Welcome to Canis BLOGus

Canis BLOGus – Dog blogging: making evidence-based fun

A critical thinking blog about all things dogs for owners, researchers and professionals.

I share insights and techniques about the cases I see in my dog behaviour therapy practice (Den Haag), I review dog books, I discuss findings of important research articles, and I discuss 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.

For more about me, visit the homepage.

What the blog is about

This blog shares evidence-based information about dog behaviour in layman’s terms. I am on a mission to spread fact-based and thought-provoking information about dogs. So I relentlessly:

  • bust apocryphal stories, speculation, fallacies and biased tales;
  • promote responsible dog ownership;
  • question received ideas.

I enjoy delving into technical subjects and re-surfacing with an article that every dog owner can use to make intelligent decisions about their dog.

I cover many subjects, from comparative psychology to behaviour modification techniques, training school practices and dog welfare. And then of course, I interview interesting dog pros and tell you about my latest dog book review.

To find the articles

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

Write a comment

I love comments, no matter how short, off-the-mark, (or contrary). You can leave a comment on each article by:

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

Order an article

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

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

Canis bonus in blog directories

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Book review: Psychology squared

Shout out about new dog book review by Canis bonus. September 2017
Review author: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

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

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

New book review: Psychology Squared

Pocket book sharing major findings in Psychology from cognition, developmental psychology, and stress coping mechanisms to neuroscience. Given its diminutive size, it is predictably superficial on some topics. Nonetheless it can be a useful quick refresher or introduction to the dog behaviour therapist wanting to couch their work in sound psychological theory.

Click on the link below for a full review.

Psychology Squared

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Book review: Peter Singer’s Animal liberation

Shout out about new dog book review by Canis bonus. September 2017
Review author: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

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

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

Reviewing Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation

Under the weight of my always pressing reading obligations, it has taken me years to finishing this classic book. So long, in fact, that I reviewed the 1995 edition (that is how long it’s been waiting for my detailed review). Animal Liberation is an influential classic. Read the review to find out more.

 

 

Animal liberation

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Book review: 500 years of psychiatry

Shout out about new dog book review by Canis bonus. August 2017
Review author: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

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

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

500 years of psychiatry

Written in French by psychiatrist Philippe Brenot, this tiny book is a timeline of major developments and discoveries in psychiatry over the ages. Check this post if you’ve wondering what it’s got to do with dog behaviour.

500 years of psychiatry (500 ans de psychiatrie)

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History of psychiatry: what’s it got to do with dogs?

Blog post by dog behaviourist Laure-Anne Visele, The Hague, briefly outlining the history of psychiatry
Written in: August 2017.
Illustration credits at the end of the post.

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

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

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

What does psychiatry have to do with dogs?

As a dog behaviourist, I need a finger in every behaviour pie:

  1. Ethology: animal behaviour in their natural habitat,
  2. Behaviourism: how animals (humans included) learn,
  3. Comparative psychology: comparing human and canine behaviour disorders.

So I have basic knowledge of the signs of the major psychiatric conditions recognized in humans, particularly ones affecting fear, arousal and aggression regulation. So I practically jumped for joy when I found a tiny book on the history of psychiatry in an old bookstore. It fascinated me so much that I expanded the milestones written in the book into the combined list I compiled belowwith other psychiatry milestones. Here goes, welcome to my rough and ready psychiatry timeline.

A history of psychiatry

  • 1550 BCE – Rough symptoms of clinical depression are described on the Ebers papyrus (Egypt), a classification of known diseases at the time.
  • 872 – A hospital for the mentally ill is opened in Cairo, with Islam’s typical charitable attitude to the less fortunates. This is in stark contrast to Europe’s medieval ‘lunatic asylums’, where patients are believed to be under the influence of the devil and suffer base abuse. ‘Lunatics’ in Europe were often cared for by monasteries, and subjected to cruel treatment in the name of saving their souls.
  • 1377 to 1676 – Bethlem – aka Bedlam – was founded in 1247 but only started acting accepting patients with symptoms of mental illness in the 1370’s. The dispensary since became synonymous with the worst abuse of psychiatric patients known to history, with harsh physical abuse and solitary confinement, believing these to be therapeutic. Aside from schizophrenic patients (‘lunatic’ patients), it also accommodated for epileptic (‘falling sickness’) patients, dementia sufferers and people with learning disabilities.

1735 engraving by T. Bowles showing Bedlam patients being restrained

  • 1530 – Jean Fernel (Catherine de Medicis’ attending physician), drafts the first classification of mental disorders in his Medicina universa. He sorts them along four major axes: mania, melancholy, dementia, and idiots.
  • 1656 – Louis XIV (France) founds an institution for prostitutes and the mentally ill.
  • 1777 – William Cullen coins the word neurosis. Used today to mean an episode of intense stress whilst retaining a sense of reality. As opposed to a psychosis.
  • 1810 – The Code Napoleon (Napoleonic Constitution) absolves psychotic patients from criminal responsibility.
  • 1818 – The word ‘Psychiatry’ is born. Coined by Dr. Johann Christian Heinroth, German medical doctor. Not to be confused by Oskar Heinroth, one of the founding fathers of ethology. At the time, only the most severely affected in-patients fell under the realm of psychiatry. They were treated with inhumane and mostly ineffective measures.
  • 1828 – The Madhouse Act (UK) is the first attempt to regulate mental asylums and give a semblance of rights to psychiatric patients.
  • 1848Phineas Gage, a US railway worker, suffers severe damage to his left frontal lobe in a work accident. Subsequently, obvious behaviour changes are observed including loss of social inhibitions, quickness to anger and lack of ethical consideration. Nowadays, his proclaimed dramatic changes of personality are debated (see here and here) but his case was historical in the dawn of the brain localisation period in neuroscience, where every function was believed to have but one discrete location in the brain.

Phinneas Gage holding the bar that injured him

  • 1859 – Dr. Briquet (France) writes the ‘Traite clinique et therapeutique de l’hysterie‘, including taking a stab at aetiology. The book covers every affliction he equated to a neurosis, from vomitting, barking, catalepsy and mutism to hiccups.
  • 1867 – First use of the word ‘depression’ by French poet Baudelaire. This will only be used in psychiatry from 1970, finally replacing the term ‘melancholy’
  • 1870’s – Bromides were the sedatives of the day. This highly addictive compound was also prescribed to epileptics in the belief that it would lessen the sexual urges that were thought to be at the source of their mal.
  • 1870’s: A silver-staining method invented by Camillo Golgi, combined with microscopy, reveal the anatomy of the neuron.

Rabbit hippocampus by Camillo Golgi

  • 1887Elizabeth Cochran Seaman (pen name Nellie Bly) poses as mentally ill and stays for ten days undercover in a psychiatric institution in the US, revealing abject abuses leading to wide-ranging reforms.

Nelly Bly’s graphic rendition of her undercover work

  • 1888 – Santiago Ramon y Cajal puts forward that neurons are the central functioning unit of the brain.
  • 1893 – Emil Kraepelin’s describes the clinical signs of dementia praecox (precocious dementia): onset in late teens/early adulthood, chronic episodes, and loss of cognitive abilities. Today, these clinical signs are classified as schizophrenia.
  • 1895Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud publish their Studies on hysteria, famously discussing the case of Anna O (Bertha Pappenheim, a pioneer for the feminist cause).
  • 1901Alois Alzheimer, German psychiatrist, documents his eponymous disease.
  • 1903Barbiturates, highly addictive anti-convulsants, are introduced and subsequently widely prescribed as hypnotics (i.e. sleeping pills) and later as sedatives (i.e. relaxants). Barbiturates had a narrow therapeutic range, in the sense that excess dosage could quickly lead to a toxic response – read overdose. Barbiturates also cause some of the most dangerous drug withdrawal reactions. Despite all this, they continued to be widely prescribed until the 1970’s.
  • 1905: PTSD-like symptoms labelled ‘battle shock’ in Russian soldiers. Later labelled ‘shell shock’ by British soldiers during WWI.

Australian soldiers in Ypres during WWI. Soldier at bottom left is represented as being shell-shocked

  • 1905: Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon, French psychologists, develop the Binet-Simon scale to measure intelligence. This is the world’s first attempt at a standardized psychometric test.
  • 1908: Eugine Bleuler, Swiss psychiatrist (and director of a Zurich mental institution), coins the term ‘schizophrenia’
  • 1911 – First use of the word ‘autism’ by Eugene Bleuler, Swiss psychiatrist.
  • 1920 – John Watson (and his graduate student, Rosalie Rayner), conducts the famous Little Albert experiment whereby he permanently traumatises a baby by producing a loud noise upon presenting a white rat in support of his claims of classical conditioning being applicable to humans. Little Albert famously suffered from a lifelong phobia of small animals.

