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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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.

Devil’s dog: The pedant’s corner

No review would be complete without some criticism, right? Skip this section if you’ve not had a few coffees. It gets painfully technical. Here are the things that I missed:

  1. To the oh-so-predictable question of “Every book says something different and every ‘expert’ has a different opinion. How do I know who’s right?” I would have loved to hear talk of how to develop critical thinking skills, the hierarchy of evidence reliability, and how to assess the methodological quality of research claims.
  2. Some academics are still clinging to the layman’s view of dominance and counter every Bradshaw-Mech-Miklosi argument. Implying that the point is settled, that there is now academic consensus, does not reflect reality. And things aren’t exactly settled on the clinical front either (i.e. vet behaviourists). Many (most!) vet behaviourist textbooks are chockers with ‘rank reduction’ and ‘dominance aggression’. As unconvinced as I am by any arguments that have been advanced so far, the dominance supporters on the academic and clinical scenes aren’t just some insignificant fringe group. The matter is very much hotly disputed – but again, with some very weak rhetoric/evidence/logic so far on the side of the pro dominance side.
  3. Many audience members were confused about the distinction between conflict, aggression, and dominance throughout the lecture. Perhaps the foundations for this could be defined as standard, rather than answered in the Q&A.
  4. (and this is a ridiculously tiny point) The video about domestication confused tameness with domestication on two occasions. Pretty big blunder in ethology circles, but totally harmless in this context.
  5. (and this is a ridiculously tiny point) She touches on whether or not so-called ‘calming signals’ have a communicative value, but in one breath gives examples of appeasement signals, self-appeasement signals, displacement, etc. These ‘conflict behaviour’ as Tinbergen would call them are very closely related to each other, and aren’t always mutually exclusive. And some do have communicative value. I did enjoy that she advised caution against the oversimplification of these signals by Turid Ruugas.
  6. Monique talks of research papers that establish that punitive, confrontational methods aren’t as effective, and have dangerous side effects. But there are also – thankfully increasingly rare – research papers that claim that failing to do so leads to behaviour problems. Perhaps touching on how science publication works and how just saying research says this isn’t enough would be good. It will stop the audience leaving the room and bumping into the next person saying ‘research says’ to support the exact opposite point. But this goes back to my point about giving people a critical thinking toolbox, which is a two-hour lecture in itself.
  7. The Mech argument is by no means a consensus among wolf biologists and we are putting words in his mouth in that famous video about alpha male being the father of the family. The larger the group unit, the more you will see dynamics akin to the traditional dominance hierarchy. Not all wolf packs are one small nuclear family unit. Some get pretty large. It depends on the season, the local ecology, and many other factors. But indeed, by and large, the intensity and frequency of resource-related skirmishes reported by Schenkel were aberrent and the product of incredibly stressful captivity conditions.
  8. We must acknowledge the existence of what some vet behaviourists call the ‘dominantly aggressive’ dog: the temperamentally “pushy”, “controlling” dogs who use offensive aggression to control members of their social groups for reasons outside of training/fear/pain. The label ‘temperamentally dominant’ may be a good fit for them. Let’s not throw the baby with the bath water here. Whether this aggression is primarily driven by resources becomes empty rhetoric if all the dog does is aggressively pursue every resource. I am not implying we should use rank reduction techniques, but I would like an epistemologically satisfiable definition of these dogs that the layman can do something with. Because let’s face it: ‘temperamentally resource-driven’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it than ‘dominant’ now does it?
  9. From a purely epistemological perspective, providing alternative explanations was unnecessary. From a personal perspective, it made all the difference and was one of the corner stones of the lecture. The layman’s alpha dog concept doesn’t have enough evidence supporting it, full stop. Every serious research attempt has been thoroughly unconvincing. That is enough grounds for you to be rationally justified in not adhering to this theory. Full stop. This could lay a lot of unnecessary disputes on the finer points to rest.
hierarchy

Science advances one rejected theory at a time. But not everyone wants to let go

This idea that a hypothesis must be kept until you have a better explanation is a “God of the gaps” fallacy (you can’t reject the notion of God until you have an explanation for every single phenomenon). It’s similar to the “argument from lack of imagination”: I can’t imagine a better explanation for it, so this one must be true. Perhaps Ben Goldacre puts it better (in Bad Pharma): “Flaws in aircraft design do not prove the existence of magic carpets”.

