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.

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Case study: French bulldog with noise phobia

Blog post by dog behaviourist Laure-Anne Visele, The Hague: case study on dog-dog aggression due to frustrated greeting.
Privacy: Essential details have been changed in the story, to avoid the owners being recognized. The details and photo were shared with explicit permission from the owners. [shared with explicit owner permission]
Written in: July 2018.
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.

Dog behaviour problem: background diagnosis

Meet Mr. X. He is a 14-months-old French bulldog I’ve recently seen in behaviour therapy. He was referred to me by a veterinary clinic for his pervasive fears.

French bulldog

Upon closer questioning, it turns out he does not have a fear problem in the broad sense of the term. He is actually bombproof about everything. Everything except for, well, bombs.

He panics at sudden sounds: a mug falling on the floor, a passing car, a moped back-firing.

He doesn’t just startle, he really panics. We’re talking crawling or running to the nearest hiding place, cherry eyes, shrieking. If you try to restrain him in these moments, he’ll frantically try to escape, come what may.

The issue is that it is affecting his walks as he’ll need time to settle after a scare and there aren’t enough noise-free moments in the city for him to recover. This is what gives him the presentation of an agoraphobic or generalized anxiety patient.

His owners want to first give med-free behaviour therapy a try before considering a vet behaviourist route.

Dog behaviour problem: etiology (causal factors)

Many factors have contributed to the problem:

  1. Genetics: his mother suffers from the same condition
  2. The dog appears to be more prone, more sensitive, after being overstimulated (e.g. market day)
  3. A few months back, the problem dramatically worsened after someone threw fireworks at the dog!
  4. Chronic ear infections: the pain and discomfort alone can decrease a dog’s irritability and fear threshold and put the dog in a state of chronic stress, but it may be something mechanical is at play too. Some ear infections lead to an over-sensitivity to sound.

Dog behaviour advice

  1. Desensitisation and counterconditioning (D&C) protocol to sudden sounds, with specific instructions on how to make the later stages as realistic as possible (see Punk your dog).
  2. Take him in the car (he loves the car) to the woods, rather than walking there via busy streets.
  3. Cognitive feeding: because this calms every dog down (a bit) on every level, it is fun, and it costs nothing
  4. Avoid above-threshold noise exposures as much as possible, and compensate each unfortunate exposure with 10 D&C moments.

Dog behaviour prognosis

I demonstrated the exercises and left detailed handouts behind and asked them to try this for six weeks, then see me again for a re-evaluation. If the dog is not making suitable progress, then I will refer to the veterinary behaviourist.

Photo credits

Photo: Canis bonus

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Case study: dog-dog aggression through frustrated greeting

Blog post by dog behaviourist Laure-Anne Visele, The Hague: case study on dog-dog aggression due to frustrated greeting.
Privacy: Essential details have been changed in the story, to avoid the owners being recognized. The details and photo were shared with explicit permission from the owners.
Written in: July 2018.
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.

Dog behaviour problem: background diagnosis

Check out this beautiful girl! She is a 14-months-old Labrador-Border Collie mix I’ve recently seen in behaviour therapy.

She is incredibly sociable to people; strangers and family alike. In fact, she was so happy to see me, a total stranger, that she immediately wriggled close to me for a cuddle and happily offered me her ball to play within two seconds of meeting me.

Her biggest problem is “frustrated greeting”: lunging on the leash when she sees another dog. She isn’t the most subtle social partner on a doggie playdate off the leash either. She is touchy, overbearing and rough. This had become an issue recently.

Thankfully, she hadn’t ever caused damage to the other dog and her aggressive bouts had stayed in the realm of: Big show of teeth, zero damage.

Dog behaviour problem: etiology (causal factors)

Many factors have contributed to the problem:

  1. A (very) excitable temperament
  2. Systematically being interrupted when trying starting lick other dog’s scent on the ground into her vomeronasal organ (the bit of the dog’s palate responsible for processing pheromones)
  3. A generally low tolerance to frustration
  4. Reaching social maturity (aaaah, adolescence)
  5. Inabity to thoroughly socialize with other dogs during her sensitive puppy period (she got Leptospirosis 😮 and barely survived: the breeder hadn’t had her vaccinated!!!)