Photograph taken by John Watson himself, showing Litle Albert’s reaction to a white beard being tested

  • 1923Freud elaborates the school of psychotherapy and for the first time out-patients are treated. This marks a schism from biopsychiatry where patients are treated through dialog rather than medication. Freud’s patients are not as severely impaired as psychiatry’s traditional in-patients.
  • 1924 – German neuropsychiatrist Hans Berger develops electroencephalography, using non-invasive electrodes to record voltage fluctuations in the brain.
  • 1932 – Discovery by Manfred Sakel of insuline’s therapeutic effects on schizophrenic patients and thus birth of biological therapy: the idea that biological means could treat psychiatric conditions.
  • 1936 – Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine to Henry Hallett Dale (British neuroscientist) and Otto Loewi (German pharmacologist) for their discovery of Acetylcholine, discovering the first’s neurotransmitter (a chemical produced by an activated neuron and causing a biological effect on the next neuron, where it is released). Acetylcholine regulates, among other things, muscle stimulation and, more psychiatrically relevant, REM sleep. ACh also plays a role in encoding new memories.
  • 1938 – Invention of the eletroconvulsive therapy by Ugo Cerleti and Lucio Bini.

Bergonic chair used to induce seizure in a psychiatric patient

  • 1944 – Methylphenidate (Ritalin) is synthesized by Swiss chemist Leandro Panizzon. It was famously originally used to treat his wife’s low blood pressure. His wife’s name? Rita! Yes, that’s where the name ‘Ritalin’ comes from.
  • 1946Norepinephrine (aka noradrenaline), is isolated by Ulf von Euler (Swedish biologist who goes on to winning a Nobel Prize for his work on neurotransmitters in 1970). Norepinephrine regulates a mental (and neurological) state of alertness, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, for example. It is also important for forming memories. Norepinephrine is the precursor to epinephrine, aka adrenaline. Adrenaline is depleted by stress and replenished by exercise.
  • 1948Lithium carbonate’s mood stabilising properties are demonstrated
  • 1949 – Donald Hebb’s book, Organisation of behaviour – a neuropsychological theory – shares his discovery of the neuroanatomy of learning and memory. We now know that memories are encoded over neural networks.
  • 1950 – Eugene Roberts and Jorge Awapara discover that GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid if you don’t mind), discovered in fungi in 1910, was also in fact a neurotransmitter. A GABA deficiency can lead to anxiety or even epilepsy. GABA is also involved in schizophrenia and sleep disorders. Famous substances activating GABA receptors are benzodizepines (with our famous Diazepam – Valium and Alprazolam – Xanax), alcohol and barbiturates (sometimes used for anesthesia but also recreationally). GABAergic drugs are used for their hypnotics, sedatives, tranquillizers (sedative-hypnotics) and anticonvulsants.
  • 1950 – Rhone Polenc invents Chlorpromazine (better known as Thorazine), an antipsychotic still used today on some schizophrenic patients. This anti-psychotic drug kick-started the large de-institutionalisation movement that has led to today’s mental illness crisis in the US, whereby severely mentally ill people were left to their own fate as institution after institution shuts down.
  • 1952 – Betty Twarog discovers serotonin is a neurotransmitter (in molluscs, initially). Serotonin is involved in the regulation of moods, notably the inhibition aggression and depressive states. Serotonergic drugs, including famous SSRI’s (serotonine reuptake inhibitors) like Fluoxetine (Prozac) are among the biggest selling drugs on the market. They are also the drug of choice for a flurry of canine behavioural conditions. Hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD or ecstasy, interestingly, are also serotonergic.
  • 1952 – Arvid Carsson discovers dopamine. He eventually got a Nobel prize for his work (in 2000). Dopamine is the precursor to its famous neurotransmitter cousin, adrenaline (and of course noradrenaline). Dopamine is involved in Parkinson’s disease. This was discovered by rendering rabbits catatonic through the depletion of dopamine at their nerve terminals. Injecting dopamine restored their previous motor function. Dopamine is also involved in the so-called reward pathways and, as such, plays a major role in generating and maintaining addictions and compulsions.
  • 1952 – Publication of DSM-I, the American Psychiatric Association’s first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. It contained just 106 ‘character’ disorders (or “reactions”) viewed as weaknesses of character due to faults in upbringing. It did not so much contain formal diagnoses as theories.
  • 1953Patient H.M. has parts of his hippocampus removed in an attempt to relieve him of his lifelong seizures. As a result, he develops near complete anterograde amnesia and loses the ability to create new memories. Experiments of his cognitive capacities revolutionised our understanding of memory and revealed two distinct mechanisms: declarative (that can be expressed with words) and procedural (automatic, classical conditioning, motor tasks) memory.
  • 1954 – Methylphenidate (Ritalin) is recognized as a Central Nervous System stimulant (Meier et al, 1954).
  • 1956 – Evidence of antidepressant properties of Iproniazid – previously used against tuberculosis. The birth of the world’s first anti-depressant (of the Mono Amine Oxydase inhibitor type).
  • 1957 – First precise mention of ADHD-like symptoms as ‘hyperkinetic impulse disorder’. In 1957 also, Thorazine [!] is used on “hyperkinetic emotionally disturbed children”
  • 1957Benzodiazepine’s hypnotic, muscle relaxant and anxiolytic properties are discovered by Laboratoires Laroche in the US.  Famous benzodiazepines are Diazepam (Valium) and Alprazolam (Xanax). Benzodiazepines are highly addictive – though not as much as barbiturates – but also highly effective at tacking phobias, panic, anxiety and insomnia. They are fast-acting, making them a drug of first-choice to curb predictable acute phobic episodes in dogs (like fireworks).

  • 1961 – ‘Histoire de la folie a l’age classique’ is published, a scathing critique of psychiatry and its chemical straightjackets.
  • 1963 – First study on Ritalin (methylphenidate) for ’emotionally disturbed children’ is published
  • 1964 – The first draft of the Declaration of Helsinki is signed, an ethical code for human experimentation.
  • 1968: DSM-II with 182 disorders and follows the structure of the broader International Classification of Diseases in an attempt to gain validation.
  • 1969: John Bowlby’s attachment theory reveals the possible role of maternal deprivation in the development of some psychopathologies.
  • 1970The word ‘zoopsychatrie’ is coined. Roughly translated from French, it means veterinary behaviourism.
  • 1973: Solomon Snyder and Candace Pert discover endorphins (endogenous morphine). Endorphins are a group of inhibitory neurotransmitters that generate feelings of pleasure, as well as having an analgaesic effect. They have a similar effect to opioids like heroine and opium. They depress the central nervous system depressant, they slow it down. They are believed to be involved in stress-related psychiatric disorders, severe depression, addiction disorders and schizophrenia.
  • 1974:  Allan Baddeley and Graham Hitch propose the model of working memory replacing the short-term/long-term memory model. This sheds light on the cognitive skills involved in retrieving and storing the information required to perform a particular task, distinguishing between verbal and visuo-spatial stores, for example.
  • 1975: The anti-Ritalin movement expands as several books are published, bringing the validity of the ADHD diagnosis into question.
  • 1980DSM-III: A radical change from the previous versions, with a marked departure from psychoanalysis to cognitive behavioural therapy terminology and a focus on measurable, observable symptoms. It bore 265 diagnostic categories. This more standardised version reflects psychology and psychiatry’s efforts to be recognised as valid scientific fields. Prior to DSM-III, the categories were so vague that they did not allow rigorous research. This led to a flurry of research into mental illnesses, which has greatly contributed in the destigmatisation of patients from weak and wilful to legitimate sufferers. A notable modern addition to the DSM-III: PTSD.
  • 1977-1985 – Development of SSRI’s, facilitating the treatment of depression, but also panic attacks, anxiety disorders, obsessive disorders and phobias. Fluoxetine is one of the most widely used behavioural drug on dogs today.
  • 1987DSM-IIIR
  • 1992: DSM-IV: 297 disorders. One major change from previous versions was the inclusion of the clinical significance criteria: the degree to which a sufferer is impeded from conducting a productive life is becoming a central diagnostic criterion. Concretely, it means that you can experience all the symptoms listed in a disorder but still not have the diagnostic. Perhaps disappointingly, the APA admits to the DSM-IV’s continued lack of internal consistency: “no definition adequately specifies precise boundaries for the concept of ‘mental disorder’… different situations call for different definitions”. It states that “there is no assumption that each category of mental disorder is a completely discrete entity with absolute boundaries dividing it from other mental disorders or from no mental disorder” (APA, 1994 and 2000).
  • 1994: Peter Usherwood discovers that Glutamate (discovered in Tokyo as a food flavor in 1907 and present in the famous monosodium glutamate!) is a neurotransmitter. It is in fact the most common neurotransmitter, present in nearly half of our neurons. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter. It is released when we perceive danger. It is believed to be involved in a number of psychiatric disorders, including PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia.
  • 2013: DSM-V: Quoting the number of discrete diagnoses in this edition is surprisingly controversial. The major changes in this version are an attempt to add biological correlates to the disorders (and famously failing to do so), and the merging of specific disorders into broader spectra (famously schizophrenia and autism, among others).