But the objective of this type of lectures isn’t to lay it thick on the technical points, but to hope to have made one little breach in decades of misconceptions. Anyways, I’d reached my self-imposed questions quota so I couldn’t bore the audience with my pedantic hour.

The verdict

Pedantic loose ends 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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Canine McCarthyism – Dog owners on an anti-vaccination witch hunt

Anti-antivax opinion piece about dog vaccinations in 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.

Dog training clients don’t want to vaccinate?

Two clients at OhMyDog! (our dog training school in The Hague) refused to show proof of their (adult) dogs’ vaccinations the other day. “Oh?” I thought. Canine anti-vaxxers?

We are funny about vaccinations at OhMyDog! because we also teach VERY young pups. So young they haven’t had their third vaccination round. We looked at epidemiology research – i.e. huuuuuge numbers of dogs – to compare behavioural and medical risks.

  1. Behavioural risks: How many dogs get put down due to behaviour issues, and how much of this can be traced back to delayed socialization?
  2. Medical risks: How many pups catch the diseases between rounds 2 and 3 of their vaccinations (see notes on puppy vaccination for details)?

The conclusion is: bring your pups to school early.

But here’s the rub: for that calculation to hold water, we need ALL our adult dogs FULLY vaccinated (and squeaky clean training grounds).

Because somehow people listen more when I show a pup picture

Because somehow people listen more when I show a pup picture

I was intrigued by my clients’ reservations so I asked them and other anti-vaxxers what worried them. It boiled down to three beliefs:

1. Vets push for unnecessary vaccinations for profit.

2. Dogs don’t need so many boosters. 

3. Vaccinations have dangerous side effects, sometimes giving the disease itself.

I wanted to dig into this before I dismissed the objections, so I read a couple of review papers and a few pop science articles. I then took it to our local veterinary clinic (Huisdierenziekenhuis in Honselersdijk – great staff, check them out if you’re in the Westland). Below is what I’ve found on my journey through the world of canine anti-vaxxers.

A big thank you to Dieneke Jongepier (my vet), who took time out of her gruelling schedule to help with the medical aspects. I have simplified the information Dieneke gave me, but I hope I respected the original message. I have marked Dieneke’s contributions with ~.

Human anti-vaxxer theories gone to the dogs

My clients’ worries reminded me of Jenny McCarthy’s campaign against human vaccines. McCarthy is a TV presenter trying to convince the world that childhood vaccines cause autism. She bases her claims on thoroughly discredited research about the MMR vaccine by Dr. Wakefield. Jenny McCarthy’s son being autistic, she followed sloppy ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc‘ reasoning. She blamed the vaccine because her kid first got the shot, then was diagnosed. By this logic, anything that had happened in her son’s life, no matter how unrelated, could be have been blamed.

Yet more irrefutable evidence that MMR vaccines cause autism

Yet more irrefutable evidence that MMR vaccines cause autism

Ms. McCarthy isn’t the only celebrity playing doctors. Charlie Sheen and countless other scandalously untrained A-listers see fit to spread disinformation about the dangers of vaccines. Results? More and more kids go to school unprotected, and measles is on the up in the US (and in religious fringes the world over, including the Netherlands).

Jenny McCarthy and her son: The immunology faculty of good looks and strong suspicions

Jenny McCarthy: Graduate from the Immunology Faculty of Good Looks and Hasty Conclusions

In case you can’t tell, I am a staunch anti-anti-vaxxer on the human scene. And I am not about to budge on the canine side without some evidence.

So let’s examine that evidence, shall we?

Dog vaccinations: All for profit?

Claim 1: Vets push for unnecessary vaccinations for profit

Your unvaccinated dog will only set foot in our school (or any reputable pet establishment) if you show an up-to-date antibody titer (‘titerbepaling’ in Dutch). ~The titer proves the dog took a blood test that confirms he has adequate levels of immune protection (i.e. antibody concentrations) against specific diseases.