Dog behaviour advice

  1. Organise lots of playdates with dogs with whom she gets on, to refine her social skills.
  2. Never allow onleash greetings, to break the cycle of hope-disappointment when she spots another dog (and commonsense safety advice).
  3. A derivative of the BAT training protocol, to teach her to pass onleash dogs gracefully and calmly.
  4. Frustration training games at home, to improve her impulse control and gradually increase her tolerance to frustration.
  5. Cognitive feeding instead of ‘freeloading’, to tire her out and mentally stimulate her.
  6. Let – her – sniff the world on a walk, to decrease the countless unnecessary frustration moments she endures on a walk.

Dog behaviour prognosis

I demonstrated the exercises, left detailed handouts behind. The family seemed on board and understood the reasoning behind the advice.

Let’s see what a few weeks of this brings us!

Photo credits

Photo: Courtesy of Richard Wagenaar, photographer.

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Scaredy dogs: the two fear periods

Blog post by dog behaviourist Laure-Anne Visele, The Hague, explaining dogs’ two fear periods.
Privacy: Essential details have been changed in the story, to avoid the owners being recognized
Written in: June 2018.
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.

Call the 911: it’s a wheelie bin!

Spot, a 4 months old Border Collie cross, had never been scared of anything. He loved everything and everyone. In fact, he was driving me, his puppy class instructor, to desperation as he was so unflappable he didn’t even notice the mildly ‘stressful’ situations we were teaching him to cope with.

Still, I wasn’t surprised when his owner, Wendy called to say that she thought Spot might have a behaviour disorder. Spot was such a perfect dog that we could see Wendy was getting a little complacent on socialisation and habituation exercises. We didn’t seem to get through when we were telling her: He loves the vet now, we believe you. And that is precisely why now is the best time to take him to the vet’s for great experiences, again and again. He’ll change a lot come adolescence and then you’ll be thankful you gave him a ton of positive experiences at the vet’s to buffer for what’s to come.

Fast forward to a 4 months old Spot and, not only had he become petrified of the vet’s (and started growling at the vet staff, to Wendy’s embarrassment), but he suddenly started to balk at objects he’d seen all his life, like the wheelie bins on the street corner. He used to be crazy about Tom-the-neighbour and now, Spot acts like he’s a serial killer.

Whatever had happened to Mr. Unflappable?… His second fear period.

Dogs’ fear periods: what’s the point of them?

Dogs are, like us and most mammals, an altricial species. That means that their parents – at least their mom, in the case of dogs – take care of them after birth and don’t leave them to their own devices.

Just after birth, canine – and human – puppies leave the job of danger detection to the parent in charge. Ever noticed how babies aren’t scared of heights or fire? They’re more likely to see a lion as a fluffy stuffed toy than a predator. It’s the same with dogs. As they explore further and further from the litter, though, they need to start getting a sense of danger. Don’t do that, and you’ll be fluffy lion’s next lunch.

As a general rule, the more independent they get, the more cautious they become about the unfamiliar. There are two phases of a dog’s life during which fear gets a boost. During these periods, one half-nasty startle can be enough to create a lifelong phobia.

Dogs’ fear periods: when are they?

These two phases correspond to boosts in independence from their caregiver.

  1. Between approximately 8 and approximately 11 weeks,
  2. At repeat intervals, between 4 and… 18 months! That second fear phase is not continuous, thankfully.

Dogs’ fear periods: what can I do?

The best you can do is:

  • Keep up with gentle socialisation (don’t push them in at the deep end) and
  • If you notice that your dog has already developed a problem towards something specific (like Spot and the wheelie bins), then try OhMyDog!’s (dog training school in The Hague) Make me brave protocol.

Interested in the nerdy details behind a puppy’s developmental periods? Read on.