Where are we now?

Looking at the timeline, I am glad we live on this side of history. There’s still quite a bit to achieve before most human (and even more so, canine) psychiatric patients receive effective and humane treatments, are treated with dignity and understanding.

Today, many psychiatric patients still have to contend with much well-meaning but misguided advice from:

  • The ones who believe ‘tough love’ is the way to recovery, dismissing our human/canine patients as people who just ‘need to toughen up, and a bit of discipline’.
  • The medication detractors who find ‘It’s full of chemicals.’ and that our patients should just ‘use homeopathy/Reiki/quantum healing/…’  or simply do more sports.
  • The ones who see mental health patients as being weak, wilfulness, stupid, dangerous.
  • The skeptical doctors (/vets) who see behaviour/psycho- therapy as pseudoscience. The same doctors/vets who, while we fight to validate our profession with evidence, dispense unfounded behaviour advice because they saw it on National Geographic or once read a book about it…

Meanwhile some of our patients, human and canine alike, face:

  1. Confinement,
  2. Only partially effective medication with crippling unacceptable side effects
  3. The majority of first responders (police/dog shelters or doctors/vets), woefully under-trained in dealing with agitated or psychotic patients, frequently resort to violence when apprehending a patient.

So we still have a ways to go. I hope I can re-write the timeline in a few years and have some progress to report.

Illustration credits

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

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

Interested in the ‘Hoog Risico Honden’ topic?

Sign in for the OhMyDog seminar on Thursday 26 October 2017 (7.15pm-10.15pm) – in Dutch, 55 euro p.p, Den Haag.

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

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

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

Breed-Specific Legislation from January 2018

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

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

Many questions about the compulsory course

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

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

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

Dog training schools rejecting high-risk dogs?

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

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

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

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

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

Do high-risk dogs need specialist skills?

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Illustration credits

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Dog book review: Dr. Dodman’s The Dog who loved too much

Shout out about new dog book review by Canis bonus. August 2017
Review author: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

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

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

The dog who loved too much

Years after its publication, I finally got a chance to crunch my teeth into Dodman’s classic ‘The dog who loved too much.’

Published in 1996, it is obviously showing its age on a few topics but I have enjoyed my read and took a lot of clinical information out of it, particularly in psychopharmacology.  I highly recommend it for behaviourists looking for case studies with real-life owners, dogs and prognoses of common behaviour conditions.

For the detailed review, follow the link below.

Dog who loved too much (the)

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Can I report an unethical dog training school?

What you can do if your dog was physically abused at the dog training school or if the training school advises physical abuse, article by Canis bonus. September 2017
Author: Laure-Anne Visele.
Illustration credits at the end of the post.
Clients’ and schools’ recognizable features have been changed to respect their privacy, and out of competitive fairness.

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

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

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

A tough dog behaviour case

As a behaviourist, I had to learn to have difficult conversations, to leave my judgement at the door and just listen. It can be tough with cases involving physical abuse, but I am holding the dog’s lifeline in my hands so I patiently listen, then hope to make a change.

Still, my stomach churned when I read Max’s intake form. It was plastered with abusive treatment stemming straight out of an obsession for the pack theory and discipline (‘he-just-should‘). The dog-human relationship was in tatters, if the form was anything to go by. So much so that I wasn’t sure I could salvage it.

It turns out we did and Max is doing much better now, but it was hard work.

drill-instructor

The relationship had degraded into an army drill: physical exercise and blind authority.

So I cycled there and, filled with the familiar “Can I turn this one around?” feeling, I took a deep breath, and rung the doorbell.

What a welcome: barking dog and screaming owners

I was greeted by a lunging dog and his screaming owner, trying to tackle him ‘into submission’… Note to self: double-check the owners are actually listening when you list safety measures…

It took a lot of bribery and appeasement, but he eventually decided to postpone my murder.

We sat around the table and took stock of the situation. What had turned Max into this paranoid-aggressive furball? A two-hour conversation later, and the scales fell off his owners’ eyes as they started to see the problem with a new light: not wilfulness, not dominance, but an unhappy mix of:

  • Unrealistic breed-based expectations;
  • A terrible match for an inexperienced family;
  • Under-socialisation as a pup (he grew up in a farm)
  • Well-meaning but oh-so-misguided advice from a dog training school not qualified to advise on serious behaviour cases (it comes up a lot in our unprotected profession).

Frank and Cindy were first-time owners (uh-oh). Frank had always dreamed of this breed – large, with guarding tendencies (uh-oh, read tendency to be fearful and aggressive to strangers, be sensitive to fast movements, and susceptible to over-stimulation). He felt prepared after reading every breed book he could get his hands on (uh-oh, breed books are are as unreliable as a marketing pamphlet). He also got a ton of information from neighbours and internet fora (uh-oh, opinion, or fact?). They wanted to get the dog as Cindy was pregnant so their family would be complete (uh-oh, baby on the way too). And… Frank and Cindy thought it couldn’t possibly go wrong as “His mother and father are national champions” (uh-oh).

Things had gotten so far that Cindy was too scared to be in the same room as Max if Frank wasn’t there.

Spare the rod, spoil the dog…

When they started to experience problems with Max, Frank and Cindy did what any right-thinking dog owner would do: they went to the nearest dog training school. They did not know there is a difference between an education problem, and a psychiatric problem. Neither did the school, who proceeded to deal with the issue with more and more blind discipline whenever he growled or refused to move (out of what turned out to be fear).

  • Jab him on the side to ‘snap him out of it’.
  • Jerk on the leash (starting from puppihood!?, and with a choke collar to boot). Don’t be too soft now, don’t spare the rod, the school told them…
  • Alpha-roll him, as a pup too, until he ‘surrendered’ (i.e. entered into shock, with his trust in humans taking another beating).
  • Drag him, screaming, to his bench
  • And then, when things reached a head and he turned all-out aggressive of his owners, herding him into his bench using a chair as a shield, legs pointing towards the dog.
Spare the rod, spoil the dog...

Spare the rod, spoil the dog…

Some of it crossed Cindy’s mind as being on the extreme side but she figured: “What do I know? They’re the experts”. When she asked the school, they reassured her. “It’s not punishment. It’s ‘correction’.” It’s all in the name I guess…

Frank was also not 100% comfortable with the stuff but it did echo what other sources told him (books, internet, neighbours, dog owners), so it had to be right. That, by the way, is why I am obsessed about evidence-based practices: it offers some protection against misguided opinion, ignorant tradition and confirmation bias.

‘Academically’, Max actually did pretty well. He passed all his classes, up to advanced obedience and fly ball, with flying colour – growling and freezing notwithstanding. But things were getting worse at home. Each time Cindy asked the instructor about it, she got blamed for being too soft.

So they plowed on, dutifully abusing away. Not sparing the rod for… a heart-breaking year and a half!

Where are we now?

After our consult, I left Frank and Cindy with a relationship ‘restore’ program: absolutely no confrontation, teaching alternative responses, helping him cope with  his fears and over-stimulation through gradual controlled exposure, hand-feeding and TONS of quality time. It took a few months, and he is still stiffens up if people bend over him, approach him fast, or corner. And he is not exactly the family baby sitter’s number one fan, but we’re working on all that and he’s making strides. Max was one of the lucky ones as his owners eventually sought professional help, but how many go through this cycle of violence for their entire life?

What happened with the baby, you ask? Max was instantly in love with him and wasn’t even over-stimulated by high-pitched cries as we’d feared.

But these dog training school are an exception, right?

Sadly no. Most give quick-fix advice for serious behaviour problems. Most do not have a smidgin of formal education on dog behaviour pathology, and get their information from things they heard somewhere, ‘everybody does it’, they read in a forum or heard it from the latest celebrity trainer. Not exactly great sources of information.

Don’t get me wrong. Some dog training schools do great behavioural first aid but too many fall in the ‘don’t spare the rod’ category.

