licensed/certified dog trainer (O&O).

After mocking around with dogs all day, I spend my nights and week-ends reviewing dog books and writing about dog behaviour for my blog and other websites.

If you are near The Hague and have dog behaviour issues, get in touch to make an appointment. I work in English, French, or Dutch and only use animal-friendly methods. Want to find out more about the behaviour therapy practice? Check my training page.

Introducing Monique bladder

Monique bladder photoMonique is a Dutch canine behaviour therapist. She has years of dog training experience, is certified in the most modern techniques, has a double behaviour therapy qualification AND haunts every science conference on dog behaviour. Her science communication blog about dog behaviour is widely followed in The Netherlands – and widely respected. She also co-runs Annolurna, a training institute for dog trainers, with the two other Dutch dog training giants: Jolein van Weperen and Erica Brokelman.

Our paths crossed when one of Monique’s articles caught my eye a few years back. It was, as  it happens, an early criticism of the pack theory. We were both ugly ducklings on the local dog training scene with our rejection of the pack theory, so we got chatting. We found we had a lot more in common: we both train force-free and are both passionate about keeping up with the latest technical and academic insights on dog behaviour. We have been in touch all that time and Monique has been a tremendous help and support when I was transitioning towards full-time training. In fact, she is the one who convinced me to get my Postgraduate in Applied Animal Behaviour

Not normally a fan of dog lectures

So I know of the quality of Monique’s work with dogs and writing about them, but I’d never been to her lectures. I am a little nervous of the seminar scene as it can be tough to sort personality cults from genuine information before you’ve bought the ticket. And if you’re not careful, you can spend your next mortgage on seminars that don’t really bring you anything.

I have to sit on my hand to stop myself constantly interrupting the lecturer about their inaccuracies/loose ends. Turns out I had to resort to the hand thing again, only to fight the urge to jump up and high-five her. 

But I knew of Monique’s serious credentials, so that wouldn’t be an issue. I did hesitate for another reason: I am an infamous idiot-savant/lecture-heckler. After years of offending lecturers with my facial expressions and constant questions, I taught myself to keep it to ‘maximum’ five (okay, or six-seven) interjections’ per lecture. I implement this by practically sitting on my hand between “turns”. But when I heard Monique was giving a lecture near The Hague, I figured I’d show my support and “pack up the girls” (our interns at OhMyDog!). At least they were going to hear modern dog behaviour ideas from someone other than their bosses.

So I got to the lecture dreading another night where I have to sit on my hand to stop myself constantly interrupting the lecturer about their inaccuracies/loose ends. Turns out I had to resort to the hand thing again, only to fight the urge to jump up and high-five her. Count this science pedant duly impressed with yesterday’s seminar. This is my review of the evening whilst it’s fresh!

Rookie dog: Introducing dominance

Monique opened the scene by laying solid foundations: the concept we were going to examine critically was ‘the layman’s dominance': the idea that every dog wants to climb to the alpha spot in your house.

When she asked the audience for examples of ‘dominant’ behaviour, we had to cringe through the usual litany: crossing a door threshold in front of me, resting on an elevated place, eating before I do, etc… My colleagues and I hear these ideas so often that we played along and added a fair few to the dreaded list ourselves.

Nerd dog: On wolves and dog ethology

Monique then took the audience through the classic Bradshaw-Mech-Miklosi arguments:

  • Wolves aren’t dogs: a nifty review of seminal research on the many impacts of domestication and the respective cognitive and communicative abilities of both species with regards to humans. 

    the ‘top spot’ is more pater familia than alpha male

  • Wolves do not necessarily form packs, but family units.
  • In many wolf packs, the ‘top spot’ is more pater familia than alpha male, and the cubs are no more likely to usurp him than your own kid is to take your spot as bread winner.
  • We have no valid reason to assume that dogs see humans as fellow dogs, and there are known differences between dog-dog versus dog-human relationships and communications.
Fighting wolves

Using only wolf behaviour to design dog training techniques is like observing chimps to learn about child pedagogy

If you weren’t familiar with our fantastic three, here’s a run down:

  • John Bradshaw is a huge name in anthrozoology – research into man-animal interactions.
  • David Mech is a leading wolf ethologist, and arguably the one who popularized the concept of alpha wolf in the first place.
  • Adam Miklosi runs one of the most influential research labs on dog cognition.

Not exactly blundering amateurs, thus.

Greedy dog: It’s all about resources

I still count my lucky stars that the first dog book that made it through my hands was The Culture Clash. I was thus primed to be critical of the concept of dominance from the word go. Monique, having a lot more experience than me, started in the dark old days of choke chains and leash jerks. The dominance panacea didn’t gel with her, and she found it inconsistent, but rejecting it left a massive vacuum. The only ‘treatment’ options were, at the time, rank reduction programs.

This very vacuum is what prompted Monique onto the journey of discovery that now places her among one of the best read professionals on the topic. She allows her audience to experience this ‘vacuum angst’ only for the briefest moment, until she reviews the list of ‘dominant’ behaviour from a new angle. For each of the behaviour that was labeled dominant by the audience at the start of the lecture, she offers a simpler, more elegant, less far-fetched answer. A lot of the simpler explanations revolved around Resource Holding Potentials.