Many see it as a get-out-of-vax-free card but, to use Ben Goldacre‘s words: “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”

  • The vet gets the blood by… taking a blood sample from the dog. I would argue that is at least as invasive as an injection, no? A needle is a needle is a needle.
  • Expired titer certificates are worthless. The point is to demonstrate your dog is CURRENTLY protected. That’s potentially MORE vet visits if you don’t coordinate your paperwork between your dog walker, training school and, say, dog pension.
  • ~The titers don’t test for every vaccinated-against disease. Kennel cough, for example, isn’t on the pannel. So you need to 1/ Do the blood test; 2/ Have the dog vaccinated against kennel cough. More cost, more discomfort.
  • ~Like for like, titers cost more than vaccinations. Three reasons: (1) They are more labour-intensive for the vet (drawing blood then interacting with a computer screen for thirty minutes); (2) Each kit costs the vet more (economies of scale: they get ordered in smaller bulks as they are less in demand); (3) Vets make a larger margin on titers.

But base cost considerations aside, I get VERY tetchy when people accuse vets of greed. They work grueling hours for peanuts (relative to equally educated professionals). In my own circle of worn out moneyless nerds, my vets friends come out the worst by a mile: always broke and never home.

Let’s say that being broke doesn’t make vets honest, that it could even make them keen to scam (for the sake of pushing the argument). If that were true, wouldn’t they push for titers over vaccinations?

If vets were in it for the money, they wouldn't be vets.

If vets were in it for the money, they wouldn’t be vets.

I would like to close this sorry vets-are-greedy-scrooges chapter by planting a seed in your mind. Isn’t it a downside more reasonable – and less twisted – to assume that vets maybe, just maybe, have our pet’s best interests at heart?

Dog vaccinations: Life-long?

Claim 2: Dogs don’t need so many boosters. 

This one gets a little trickier because – typical conspiracy theory – there’s an element of truth. The misconceptions stem partly from the erroneous ideas that 1/ human vaccinations are lifelong and 2/ therefore so should dogs’. Let’s shed some light on this.

Human vaccines can be lifelong. Aherm, nope. Not all of them are. Remember hauling your butt to the clinic every ten years for that mortifying tetanus shot? And the flu vaccine – which, by the way, is as humiliating as the tetanus one as they send me to the “fainters’ queue” every year…

Dieneke and her long-suffering colleagues will testify that I am as undignified when it comes to my dog getting his shots. Needles + me = baaaaad bed fellows. So believe me, if there was any reasonable way I could squirm out of vaccinations I’d be there in a shot – ‘scuse pun.

If long-acting vaccines work for humans, why not for dogs? Because… Dogs aren’t humans? The duration of immunity [DOI] depends on a lot of factors including the respective species of the host and of the pathogen. Expecting exact parallels between dogs’ and humans’ immunology is like measuring dogs in catnip.

But it IS possible to make long-lasting dog vaccines. ~Vet pharma makes a fraction of the profit its human counterpart does. So they run shorter trials on the vet side. Human pharma trials are the fat cats of the pharma industry. They can run ten years or more and cost millions, but there’s a fat return on investment. In constrast, the average vet trial takes roughly thirteen months. All  you can say about DOI one year in is how many dogs are still adequately covered after… one year. If the trial is one year long, you don’t have data going beyond that.

old dog

“What Old Yeller here? He’ll don’t need no booster. He got his puppy shots 12 years ago, he’s covered” – Please note the caption is dripping with sarcasm

But ‘they’ know ‘the’ vaccines are protective for six years on average: True. The average DOI distemper, parvovirus and rabies vaccines hovers around five-seven years (Vet. Am. An. Hosp. Ass., Veterinary Practice Guidelines, 2011) yet they are on a three-year schedule. What’s up with that?

~When you test a large population of vaccinated dogs, quite a few of the dogs are still protected even after a few years. But even if that number is, say, 50%, would you gamble that your dog falls in the right group? At what number would you gamble? 60%? 80%? Vets aren’t big risk takers when pets’ lives are in the balance either, so they set the bar at 95%. If 95% (or more) of the dogs are still protected after n years (and if the research was registered and run according to regulations), then you can say that n years is the DOI. You don’t determine the DOI on a measly (excuse the pun) average, but on the overwhelming majority.