Take a look at my mailbox if you want to be depressed: it’s full of reports of clients being told to jerk the puppy’s choking collar, or alpha-roll their dog. Many also tell me their dog got traumatised during puppy ‘play’ time, where fifteen pups of all sizes and temperaments have it out as the weaker ones are bullied away. ‘Let them work it out’, the instructors insist…

I talked to the Dutch animal protection agency (Dierenbescherming) about what I hear from my clients (obviously without naming school or client names) and they confirm that it is illegal to subject an animal – including including in the name of education – to unnecessary force (see details here). The language is vague (what is ‘necessary force’?) , but the Dierenberscherming will certainly take it seriously if several reports are being filed against the same training school.

I myself obviously can’t be the whistle blower. That would flirt with unethical competitive tactics. That, and the fact that you must have witnessed the situation first-hand before you file a report.

dierenbescherming

So what can you do?

If you personally witness a situation at a dog training school that you consider to be animal abuse:

  • Call the Dierenbescherming (national number: 144, many of the operators speak great English in case you don’t speak Dutch). This can be done anonymously. Once they have enough reports, they send an inspector. Do not let your silence perpetuate the problem: they need a fair few calls before they will send an inspector. If nobody calls, countless dogs will continue being abused in the name of education.
  • Alert the commercial contacts of the school if they have any: their accreditation body, their landlord. Chance is, these partners won’t enjoy being smeared with the bad PR and will give the school a talking to.
  • Leave a detailed review of what’s happened on their social media accounts, on Google or on Doggo.

My mailbox is full with these accounts but I can do nothing about it so it’s up to you to be the squeaky wheel.

Illustration credits

No modifications were made to any of the illustrations

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2018 Breed Specific Legislation in the Netherlands: a critical review and suggestions

Blog post about the Breed Specific Legislation in The Netherlands to be put in place in January 2018: Praise, criticism and implications
Article by Canis bonus. July 2017. Author: Laure-Anne Visele.
Illustration credits and back links at the end of the post.

Interested in the ‘Hoog Risico Honden’ topic?

We organise a seminar on this topic (in Dutch) for animal organisations. This seminar is given on-site, at your organisation’s premises anywhere in The Netherlands (travel fees apply outside of The Hague).

We give you and your colleagues a rundown of what is known in research about breed-specific bite statistics and temperament, we share the exact problem diagnosis and its red flags and frequency. We share management, safety and animal welfare best practices for keeping the affected animals safe for themselves and for others, and for dealing with an uninformed and prejudiced public.

You can sign in of find out more.

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

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

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

Breed-Specific Legislation in The Netherlands

Breed Specific Legislation has been proposed to come into effect in the Netherlands again from January 2018, after a nine-year absence. In the post below, I explain what the law is proposing to do, what reasoning went behind it, and what elements do and don’t make sense in my view.

The points raised by the law that I discuss later in the post are indicated in bold.

The proposed law

For now, only two measures have been stated:

1. Owners of the 21 breeds listed below concerned will need to follow a ‘course on raising a dog’ (opvoedcursus).

2. Local municipalities will be allowed to put up regulations applying only to the listed breeds (but will not necessarily do so), such as:

  • Compulsory muzzle
  • Compulsory short leash
  • Ban from certain public areas where many children often play

The Government is also working on additional future measures (so nothing concrete on these points yet):

  • A breeding and import ban
  • A central dog bite incident register (any breeds)
  • A central anti-social behaviour register by dogs and/or owners (any breeds)

What breeds are on the list?

They define High Risk Dogs (HRD) breeds as: “Dogs who were originally bred for fighting […] These dogs can display aggression inflicting serious damage. They frequently bite people.” (Government source here)

The breeds are listed on the official Government page as follow:

  1. Akita
  2. Alano
  3. American Bulldog
  4. American Pitbull Terrier
  5. American Staffordshire Terrier
  6. Anatolian Shepherd
  7. Bandog
  8. Boerboel
  9. Bull Mastiff
  10. Bull Terrier
  11. Bully Kuta
  12. Cane Corso
  13. Dogo Argentino
  14. Dogo Canario
  15. Fila Brasileiro
  16. Rottweiler
  17. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  18. (Caucasian) Owcharka
  19. (South Russian) Owcharka
  20. Pitbulls, bullies and variants: pocket, micro, extreme pocket, regular, xl, xxl, rednose, you name it
  21. Tosa inu

(For technical reasons, I cannot attach source links to the pictures in the gallery itself. For full photo credits, including back-links, check Illustration credits at the end of this post.)

HRD crosses and look-alikes are will also be considered HRD’s but dogs with a *pedigree will not (*a valid Raad van Beheer pedigree. RvB = Dutch Kennel Club).

The Government warns they may add more breeds to the list.

The second list: listed but not considered high-risk

The government created a secondary list with breeds that were originally bred for fighting that are deemed lower-risk by the government:

  1. Boxer
  2. Dobermann
  3. Dogue de Bordeaux
  4. English Bulldog
  5. Mastiff
  6. Shar-Pei
  7. Mastino Napoletano

The breeds on the exemption list need to have a valid pedigree.

Now let’s start looking at my concerns, in no particular order.

High-risk crosses?

In the dog-fighting world, dogs get crossed for maximum dangerosity, granted but…

  1. Do all HRD x HRD mixes stem from the dog-fighting world?
  2. What of a HRD x non-HRD hybrids? I know a Staffie-Labrador cross (he’s a working dog, actually). Are they considered HRD’s? What of Chipits (yes, that’s a thing: Chihuahua – Pitbull)?
  3. What of distant ancestry? DNA testing can reveal 1/16th HRD and 15/16th non-HRD. Is the dog still HRD?

I am concerned by the grey areas raised by this question. I am curious: does someone out there know the answer to a couple of these questions? Include your source and I’ll credit you and update the post.

 

My beloved old dog, Rodgie, an English Bulldog/Fox terrier cross

And let’s make it even more complicated. What of unpedigreed dog with ancestry in the second list (e.g. English bulldog or Boxer)? Take my Rodgie, an English bulldog/Fox terrier cross. Was he a HRD in the eyes of the law?

High-risk look-alikes?

What of the purebred/pedigree-less lookalikes like old English Bulldogges (not on either list), or complete mutts that look like a HRD like my own dog (Podenco x Labrador).

Viewed from a certain angle even my Lab/Podenco looks like a Staffie

I heard stories of large-skulled Labradors being confiscated as they looked like an HRD, and the police being reluctant to return the dog even though a passport and pedigree was produced (in the old Dutch Breed-Specific Legislation days)

So, will a DNA test be part of the identification process this time? What degree of admixture is considered a mix of the listed breeds? My own dog’s DNA tests only go back to the nearest 12.5% ancestor (great-great-grandparents).

And how do you DNA test a banddog or a Pitbull. These are not distinct breeds. These names reflect the ultimate mix of physical and temperament traits suitable for protection/fighting.

Why these breeds and not others?

This Government page (in Dutch) explains why they picked the breeds they did. This NRC article covers the question in layman’s terms (in Dutch).

In short, the reasons were:

  1. Originally bred for fighting skills
  2. Powerful, large, muscular
  3. Particularly dangerous biting style
  4. Often involved in serious attacks on people.

I review these below one by one.

Dangerous biting style

The elements they took into account were:

a. Ability to sustain a hold-bite with unimpeded breathing 

Powerful jaw = more stable bite hold

High-risk dogs on the list have powerful jaws, no argument.

With unimpeded breathing?

This point sounds like an urban myth but might have a grain of truth to it. Does someone out there know specifically what aspect of morphology would help what specific HRD breed to keep breathing whilst holding whilst other breeds cannot? I have known German Shepherds to inflict a sustained hold-bite, and police shepherds have to know how to do this on command. These dogs lack the bully facial features. What am I missing?

Steadfast bite as a psychological trait

Sustained bite ability is 10% morphology 90% psychology in my view. (Some) dogs with Bull ancestry can have behavioural tendencies for hold-biting. THAT is the concern, not some anatomical feature.

When it comes down to it, it boils down to the same (a dog who easily lets go vs. a dog who does not let go) but it’s still an important distinction or you’ll even be declaring the world’s biggest couch potatoes to be High Risk dogs next (English Bulldogs).

b. Tendency to aim for vulnerable body parts (e.g. throat) 

They do NOT aim for the throat in human attacks, unless trained specifically to do so

What I see when analysing the horrendous incidents involving HRD’s is impulsive aggression: opportunistic bites to the nearest body parts like the face for children and the hands, arms and thighs for adults. Like any extremely excited would do.