Dog’s developmental periods: the complete details

  1. Neonatal period, 0 to 2 weeks: From the age of 0 to 2 weeks, they can’t move much anyways. They can’t see and they can barely wriggle. Absolute zero sense of danger. Tip for predators: if you want yourself an easy meal, now’s the time.
  2. Transitional period, 2 to 3-4 weeks: Their eyes open and they take their first steps. It’s the start of that oh-so-cute clumsy puppy walk. Still not much of a fear response. Top tip for predators: still an easy lunch, and a little bit fatter than last week.
  3. Socialisation period, 3-4 to 12-15 weeks
    1. Primary socialisation period: 3-4 to 5-7 weeks

      1. Awareness begins, 21-22 days: They become aware of their non-social environment. They take in the sights, feels, scents and sounds around them: the surfaces they walk on, and the household sounds they hear. Still no fear. Whatever you expose them to now will start to be classified as normal and safe stuff. Now’s the time to slowly introduce new textures and sounds into their environment. Beware though: no sudden change of environment right now. This could be hugely detrimental.
      2. Socialisation to other dogs, 3-5 weeks: They start interacting more consciously with their litter mates and mother, and imprint dogs as co-specifics: they learn that dogs are social companions, neither predator nor prey.
        1. They learn impulse and bite control from their mom who has started to chastise them if they hurt her with their needle-sharp teeth.
        2. They practice the whole shebang of canine social interactions through play with their litter mates.
        3. They (start to) learn to eliminate far from sleeping quarters
      3. 5-7 weeks = curiosity period. Pups are extremely curious and appear scared of nothing. “Hello, lion! Can I play with your mane?”
        1. Around 4-8 weeks, the mother weans the puppies. This is instrumental in teaching puppies to cope with frustration.
      4. Secondary socialisation period: 7-8 to 12-15 weeks
        1. This is the period where they learn that humans are also social partners.
          1. This period is considered the golden period of socialisation. This is the period that we want to cash in on to expose the dog to as many situations as possible, so he becomes bombproof later in life. Beware, though: do not overwhelm the pup in the name of socialisation: this achieves the exact opposite effect. Why is it a golden period? Because it corresponds with a peak in learning abilities. Learning = associating situations, people and objects with an appropriate emotional response. In other words, the pup is a sponge at this age and whatever he repeatedly encounters that is not scary or painful is getting stored as a safe situation in his long-term circuitry. Want him to trust the vet’s? Strangers? Kids? Wheelchairs? People with hats? Loud passing trams? Public transport? Car travel? Get on the road already!
          2. Socialisation-wise, 8-10 weeks is a good age to rehome the puppies to their permanent home. If you have a choice, privilege leaving the pup until 10-11 weeks with his mother and littermates, though. This is to do with the fear imprint period (see below) and teaching him impulse control. If you choose for this option, be sure that the breeder is serious in his or her socialisation efforts.
        2. The fear imprint period, 8 to 11 weeks: Because they are learning so fast and so profoundly, a traumatic encounter at this stage can have life-long repercussions. So do not push them in at the deep end, or you’ll be paying for it the rest of the dog’s life. This means:
          1. Avoid long and potentially traumatic trips – so much for the truckloads of Romanian puppies.
          2. Postpone any non urgent surgery or medical procedure.
        3. The ranking period, From about 10 weeks to 4 months: This is where they learn to stand up for themselves and try their paws at conflict resolution. They are no longer the pliable, happy-go-lucky puppy towards their littermates as they learn to become more willful. The puppy is trying to carve a spot for himself in the world.
  4. Juvenile and adolescent period, 4 to 13-18 months: This is when your pup is starting to become a grown up (socially speaking. For some breeds, there’s still plenty of physical growing to be done).
    1. The ranking period continues (during his 4th month): This time, his pig-headedness is towards you. At that stage, it can feel like they have carrots in their ears as your previously compliant puppy suddenly seems deaf to your requests. The best you can do is keep your cool and stay consistent. “Sure, puppy, you can whinge and whine, but I am NOT opening that door until you sit quietly. I have all day.”
    2. The flight instinct period (4 to 8 months): This is when a pup becomes drunk on freedom. A pup with a previously perfect recall suddenly takes off to explore the world and comes back when he damned well pleases. This is when, for some dogs, it is advised to re-start working on the recall, but with a long leash this time. He might also start chewing a lot more so give him plenty of legitimate outlets or your furniture might take a beating.
    3. The second fear period (6 to 14-18 months): This is not so much one continuous period as a series of short periods popping up once in a while. This is when you might start seeing territoriality rear its ugly head (stranger = very much danger in the dog’s mind, particularly on his home turf).