They managed long protection for rabies, so why not for the others? ~The DOI from the rabies vaccine lasts three years, fair enough. It’s partly because rabies can be transmissible to humans so it got more research funding. Who says funding says longer trials. The rabies vaccine is also ‘modulated': immunologic adjuvants are added so antibodies circulate and are produced for longer.

The ‘cocktail’ vaccination (i.e. distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis) also benefited from longer trials, and boasts a three-year DOI.

But vets still vaccinate yearly: They do, but not against every disease. Like the human flu, some canine diseases are vaccinated against yearly (leptospirosis), whilst others are on a three-year cycle (rabies, cocktail). You are taking Rover to the vet’s every year for his shots, but they rotate the kind of vaccination he gets. ~A typical scheme in The Netherlands is:

  1. Cocktail (distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis)
  2. Leptospirosis
  3. Leptospirosis
  4. Cocktail,
  5. etc.

~If you want information about pet vaccination schedules in the Netherlands, check the Landelijk Informatie Centrum Gezelschapsdieren (in Dutch). They have a section for people who want to vaccinate less often too “als u toch minder vaak wilt inenten”.

This infographic gives you a visual idea of a typical vaccination. It is a US schedule so it differs slightly from the Dutch one, but you get the gist.

Print

Dog vaccinations: Dangerous?

Anti-vax claim 3: Vaccinations have dangerous side effects, sometimes give the disease itself.

Let’s open up by reminding you that vets swear an oath of non maleficence (Do – no – harm). Even the most cynical of conspiracy theorists cannot seriously believe that every single vet in the country is willing to put all their patients at risk?

evil doctor

Meet Dr Death. He’d signed the wrong oath

But enough about double-guessing intentions. Let’s look at hard facts.

Severe adverse effects are not the norm: Severe post-vaccination reactions do happen, but it’s rare (exact numbers in Veterinary practice guidelines, 2011). If your dog is worrying you after his shots, call your vet’s pronto because something is not right.

I heard some dogs developed the very disease they were vaccinated against ~I am going to barely paraphrase Dieneke’s words here: There is ABSOLUTELY no correlation between receiving a vaccination and the onset of that disease. None, zero, nada, zilch.

Mild adverse effects do happen: Pups may feel a little poorly two-three days after the shot. They might be sleepier, sensitive around the injection area, or a mild fever. But they should perk up quickly, or, again, something is awry and you should pick up the phone, like, now.

It takes two to fear-monger: I can play the fear mongering game too, and something tells me I’m going to win. So you play the “mild or impossibly improbable adverse effects” card, right? Here’s my card: the ugly, stinky, painful reality of your dog’s intense suffering – or death – from an avoidable disease.

For most of these diseases, the dogs who make it “get away” with invasive, painful, long-lasting (and expensive) treatment. If they make it at all. ~The not-so-lucky one who died in my neighbourhood (just back in August 2014) was four years old. He died a painful death – organ failure – after contracting the scandalously preventable leptospirosis. He was just… three months late on his vaccine.

Fear mongering: I can play that game too

Fear mongering: I can play that game too

Let me tear you away from the comfort of abstraction and ask you to really imagine your dog suffering the following list of symptoms. Please don’t cheat, the whole point is to shock some sense into you if you’re still contemplating leaving your dog unprotected.

~Distemper:

  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Infected eye and nose lining
  • Nervous system can be affected (lack of coordination and all that charming stuff, seizures, etc.)
  • ~Painful swelling of the nose and soles of the feet can happen
  • ~Sometimes, despite intervention, death

Parvovirus:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting blood
  • Dehydration
  • ~Invariably long, expensive and invasive treatment.
  • ~Vulnerable to a host of other infections
  • ~Often life-long sequels, despite intervention
  • ~80-90% die

Hepatitis:

  • Compromised liver function
  • ~Can’t be detected early so can be lethal
  • ~Can become chronic so your dog will be on meds… lifelong… because you didn’t vaccinate

Kennel cough:

  • Weeks-long dry intense cough
  • Vomiting
  • ~Can develop into pneumonia, which requires costly treatment and can be lethal.