They ALSO bite vital body parts in dogs, but not exclusively so

When it comes to attacking other dogs, the bites also, but not only, target the abdomen, femoral and neck regions, and can include shaking.

The bite locations also appears opportunistic in these frenzied dog-dog incident: the victim-dog is bitten with great force (no doubt about the intend to harm), but all over (not with the surgical precision implied by the ‘going for the throat’ statement).

What makes it pathological is that the attacker bites the vulnerable parts at all. Behaviourally healthy dogs tend to resolve their conflicts ritually, with a lot of show and dance but no bites to vital body parts.

Another worry in the types of aggression we see in these frenzied moments is the uninhibited use of force. My own dog (Lab size) has impressive jaws. He could inflict serious damage if he chose to. But he has a soft bite and stays cool. He caught a duck by the neck once. In my panic, I naively asked him to let go. And he did! He wasn’t worked up. He’d just had something in his mouth. The bird left unscathed! Now picture a typical Jack Russell in my dog’s place. He would have torn the duck to pieces.

The role of neurotransmitters

An attack with opportunistic and unrestrained bites is the product of a state of frenzy. Could it be that some certain (not all) members of some breeds are predisposed to (not bound to) to

  1. Reach this state of frenzy more easily (with less provocation) than the average dog?
  2. And that this state of frenzy lasts longer than for the average dog?
  3. And that this state of reaches higher peaks of intensity?

On all three counts, that would be a Yes. Yes, a tendency for 1-3 can be heritable.

This question is central as many people argue that the pitbull debates is 100% about “how you raise them”. I would say ‘not so fast’. There are biological substrates of aggression – and certain forms of aggression are thus (partly) heritable.

During this state of frenzy, the dog is blind to their victim’s appeasing signals, bites without the required inhibition, fails to feel attempts to pull it off, and it keeps attacking for a long time. These are the hallmarks of the attacks that are being reported in the press. The dog is ‘seeing red’.

These are some of the biological mechanisms known to be at least partially involved in aggression:

ADRENALINE: In human terms, adrenaline has been (partly) involved in impulsive aggression, a type of aggression that looks an awful lot like these dog attacks in the press. Adrenaline also explains that the attacker is not perceiving its environment, and just hyperfocuses on its victim. And that the attacker is seemingly oblivious to pain during a fit.

DOPAMINE: Dopamine too has been implicated in impulsive aggression (e.g., in humans, Oades et al, 2008). And yes, certain lines of dogs have been bred for ‘vechtlust’ or ‘gameness’, a desire to fight. ‘Healthy’ aggression is reactive, defensive, in extremis. A dog with gameness wants to fight. He/she pro-actively seeks opportunities because it feels good. The slightest excuse is enough to trigger an all-out attack.

SEROTONIN: Serotoninergic dysfunction has also been implicated in humans aggression (Bevilacqua and Goldman, 2013). Interestingly, it is also involved in canine ‘impulsive disinhibited aggression’ (Peremans et al, 2002), which may be the types of attacks we’ve been seeing.

These are but a handful of the possible biological factors predisposing to aggression.

Predisposition vs. certainty

Nature vs. Nurture: Let’s kill this question straight away. It’s not either/or, it’s and/and. It is naive to claim that ‘It’s all about the owners’. Some dogs can be predisposed to these problems. And some lines within some breeds can and are selected for frenzied aggression. Their offsprings will have a higher chance of a predisposition and you can raise these dogs with all the love in the world and still have an aggression problem. Chance is, though, that the problem won’t be as profound or intense than the ones showed by the neglected and abused dogs who are also raised for criminal ends – Nurture). But you’ll still have to consider your game dog to be a ticking timebomb and take no chances with excited interactions with other dogs.

Now the million dollar question. Are 2% of Staffies predisposed to this frenzied aggression? Or 99%? From my daily practice (most are pedigreed pet dogs. so there is a huge self-selected sample there), most are extremely tolerant to humans. And I mean ‘extremely’. These are the guys who don’t even know me and directly jump on my lap and lick my face wet. These are the guys who typically don’t scare and startle easily, the super stable dogs.

Are my human-hypertolerant guys the minority? The statistics are all over the place so we don’t know if it is (a) typical of a Staffie to be extremely aggressive, or whether (b) only deviant Staffies have the problem. From personal experience, (b) gets my vote but you won’t get solid facts from my personal experience.

The ones I see in my practice seem to have a higher than average chance of engaging in unprovoked dog-dog aggression, starting typically around the 18-months or 2-year mark. These attacks are not necessarily frenzied or extremely hard to interrupt, but they do seek out conflict.

c. Hard bite pressure, making it much harder to pry the jaws open

Psychology vs. morphology

Again, we are dealing with psychology more than morphology here – although I’d rather be bitten by a Chihuahua, of course (and I am more likely to be!). So the strong bite pressure is partly possible because of their wide skull and strong muscles, but you don’t see people trying to ban St Bernards. The psychology aspect is that Bull ancestors were bred for clamping down onto a furious bull’s nose. How much of that tendency remains in an individual breed/line/dog is a valid question.

One of the factors making it hard to make the dog let go is the influence of adrenaline. The dog is ‘seeing red’ and oblivious to his environment (and to your orders, or to pain, if aroused enough).

Remember: genetics are probabilistic, not deterministic

Not every Lab has a soft mouth and not every Bully has a hard bite.

Irresponsible ownership: fight training, abuse, neglect, neglectful confinement and lack of socialisation

Lastly: can we pry out the influence of irresponsible ownership when analysing abnormal biting style? It seems we can.

Most serious incidents I’ve read involved a status dog being kept in neglectful/abusive conditions, or a recently adopted dog of unknown origins.

To top things off, in the circles where the dog is objectified as a status dog, he may be involved in organized dog fights, and thus trained like an athlete to have a quick, powerful and tenacious bite. These dogs undergo hours of training every day and are provoked and starved and beaten up. Let me add a point of nuance here. Some bully-type dogs are trained like athletes within perfectly legitimate dog sports like wall-jumping.

Would your standard Staffie (who does not come from fighting stock and who isn’t abused) pose more of a danger than your standard Labrador? I sincerely don’t know but from my professional experience, perhaps.

Dangerous breeds: but not if they have a pedigree?

Dogs on the HRH (Hoog Risico Honden) list are exempt if they have a pedigree. The reasoning seems muddy to me, and may be the result of pressures from interest groups (i.e. Kennel Clubs). This is my take:

a. The aggression would have been bred out of them: how do we measure this?

Logistically, it is easier to ban the breeding of aggressive dogs from the pedigree world, than to try to regulate this from backstreet litters. So putting dogs from backstreet litters under close scrutiny might be a good move, risk-wise. It implicitly targets the dangerously irresponsible owners whom (one assumes) breed their own dogs intensively and do not register them. The snag is… I know plenty of responsible owners of non-pedigreed dogs (I am one), and so I am registering my non-pedigreed dog. So the only people who will come under more scrutiny are the responsible owners of non-pedigreed dogs. The criminals will continue to fly under the radar and will not register their dogs.

Breeders (one hopes) breed for a ‘companion’ line of the breed, a dog who is suitable for an urban family. They do so by removing aggressive specimens from the gene pool. Within a few generations (that’s very quick with dogs), a character trait can be strongly attenuated. The English Bulldog is such a success story.

My issue is methodological (and surmountable): where do you draw the line of ‘too aggressive to breed’? How do we objectively and reliably measure this?

  1. I am yet to find a suitable temperament test for aggression – or for any other temperament trait for that matter. This area of research is plagued with shaky results: poor predictive values, tons of false positives, a fair few false negatives, to name but a few of the problems.
  2. Without an objective yardstick, we have to rely on individual judgment. Considering the commercial interests at play, the pendulum may swing towards under-reporting aggression problems then blaming the owners. Mmmmhhh. Business as usual then.
  3. The tests used to measure aggression have come under a lot of criticism for how unfriendly they are, and the number of false positives they produce. At least, they are erring on the side of caution, I’ll give them that, but snatching an umbrella to let a dog startle isn’t exactly animal-friendly. Some components of the test are no longer used as they downright traumatised the dogs…

b. The aggression would have been ‘bred out of them’: how do we regulate this?