It can get really confusing as some of these are milestones and others are periods, and there are sub-phases that span over two periods. To make things worse, the start and end of these periods are approximations, particularly at the later end of the spectrum (with, in general, larger breeds being later bloomers). Here is my attempt at simplifying it by presenting it visually:

 

Illustration credits

  • Wheelie bins: By blue budgie, downloaded from Pixabay. License: CC0 (no modifications made).
  • Developmental periods chart: By Laure-Anne Visele, 8 June 2018. All rights reserved.
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Dog fear: sensitisation and reactivity thresholds

Blog post by dog behaviourist Laure-Anne Visele, The Hague, explaining sensitisation and reactivity thresholds.

Privacy: Essential details have been changed in the story, to avoid the owners being recognized
Written in: June 2018.
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.

Scared dog: push him in at the deep end?

I had the most touching Chihuahua appointment the other week. Three months ago, Cindy and Eddy had rescue Little Sam from terrible neglect: he’d lived in a backyard the first five years of his life! He was five years old by the time he started to get a life. And it wasn’t much of a life as he was scared of everything except for Cindy (his – female – owner).

From day one, he crawled up to Cindy’s neck, and stayed glued there every chance he got. Cindy’s neck had become his only safe haven.

He was scared of everything: cars, passersby, noises and, particularly strongly, men. He was even scared of Eddy, and would scamper each time Eddy even moved. Not exactly practical, considering Eddy spent most of his time with the dog whilst Cindy worked.

Cindy and Eddy got advice from the man-on-the-street (who’s had dogs for 25 years, you understand): force Sam to face his fear and he’ll get used to it. The result was the thoroughly traumatised dog I saw the other day.

So what was wrong with this approach?

When a dog is too scared to ‘get used to it’

The reason Average Joe’s dog does eventually get used to things, and not Little Sam, is that Sam is faaaar too far gone. His fear is way too strong for forced exposure to do him any good.

He considers Eddy to be a mortal danger. No way is he going to think back to the countless times he ‘survived’ Eddy without a scratch and conclude it wasn’t so bad. He is more likely to chalk it down to another lucky escape.

Imagine that you’re scared of spiders and that your mom, in her infinite wisdom, tosses a bunch of spiders in your bed every night so you can ‘get used to them’. In all likelihood, your arachnophobia would get much worse AND you would also start being scared of your bed sheets and the sound of steps on the stairs. Worst of all, you’d also start distrusting your mom.

Fearful dogs: avoidance is best at first

Most dogs do get used to something they’re not too crazy about after they experience it a lot. But this only works with mild stresses, not with a full-blown fear.

What we do for phobic dogs is avoid any exposure to the stressor for a few weeks if we can. That can be tricky, as most of us don’t live in a lab and Eddy wasn’t inclined to go live in the caravan for a few weeks – as I’d even (jokingly) suggested during the consult.

The trick then, was about keeping Little Sam ‘below threshold’ in Eddy’s presence. The dog isn’t scared of Eddy. He is scared of Eddy approaching him, facing him, bending over him, cornering him, etc. So we listed all of Eddy’s actions that the dog was scared of, and found management solutions to avoid exposing the dog to them.

A scared dog: two thresholds

A fear will get worse not only under (1) the reactivity threshold (the dog has an overt reaction to the trigger, like scampering, barking or biting); but also under  the (2) sensitivity threshold (the dog finds the situation unpleasant enough that he stores it as negative for future reference. Result? The dog is primed to react negatively at the next exposure).