Leptospirosis:

  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Exhaustion
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding disorders
  • ~Kidney failure
  • ~Intensive, invasive, expensive intervention
  • ~Lethal in unvaccinated animals
  • Can be passed on to humans – maybe that’ll convince you

Rabies:

  • Extremely rare (~because we don’t allow unvaccinated dogs in The Netherlands)
  • Uncontrolled violent bouts of aggression
  • Incredible suffering (horrendous thirst whilst, oh mother nature must you be so cruel, having become extremely phobic of water)
  • Lethal
  • And of course transmissible to humans.

I’ve spared you the more graphic details but if you think you can stomach it, hop along to the vaccination guidelines for owners and breeders by the Veterinary Association (2010). Warning: It’s not for the faint-hearted.

Dog vaccination: last misunderstandings

I have also heard these vague objections, so I thought I’d address them too:

My neighbour’s dog was vaccinated, and he still got sick: He would have been A LOT sicker a lot sooner if he hadn’t been vaccinated. ~The vaccine doesn’t protect the dog from catching the disease, it protects him against developing it full-blown.

My neighbour’s dog was not vaccinated, and he never got sick: Well done him, he dodged a bullet. Want to know what saved his gambling butt? The dog owners who did their civic duty and had their own dog vaccinated. There weren’t so many infected dogs around for your neighbour’s dog to get infected. It’s called ‘herd immunity’. And the less people vaccinate their dog, the more we compromise herd immunity.

herd immunity

My dog is sick, surely I don’t need to vaccinate him? Talk to your vet about your concerns so you can decide from an informed position. Seek a second opinion if you’re not comfortable, but do not make the call based on gut feeling. If the veterinarian’s verdict is to not vaccinate, by the way, thank herd immunity.

Canis bonus comes down on anti vaxxing

I care too much about dogs to take a wishy washy stance on vaccinations. I heard the objections, weighed them up, and came out even more convinced of their necessity. I get that calls to ‘go back to nature’ and ‘beware of big bad modern medicine’ are tempting, but please check the facts before you get sucked in and harm your dog – and our pups – in the process.

would you cross this bridge

In medical matters as in behavioural ones, opinion is best swayed by valid arguments and solid research, not fear-mongering.

Further reading

I am a stickler for evidence and an incurable skeptic, so don’t take my word for this. If you want to take your dog’s vaccination decisions based on solid stuff, check these out:

Photos and art attribution

  1. Sleeping puppy: By daily sunny on Flickr CC. http://bit.ly/1yCs7YB (CC BY 2.0)
  2. A.U.T.I.S.M. poster: by Refutations to anti-vaccine memes on Facebook. http://on.fb.me/1EdlHQ3 (authorisation granted 18 Jan 2015, FB)
  3. Jenny McCarthy: By Steven Depolo on Flickr CC. http://bit.ly/15kjpmJ (CC BY 2.0)
  4. Veterinarian sign: By Celeste Lindell on Flickr CC. http://bit.ly/1udaSwQ (CC BY 2.0)
  5. Old starter dog: By Roveritis on Photobucket. http://bit.ly/1B31prk (under Allow others to copy my media section)
  6. Do my pets really need vaccines: By Hudson Veterinary Hospitalhttp://bit.ly/1Ge97Vf (Sought authorisation 17 Jan 2015)
  7. Mad doctor: By OakleyOriginals on Flickr CC. http://bit.ly/1xgsAvf (CC BY 2.0)
  8. Fear – Graffiti: By Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha on Flickr CC. http://bit.ly/15qmZen (CC BY S.A 2.0)
  9. Herd immunity poster: From Refutations to anti-vaccine memes on Facebook. http://on.fb.me/1wjCE5a (authorisation granted 18 Jan 2015, FB)
  10. Would you cross this bridge poster: From Refutations to anti-vaccine memes on Facebook. http://on.fb.me/14RGwnm (authorisation granted 18 Jan 2015, FB)
Posted in Science, Veterinary care and canine first aid | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latest book review: Possibility dogs

Dog book review announcement: Possibility dogs
By Laure-Anne Visele, January 2015

Charleson - Possibility dogs

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

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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.

Possibility Dogs

Possibility Dogs (2014) is a smooth read. As smooth as it gets, in fact. I found it so impossible to put down I barely slept for two nights just so I could get through it.