  1. There are a million and a half different types of aggression in dogs (well, about ten). Some only develop with sexual maturity, some even later, with social maturity. Are we going to wait until the dog is over 2 years old before we subject them to the aggression test? It’s not the biggest problem in the world but it’s an added policy complication. And would a breeder follow up with all the offspring of a sire x dame combination for two years before letting the combination breed again?
  2. Aggression – and behaviour in general – is the product of the interaction of Genetics x Environment (x Epigenetics). I know enough young adult dogs who became severely aggressive after a violent burglary. Would these also be banned from breeding? It is not a huge deal for the welfare dog concerned, but it is not rational from a purely genetics perspective (though who knows about epigenetics influences…)

c. The aggression would have been ‘bred out of them’: I beg to differ on certain breeds

From professional experience (so take it with a pinch of salt, this is not based on big-numbers), I see enough trigger-happy pedigreed Staffies who aren’t reliable with other dogs: hyperfocus, insufficient inhibition and unprovoked attacks. Staffies, pedigreed or not, require particularly careful socialisation to other dogs in my book, if only from the perspective of size and tendency for excitement.

Exempt breeds: lower risk?

Some breeds on the second list struck me as odd: Neapolitan Mastiff and Shar Peis. I would most certainly not put these breeds in inexperienced hands. They are still bred for protection, and many Shar Peis seem to really have a problem with other dogs come social maturity.

The Hondenbescherming reviews the matter of exempt breeds very aptly here.

Where are the German Shepherds?

Your average German Shepherds (or Malinois, for that matter, or Dutch sheps) is more bite-prone than your average Staffies. Few will argue there. Let’s not even talk of the working line German Shepherds who display these traits a hundred fold. Your typical German Shepherd tends to:

  • Hyperfocus on fast movement
  • Get spooked by uncertainty, novelty or excitement: not exactly great to walk in the city
  • Get easily frustrated and…
  • … Get mouthy when frustrated or spooked
  • Be wary of strangers
  • Be protective of their family or territory

Note how I am using the word ‘typical’ and ‘average’. What it means is you can expect these problems and you’d better be prepared to deal with them if you want to bring a shep in your home. It does not mean every single shep is neurotic.

My point is: this is not a great risk picture for such large breed, so why weren’t they included in HRH list, then?

Where it makes sense to exclude Shepherds from the list

The answer is in the ‘damage’ aspect of the risk calculation (Likelihood * Damage = Risk).

German Shepherds bite more frequently (in my experience, so take it with a pinch of salt), but the damage they incur (tends to be) less severe. They (tend to) go for flash-bites instead of sustained bite. They (tend to) threaten more than injure. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen bite reports involving sheps that made me blanch. A shepherd is no guarantee for bite control.

What drives (most) incidents is fear so once the threat is retreating, the shepherd (tends to) let go. This in contrast with fight dogs who were bred to seek out conflict and to keep it going, inflicting as much damage as possible. Sheps just spook easily. Bulls on the other hand tend to be quite bold. What drives the severe aggression incidents when you look at the reports/the press does not seem to be fear. Often, very little provocation was needed and the bull actually sought out his/her dog victim.

Where it does not make sense to exclude Shepherds from the list

The primary goal of the proposed 2018 legislation is public safety, primarily humans.

It is interesting, therefore, to note that the average Staffie (tends to) be extremely sociable to humans. Much more so than your average Shepherd. Again, this reflects my personal observations (and informal temperament studies).

As a dog professional, I get nervous if a German Shepherd comes close to my kid and I watch his body language like a hawk. If it’s a Staffie, we brace ourselves for A LOT OF licking and sometimes annoying jumping – to reach the face… for licking and I am a lot less on edge. I make no secret that Staffies are among favourite breeds for that very reason. The boundless joy they (tend to) show from the slightest human attention is pure bliss to me.

Before you think I am being biased by my love of Staffies, I can tell you that I get nervous if an unfamiliar Staffie comes up to my dog and I then watch the interactions like a hawk. A look is slightly too sustained and I’m out of there like a flash.

So will (German) Shepherds be added to the HRH list?

This RDA report says it’s a possibility.

Knowledge used to draw the list

According to this Government document, the list was put together based on the advice of 5 (national and international) experts. The High-Risk Dogs being a devilishly complicated tale of behaviour genetics, epidemiology and criminology, I need to know what experts were consulted to know how much weight to give this pannel. If you know, please share it with us and leave a comment.

According to the same document, they based their decisions on the following list of references. I am underwhelmed by the quality of the sources: look at the ratio of serious serious research vs. popular science vs. opinion piece.

  • Avner, J R, Baker, M D (1991). Dog bites in urban children. Pedriatrics, 88 (1),55- 58
  • Beasly, J.T. (2015). Misunderstood Nanny Dogs? North Charlesto: CreateSpace
  • Billmire, D.A. (25 augustus 2016). Opinion: There is no need for pitbulls
  • Coppinger, R, Coppinger, L (2001), Dogs, a new understanding of canine origin, behavior and evolution, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press
  • Harding, S (2014), Unleashed: the phenomena of status and weapon dogs, Bristol: Policy Press
  • Jessup, D (1995) The working Pit Bull, Neptune City: T.f.h. publications
  • Kaye, A E, Belz, J M, Kirschner, R E (2009). Pediatric Dog Bite Injuries: A 5-Year Review of the Experience at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. PRS Journal, 551-558
  • Loewe, C L, Diaz, F D, Bechinsky, J (2007). Pitbull mauling deaths in Detroit. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 28 (4), 356-360
  • O’Brien, D C, Andre, T B, Robinson, A D, Squires, L D, Tollefson, T T (2014). Dog bites of the head and neck: an evaluation of a common pediatric trauma and associated treatment. American Journal of Otolaryngology – head and neck medicine and surgery, 36 (1), 32-38

Each of the more serious papers came from bite treatment data from hospitals, with the incumbent breed identification limitations.

Where are the papers showing an inverse correlation between size and likelihood to attack (you can find a few here). Where are the papers showing the ineffectiveness of Breed Specific Legislation? If you’d like a list of many many many papers touching on bite epidemiology per breed, temperament per breed, and BSL effectiveness, write a comment.

Regardless of the literature, having toyed with BSL from 1993 to 2008 (see Regeling Agressieve Dieren) and failed to reduce bite incidents, so shouldn’t the Netherlands know better?

The original report: focus on the owner

If you look at this report from the RDA (RDA = a panel of specialists advising the government on the animal-related issues), the risk factors are: owner first, breed second, context third (degree of provocation, husbandry conditions, etc.).

Source: Hondenbeten aan de Kaak gesteld. Aanbiedingsbrief of the RDA (Feb 2017)

This diagram shows the dog’s breed as a sub-point in the second risk factor, along with the character of the invididual dog. Why aren’t the measures focusing on all breeds? Or problem dogs – as identified pre-bite by neighbours, etc. raising concerns in a central database, and early intervention. Why does the current law proposal have such a focus on these 21 breeds?

Are dogs on the HRD higher-risk?

The risk calculation

To assess risk, you look at:

  1. Potential for injury: A furious Staffie will cause more damage than a furious Cocker Spaniel (but don’t underestimate the Cockers either), no argument.
  2. Likelihood of aggression: This point is A LOT more contentious. It is a mix of the dog’s state of mind at the time, which itself is influenced by the dog’s upbringing and the dog’s temperament. I discuss this prickly issue in details here.

Likelihood and genetic predisposition

As far as a genetic predisposition for aggression (i.e. point 2. likelihood) is concerned, I refer you to the points I made in the discussions on bite types:

  • Adrenaline hypersensitivity: Terriers were bred for responding quickly and fearlessly to fast movements and high-pitched sounds. Think of how a Jack Russell would treat a rat if  you want to picture the sort of mental state I am talking about.
  • Steadfastness: Dogs with bulldog ancestry may not let go easily.

Likelihood at bite records: minor bites

You can also estimate the likelihood of aggression by looking at bite records. What you need to know is there is no one standard way for first responders like family doctors, ER personnel or law enforcement to record the breed (or even the species in some cases) involved in a bite incident. When they do record the breed, this is often mis-identified. So our bite – breed records are very shoddy indeed. Bearing that in mind…

Let’s look at some bite epidemiology numbers from the Netherlands (Dutch Ministry of Finance’s advisory report, 2008). Note that these numbers have been corrected for the size of the breed’s population to avoid popular breeds becoming unduly incriminated.

Let’s start with minor bites. The researchers surveyed about 900 people who’ d been bitten by dogs (including benign bites that required no medical attention), then recorded the breeds involved and calculated a ‘bite index’ per breed. A bite index of one is how much individuals of an average breed would be implicated in bite incidents. An index much lower than one, like for the boxer (0.4), indicates a breed whose individual representatives bite much less than the average breed. Now take a look at the top of our list: 1. Weimarners (with a whopping 6.1), 2. Airedale terrier and 3. Bull terrier.