The RHP is a well-established idea in ethology. Animals are constantly churning risk calculations to see whether something is worth fighting over or not. The background theory gets a bit complicated, but you can boil it down to two questions:

  1. Does my opponent care enough about this to fight me over it?
  2. Do I care enough about this resource to fight him over it?
being bad

Rex, trying to take over the world one couch at a time

So she could settle most people’s concerns about: “What if my dog crosses the door in front of me?” and “What if he growls at me from the couch” with either: 

It’s nothing to do with plotting to gain status over you in the long-term. It’s just about that comfortable couch right here, right now

  • It’s not a conflict: He’s just curious about what’s behind the door, he’s keen and it’s bugger all to do with domineering you.
  • It’s to do with RHP: It’s nothing to do with plotting to gain status over you in the long-term. It’s just about that comfortable couch right here, right now. It’s not healthy and it needs to be addressed, but it doesn’t need dominance to be explained and rank reduction program won’t help.

Honest dog: Approaching a controversy with honesty

I was particularly impressed with how much she encouraged critique. All she focused on was what people were making of these ideas, whether they could start to process them. It wasn’t about being right or showing off, it was about giving people the tools to think critically about dog behaviour. She didn’t turn the lecture into the so manieth intellectual dictatorship, she didn’t turn a single idea into a personal crusade. This rigorous intellectual honesty was music to my ears.

Monique also showed an honourable reluctance to get into diagnostics on specific cases. She wasn’t tempted to show off and just said, where warranted: “This is too complex to get into meaningfully right now. It depends on too many factors like x, y and z.” Daring to say “I don’t know” is one of the greatest virtues in my eyes. It’s a sign you are talking out of reason, not ego. 

Hard dog: Making complex stuff clear, tangible and entertaining

An experienced speaker, Monique seemed to have a compelling analogy up her sleeve for every possible question. I am going to unashamedly recycle some of them with my own clients, actually. She has this knack of bringing the point home with analogies that people can relate to. A great gift for a science communicator. Here are some examples:

  • Take food guarding: “If you hadn’t had your favorite meal in ages, and the waiter kept taking your plate away as you’ve about to eat, you wouldn’t be too happy to see him come near, right? And how about a waiter who keeps bringing you more and more succulent tidbits? You’d really be looking forward to seeing him each time, right?”
  • (about criticizing the study of wolves to inspire dog training techniques) “Imagine a bunch of aliens came down to earth to study our culture, and based all their conclusions on their observations of chimps. Sure some of it would be accurate, but how much would they be off the mark?”
Daisy

Dominance as one-size-fits-all explanation to dog conflicts? I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The quirky touches of humour that sprinkled the lecture really contributed to the open atmosphere. There was a lot of back and forth between Monique and the audience, and even the most hard core pack theorist couldn’t resist her conviviality.

And here’s another powerful thought she shared with us: If as many dog problems boiled down to dominance, my job would be so easy. No diagnosis, no choice of treatment. Just always the same: “He is being dominant so we need to put him back in his place”. These snippets will, hopefully, lodge themselves into people’s brains and will make them think critically next time a ‘trainer’ ‘diagnoses’ their dog with ‘being dominant’ (overusing quotation marks much, Laure-Anne?)

I was happily surprised that she didn’t pussy foot around the New Agey ‘energy’ and ‘natural’ concepts. As a skeptic, nothing makes my skin crawl more than hearing them branded about by pack theory proponents (some call themselves ‘naturalistic dog trainers’).

The words ‘energy’ and ‘natural’ get thrown around a lot. But they’re so vague they are as good as meaningless

Her no nonsense answer was spot on “The words ‘energy’ and ‘natural’ get thrown around a lot. But they’re so vague they are as good as meaningless. What does it mean the dog’s ‘energy’?” Well, she knocked that one on the head before it could lead to the usual rounds of unproductive rhetoric. In case you’re wondering, this was one of the toughest “resist the urge to high five” moments for me.

Dominance: Why it matters?

Lest the audience begins to suspect we are splitting hair, she laid down very elegantly why it mattered not be lured by the easy explanation:

  1. Quality of life: The dogs’ freedom is compromised severely when every initiative they take is considered a bid for power. This has an impact on the dog’s quality of life – which, I might add, is a great source of behaviour problems, perversely.
  2. Abuse: The pack theory philosophy can easily slip into physical punishment and confrontational methods.

Pulling ranks

You could hear the audience was still with her, but was anxious about “how do you get there,” how you get a dog who still listens to you reasonably well and doesn’t have tons of boundary issues and behaviour problems. Her answer is three-pronged:

  • Get the training side right, know your learning theory inside out.
  • Establish a bond and work on it: there is no goodwill in a relationship vacuum.
  • Think of how to use resources to avoid, rather than create, problems – that bit about RHP.

Perhaps the most important point she made in this segment is to urge people to  make a distinction between pure obedience, training problems, with underlying emotional problems. She explained a little that we, behaviour therapists, are mainly concerned with changing problematic emotional association and not so much with the obedience side.

The verdict

Tiny pedantic points aside, the lecture had it all: the contents were rigorous and clear, the delivery was entertaining and confident. Monique managed to bring academic points to life and make a difference in how dogs are treated every day.

My initial question was answered: turns out Monique Bladder is not only great at writing about science, she rocks at talking about it too.

Contacting Monique

Note all presentations and articles are in Dutch.

Photo credits

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