Written by Susannah Charleson, a broadcast journalist by day and search-and-rescue dog handler by night, it follows the world of psychiatric service dog and their handlers. It also follows the first step of her project to recruit shelter dogs for service training.

Susannah’s style is at once intimate and professional. She gets the technical stuff right, but sheds an oh so human light on it all. The book feels like a This American Life portrait that will make you understand the life of a service dog and his handler a tad better. And I don’t just mean cognitively understand. It will help you relate.

A fabulous read if you’re interested in the world of service dogs, particularly psych dogs. For the full review, click here.

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Latest book review: The Science of Consequences

Dog book review announcement: Schneider’s The Science of Consequences
By Laure-Anne Visele, January 2015

Schneider - Science of consequences

 

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

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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.

The Science of Consequences

The Science of Consequences (2012) is another whopper of a book. The bibliography alone runs 52 pages… It was written by biopsychologist Susan M. Schneider. Dr. Schneider takes a system-wide view of consequences not only in the light of operant conditioning, but looks at it through the lense of neuroscience, economics, cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, (immune response!) and then some.

A fascinating but tough read. Check out the full review here.

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Latest book review: Domestic animal behavior

Dog book review announcement: Houpt’s Domestic animal behavior
By Laure-Anne Visele, December 2014

Houpt Domestic animal behaviour

 

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.

Domestic Animal Behavior

Domestic Animal Behavior is a 2011 text book about the behaviour of production and companion animals. It is aimed at academics looking to get a grip on the scientific body of knowledge on the behaviour of these animals. It reads like a systematic literature survey, with the full citations and jargon that go with it.

As one of the most widely cited pieces of writing on animal behaviour, it is well worth finding out more. Check out the full review here.

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Play therapy for Chihahua with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

Who is Vincent?

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

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

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

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

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

Establishing trust: Slowly slowly catchy doggie

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

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

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

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

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

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

dog parrot

Dogs and parrots, same difference ©premierco from Pixabay CC0

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

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

Teaching emotional bounce-back: play therapy for dogs

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

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

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

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

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

‘Chase!’ A therapy tool for fearful dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be a seeker, dog, not a fearer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting with training with plenty of play breaks

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

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

Where we are now

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

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

 

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Jolein van Weperen on creative dog training

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

Emily Larlham training at de Laar

Jolein van Weperen

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

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Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

Introducing a Dutch force-free trainer: Jolein van Weperen

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

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

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

A traumatic start in dog behaviour

LV: Have you always had something for dogs?

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Jolein, 12, with her first dog Maro

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

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

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

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

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Pino

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

So it was a traumatic start to dog behaviour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ecole des Bones Arts: On creative dog training

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

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

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

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

JvW: It stands for:

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

Creative training field at de Laar

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

LV: And what is the ‘contact’ part?

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

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

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

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

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

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De Laar’s homemade dog toys

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

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

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

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

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

LV: Why do you focus on play so much?

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

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

Bones of contention: Stepping away from training controversy

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

Teaching the contact exercise

Teaching the contact exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LV: Oh that’s lovely!

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

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

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One of de Laar’s famous seminars

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

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

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

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

Dog training trends in The Netherlands

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Emily Larlham at de Laar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jolein and Grisha at de Laar

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

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

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

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

Find out more about Jolein

Posted in Dog pros: a day in the life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

Mutts on meds

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

Facile use: Just pop him a chill pill

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

©Will Keightley Flicker CC Some rights reserved

©Will Keightley Flicker CC Some rights reserved

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

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

Adverse effect: And then he turned green and grew wings

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

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

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

© Tom Varco from Wiki CC

©Tom Varco from Wiki CC

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

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

Same debate rages with human mental health

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

Sad dog

©hjorleifur Pixabay CC

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

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

Help with dog behaviour in and around The Hague

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

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

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

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

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Latest dog book review: Veterinary psychopharmacology

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

Veterinary psychopharmacology

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

Check out the full review here.

Help with dog behaviour in and around The Hague

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

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

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

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

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

High expectations and puppy training: a match made in hell

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

From shameful pup to model student

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

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

©Matt Hosford

©Matt Hosford

Dog training first aid

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

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

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

©nomadic lass

©nomadic lass

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

A leap of faith

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

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

Help with dog behaviour in and around The Hague

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

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

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

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

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