Table 6 of ‘hondenbeten in perspectief’ report, 2008

Before you scream for a ban on Weimerarner, remember to take these results with a pinch of salt as every study of this type gives you a different top 10. This points to very shoddy data and tells us that we still do not have a universal list of the top 10 ‘bitiest’ breeds. It is interesting to note that, out of our list of 21 HRD dogs, only 3 appear in this table: 1. Bull terrier (4th), 2. Rottweiler (5th), and 3. AmStaff (6th).

Likelihood and bite records: bites resulting in a criminal case

The same report analysed the data for a pilot project in Rotterdam in the early 2000’s (2000-2006) which recorded the breed in dogs involved in dog bite criminal cases.

Table 6 of ‘hondenbeten in perspectief’ report, 2008

This table is interesting in that it clearly shows Pitbull clearly stands out (technically, the Pitbull is many breeds put together, but let’s not split hair) with, respectively, 26 dog on person attacks and 13 dog on dog. This is closely followed by the Am Staff, then the Malinois, and back to a bunch of HRD breeds. 7 out of the 10 recognizable breeds are on the current HRD list.

Interestingly, look at the Staffie: 2 times, for biting a dog and not a person. This is what I see in my daily practice (a potential predisposition by some for dog-dog aggression but an incredible tolerance to humans). Again, we can’t draw many conclusions from such small numbers, particularly from police records (imagine the number of UNreported dog-dog incidents by all sorts of breeds, for starters), but it is interesting nonetheless.

What’s going on? Here we seem to have our criminal element influencing the data again. When you look at the types of breeds involved, most are status breeds, breeds popular in ‘hot’ neighbourhoods. Note also, 58% of the people whose dog ended up impounded to assess its potential danger to society, had a criminal record. I don’t know what the Dutch national average is for criminal record but I imagine it’s MUCH lower than that. There we have this critical variable again: problem owner – problem dog.

Likelihood and bite records: lethal bites

Let’s now look at lethal bite incidents (from police records, from the same report). There have been 29 between 1982 and 2006. Every year, 0 to 2 such incidents took place. As you know, data on the dog’s breed after such incidents can be hard to track so it was only possible to look closely at 14 of these 29 incidents.

Pitbull Terriers and Rottweilers were top of the list of dogs who inflicted fatal injuries to a person, with 3 victims each (over the course of 25 years). They are the only two breeds from the current HRD list. The other dogs each made 1 victim each. Staffies are nowhere to be seen but this may be due to identification issues. A Mastino napoletano does feature on the list, as do one St Bernard, one Malinois and one Jack Russell Terrier.

Table 2 of ‘hondenbeten in perspectief’ report, 2008

Again, we must be careful not to draw conclusions from this, before we go and add Bouviers and Malinois on the list. Fatal dog attacks are extremely rare (0.04 of non natural deaths in the Netherlands, same as lightning basically).

So the question of frequency is tough to answer, but when you look at the big picture and compare different studies you tend to end up with the larger breeds bite less often than the smaller ones. Look at this recent literature review by the National Canine Research Council to give you an idea of the big picture.

Now let me refer you back to the core question: how many individual HRDs have these predispositions to a concerning degree? 1% or 99% of them?

Bottom line on the likelihood question

The data is still a bit shaky, but you can get a reasonably picture out of the scientific literature and local Dutch municipality data:

  1. Bully breeds on the HRD list don’t rank that high in tendency to inflict bites (to people). Chihuahuas and daschshunds tend to top these lists;
  2. Bully breeds on the HRD list are, together with German Shepherds and Rottweilers leading perpetrators in lethal attacks. But lethal attacks are thankfully extremely rare (although I appreciate that an average of 1x per year is 1 too many)
  3. Bully breeds on the HRD list appear more often than their counterparts in criminal cases (where someone submitted a complaint about the dog)
  4. Owners of impounded dogs from a bully breed on the HRD list appear more likely than the average Dutch citizen to have a criminal record
  5. Irresponsible husbandry was involved in a high proportion of serious attacks.

Who is the irresponsible owner?

What kind of owner could make it more likely for a dog to be involved in a severe aggression incident? People who:

  • Use these breeds as dogs and encourage them to act intimidatingly.
  • fail to socialise their dog.
  • Not only provoke, but highly train their dogs for aggression to other dogs (dog fights) and/or people (protection, revenge, status)
  • Neglect and abuse their dogs. People who keep lots of bully dogs and barely feed and care for them. Who beat them up or worse when they under-perform.
  • Do not let their high-risk dogs (as in an individual dog with known aggressive tendencies) out on the leash, or keep them behind a SECURE door or fence. So many horrendous attacks involve a dog who’d escaped out of his property and into its victim’s by jumping over fences.

Special local measures by municipalities

The local municipalities will have free range to enact local Breed-Specific measures (e.g. compulsory muzzles and leashes, or a complete ban from certain areas). This clause is causing anxiety among owners of HRD’s. They might be slapped with arbitrary restrictions at the whim of their local council from one day to the next. Should every HRD – no matter how sociable – be muzzle-trained already just in case the local council decides to pull the trigger?

Serious bite incidents involving children often involve dogs who either escaped their own property or the child’s own family dog (after the child was left unsupervised with the pet…). These were not incidents were Bullies were left to roam in children-heavy areas. What difference would a ban from local parks make for these incidents? Or leash or muzzle laws? .

A focus on containment measures, and this only for dogs who are giving their neighbours concerns (so not necessarily HRD) might be more effective and wouldn’t victimise countless sociable dogs. I am thinking of high, secure fences and so-called air-lock systems (think 2 front doors instead of one).

So what’s my take?

To me, the focus on breeds is like banning all kitchen knives because some are used as weapons.

My position on the proposal itself is more mixed: problems with status dogs are spilling into daily life at an alarming rate. Something needs to give and the proposed change might be a first step in the right direction. The text deserves praise in that it at least focuses on responsible ownership aspects too (the compulsory course).

My bone is

1. the seemingly arbitrary choice of some breeds;

2. passing the buck to local municipalities for security measures, causing much uncertainty all around; and

3. the compulsory course that is supposed to change hearts and minds but that is as-yet undefined (I have written a whole post about my detailed concerns).

Bottom line: we are stigmatising 100 responsible owners to get to 1 irresponsible one, who, by the way, doesn’t stick to the existing laws so probably won’t obey the law change either.

Here are my alternative suggestions:

  1. A sort of ‘driver’s licence’ before anyone gets any dog. Anyone deemed high-risk during this process (e.g. objectifying the dog, documented risk-taking behaviour or a criminal record) would be denied their application. This license would need to be carried on your person every time you take your dog out in public, and would need to be renewed every 10 years.
  2. A ban on having a dog that is actually followed up on, and not ignored as it is today when the owner who had a dog confiscated can go get his next dog the day after.
  3. The fight-dog world crippled by a concerted police and governmental effort. Tied as it appears to be to the drugs and gambling world, I realise how naive my wish is.
  4. Animal welfare offences (abuse and neglect) being punished harshly, pushing these two risk factors a little further down the equation.
  5. Breaks in dog etiquette being treated as endangerment (they are): this includes, but is not limited to, off-leash dogs outside of the designated areas.
  6. Clear and enforced confinement laws (e.g. minimum fence heights, leash, muzzle) for individual dogs of concern. Concerns can be raised anonymously by members of the local community into the central database that is being worked on right now.

Between now and 2018, the best you can do is continue to be a great embassador for your breed and try to keep cool despite the rising pressure.

References

Additional bibliography

Illustrations

Posted in Dogs and society | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Responses

Dogs: a look at pro- and anti-harness claims

Blog post taking a practical look at pro- and anti-harness claims

Article by Canis bonus. July 2017. Author: Laure-Anne Visele.
Illustration credits at the end of the post.

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

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

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

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

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

Harness zombies

Ever had an Apple/Mac zombie trying to suck your brains out to get you out of using Microsoft? The dog world is just as susceptible to product loyalties. Harness fans can be as fiercely anti-collar. Show a picture of your dog with a collar in some circles and you’ll get reported to Animal Protection.

So how much is the harness thing a fad and how much of it is serious? Here’s a sceptical look at the anti- and pro-harness wars.

The rise of the Apple zombies

This post is NOT a comparative review of specific brand models (you can find that here), a guide on getting your dog used to it (you can find that here) or fitting instructions (follow manufacturer’s guidelines).

Anti-harnesses claim: they encourage pulling through comfort

The theory: The collar can dig into the dog’s neck when the dog pulls hard, which feels unpleasant/painful. This could in theory discourage from leash pulling.

The reality: This is true for moderate leash pullers. Extreme pullers will pull to the point of choking, seemingly oblivious of the pain. Even leash jerks don’t deter them. Never mind self-inflicted choking.

Anti-harnesses claim: they encourage pulling through gravity

The theory: From a physics perspective, there is some truth to the claim. With (some) harnesses, the dog needs to work less hard to pull just as hard because the leash is attached lower, closer to their centre of gravity (the harness is clipped on the dog’s back, so (slightly) lower than the neck).

The reality: I am curious about how much (or how little) difference we’re talking here. From experience, I suspect this is a minor, imperceptible theoretical difference. Any physicists out there to quantify this?

Clear not all that deterred by the collar

I personally feel more control of the dog the more contact points I have with his body (so I am holding his back, abdomen and shoulders and not just his neck).

This, and the fact that no-pull harnesses also come with front-clip attachment, thus losing the position/lower centre of gravity argument.

Pro-harness claim: collars are a health hazard

The theory: You will have seen the Facebook memes (that great way of getting accurate information…) claiming that collars can collapse your dog’s trachea and damage his thyroid.

The reality: These claims are over-stated to say the least. Before the harness fashion, just how many dogs do you think vet clinics saw for hypothyroidy and collapsed tracheas? I asked my colleagues at the clinic and the answer is and was extremely few. Sure if you’re going to jerk violently on your dog’s collar – or kicking him in the throat, which I consider as barbaric – you might cause some damage.

Animal abuse is a far cry from the normal use of a collar. Even extremely avid pullers don’t come in for hypothyroidy (an extremely rare condition that has become one of the poster children of pseudoscience, with clients going to vet after vet until they get a positive diagnosis) or a collapsed trachea.

So do I need a harness?

Humane: My motto is LIMA: Least Invasive Method Available. If you choose your harness responsibly and get your dog acclimated to it, I consider the harness more humane than the collar for avid leash pullers.

Effective? Is it more effective at deterring pulling? I would say a little less than collars – emphasis on ‘a little.’ But I would also say that you will not solve pulling on the lead primarily relying on tools. Even prong and choke collars aren’t all that effective at deterring pulling, never mind your standard flat collar.

Combi-approach: a collar and a harness

Name tags: My dog has a collar which always stays on. It’s a thin band with his name tag/chip number/etc. on. When we’re on a walk, the leash is clipped to his harness.

Loose leash walking: We teach loose leash walking by playing the green-light/red-light game with dogs: when you pull on the leash, I’ll stop abruptly. When you stop pulling, I’ll walk again. This only works with saints who are never late for work, never walk whilst chatting to a friend or never have a bus to catch. Result? Dogs for whom pulling on the leash works sometimes (human walks along) and sometimes not.

 

My dog wearing his name tag collar

Solution? Go out with the dog wearing a harness and a collar. Then tell the dog the rules of the game. When the leash is on the collar, I might sometimes go along when you pull. When it’s on the harness, we are definitely playing red-light/green-light. Result? Dogs who learn a consistent rule quickly, and pull way less/not at all when on the harness.

Growing pups: I’d say don’t invest in your dog’s permanent harness before he’s fully grown. If your dog doesn’t pull that much, you have my blessing to keep using a collar (I’ll obviously be a downside less happy if you pick a choke or prong one) until he’s fully grown.

Basic features of a dog harness

At the very least, I want the dog harness to have these features:

  1. Padded linings and reasonable broad bands wherever the harness touches the dog. Nothing that will chafe or cut into the dog.
  2. Leaving the throat area free of pressure – otherwise, you might as well have a collar right? Think a deep ‘cleavage’ for the V-neck harnesses.
  3. A belly band going nowhere near the dog’s armpits, preventing chafing
  4. Steer clear of tightening harnesses that might pull into the dog’s rib or armpit area when the dog pulls. The whole point of harnesses is that they are humane. Getting a tightening harness would defeat the point somewhat, wouldn’t you agree?
  5. Reliable and solid: Get a harness made of solid material with tight stitches and solid clips.

Your ideas and comments

Are you pro- or anti-harness? Do you feel strongly one way or another?

What’s been your real-life experience with the collar/harness difference?

Illustration credits

Posted in Dog equipment | Tagged , , | 2 Responses

Dogs also die of heat in Dutch cars and not just in the Summer

Blog post about the dangers of rising temperatures for your dog, even in The Netherlands. May 2017
Article by Laure-Anne Visele. References and picture credits at the end of the post.

About author: certified dog trainer and applied behaviourist in The Hague

IMG_6639

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

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

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

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

Bouvier dog dies of a heat stroke in Limburg

It’s happened again: yesterday, in Limburg (Netherlands), a Bouvier dog died of heat after being left in the car. Before you judge, bear in mind the assumptions the owner must have had: It doesn’t happen in the Netherlands and surely it doesn’t happen in the spring.

Wrong and wrong.

Here’s another assumption a friend of mine made, with heart-breaking circumstances. His dog, a large Rottweiler cross, loved napping in the back of my friend’s van. The van was in the garage (not even exposed to the sun) and the dog had complete autonomy of movement. The dog chose to nap there. During one of the hottest days of the year, two years ago, my dog found his dog dead in the back of the van.

Don’t make the same assumptions this dog owner did

Here are more assumptions I’d like to challenge. Surely the dog can’t overheat if…

  1. It’s just 20C outside, right? (wrong, the car turns into an inferno scarily quickly)
  2. I leave the windows open, right? (wrong, this barely makes a difference at all)
  3. I don’t make him exercise, he chooses to (wrong, some are so motivated to run that they will literally run themselves to death)
  4. I leave the air conditioning on, right? (wrong, the car can have a safety mechanism that switches it off when over-heated)
  5. I park the car in the shade, right? (wrong, it just happens a few minutes slower)
  6. I leave water for the dog, right? (wrong)
  7. I make sure of all of the above.  (wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security)

How quickly does the temperature rise in the car?

I made this graphic based on numbers released by AVMA. Bear in mind there some variables can affect this estimate, and they are a rule of thumb to give you an idea of how scarily fast the temperature inside a parked car can hike up.

The numbers are pretty scary: starting with an outside temperature as low as 21 degrees, the car’s temperature can rise up to over 30 degrees in about 15 minutes, and nearly 40 degrees (fatal for many dogs after a few minutes) after just over half an hour. Starting at an outside temp of 25 degrees, the car can reach 40 degrees (fatal for dogs in a matter of minutes) in about a quarter of an hour. On a hot day, say, 29 degrees, the fatal 40 degrees can be reached in a matter of minutes.

 

What to do if you spot a dog alone in a parked car on a warm day?

Call the police directly unless you can directly track the owner. Do not wait a few minutes as this can be fatal. You will look like an alarmist do-gooding drama-queen and the owner won’t thank you for it but a dog’s life is at risk. If you track the owner and they appear unconcerned and unrepentant, call the animal protection agency (call 144 in The Netherlands) so they can investigate whether the dog in chronically neglected and endangered.

What to do to avoid heat strokes in dogs

  • Do not leave your dog in the car, not even for five minutes, in temperatures above 17-18 degrees. If you must do it, then have someone staying behind in the car so they can leave the car if need be. You could leave the dog at home or adapt your plans and ask the dog be let inside when at all possible.
  • Be particularly mindful of short-nosed dogs like Boxers and pugs, and of dogs who are not in top form like elderly dogs or dogs with a known heart condition.
  • Be sure to get your dog to drink much more than usual on hotter days. You could drop some of your dog’s kibble in his water if he appears uninterested.
  • Do not allow your dog to run himself to death. Very motivated dogs will not listen to their body, high as they are on the joy of exercising. Enforce regular breaks and do not allow strenuous exercises.
  • Reduce the duration of your walks and go for more frequent, shorter walks. Pick less sunny times of day like the morning and early evening.
  • Let your dog walk predominantly on grass on hot days, as the asphalt quickly gets muuuuch hotter than the ambient air temperature. You could even consider protective dog boots, but be sure it still allows the dog to sweat through the sole of its feet, and be sure to condition the dog to them first.
  • Avoid fully exposed, sunny areas and pick a walk in the forest instead, where the dog will find more shade.
  • You could also try a cooling vest and cooling mat for the hottest moments of the day.
  • You could freeze your dog’s regular food in a food-dispensing toy like a Kong, and give your dog his frozen breakfast/lunch/dinner to lick out of the Kong.
  • You could drop some ice cubes in your dog’s water bowl.
  • If your dog enjoys swimming, replace your dog’s bout of running or frisbee with a cool dip at the local pond or river. Of course, dangerous pathogens like blue algae flourish in hot temperatures, so be sure to check the quality of the water first.

Illustration credits

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