To stop the downward spiral of fear, not only did Eddy need to avoid situations which led the dog to an outright panic, but also situations that led him to sensitize.

The sweet spot is a level of exposure at which the dog WILL get used to it. It is the intensity zone at which the dog notices, but does not mind (with thanks to Temple Grandin for this pithy turn of phrase).

We do want the dog to see Eddy – there is little point in distracting him all the time, or avoiding the situation forever – but we want him to do so at such a distance or intensity that he doesn’t re-classifies the exposure as neutral, if not downright positive.

We tested Little Sam’s reaction and made a list of Eddy’s movements and actions that triggered a flight reaction (reactivity threshold breach) and even the ones that triggered a stress reaction (sensitivity threshold).

A dog drowning in fear

If you want to visualize it, check out Grisha Stewart’s Stress and Support Scale (cannot be shared on this post for copyright reasons). Her analogy is brilliant.

  • Green zone: The dog is on the beach: the dog does not notice the normally fear-eliciting trigger, or
  • Blue zone: The dog’s toes are in the water: he notices, but does not mind.
  • Brown & orange zone: The dog is treading deeper waters, but his head is still out of the water. It becomes hard to get through to the dog, and the dog does not appear capable of processing information clearly and calmly. The dog is hypervigilant.
  • Red zone: The dog is ‘drowning’. He is frantically trying to get out of the situation, come what may. This could involve flight or fight attempts.

Anything from the brown zone and beyond, and you are breaching the sensitivity threshold (making it worse with each exposure).

Anything from the red zone onward, and you are breaching the reactivity threshold (the dog is barking, lunging, scampering, etc.).

What if Eddy tried to give food to the dog?

This idea is akin to a technique we call counter-conditioning (giving the dog food in a situation he hates, in the hope of changing the dog’s mind about the situation).

Eddy had tried this a lot.

Result? The dog would get so freaked out by Eddy just bending over, that he’d hide under the cupboard for hours afterwards.

Even if Little Sam was a foodie, he would only (occasionally) accept food from Eddy whilst stretching himself as much as possible, ready to flee at Eddy’s slightest movement. This sort of hypervigilant experience is not helping the dog get used to it. He is still right in the sensitisation zone, and such exposures are liable to make the fear worse, not better.

What now?

After a few days of just this – no training, no fancy protocol, nothing. Just avoidance – the owners have got back to me to confirm that the dog is getting bolder and bolder every day!

Of course it won’t be enough to entirely fix this issue, and we will probably need some further behaviour therapy, but at least the dog has stopped getting worse. We have broken the vicious cycle of sensitisation.

Illustration credits

Posted in Dog behaviour | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

Dog training: classical versus operant conditio-what now?

Blog post by dog behaviourist Laure-Anne Visele, The Hague, cracking the old chestnut of operant versus classical conditioning and why it matters.
Written in: June 2018.
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.

Certified dog trainer

I was preparing one of my trainers to take over from a more senior trainer who is leaving the school when it dawned on me that she had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned operant vs. classical conditioning. I was in shock. This was a certified dog trainer I was talking to.

It got me thinking. Is it really that important or was I being a science snob? It turns out it really really really (really really) is important – which doesn’t take away from the fact that I can be a huge pedant. How common is this confusion among dog trainers? It turns out it is really really really (really really) common.

Classical versus operant conditioning: an explanation

So what’s it about, then?

Conditioning = the science of how animals (from sea slugs to us, via dogs) learn. And learning is about making connections.

Classical conditioning is about unconscious, reflex-like connections. A dog who has learnt that:

  • The doorbell predicts visitors.
  • The opening of his tin of food predicts he’s about to be fed.
  • The jingling of the leash predicts he’s about to go for a walk.

Classical conditioning can get devilishly complicated, with the laws governing fear desensitisation/sensitisation, habituation, etc.

Ivan Pavlov

Classical conditioning is often called Pavlovian conditioning, after Pavlov’s discovery and experiments on dogs salivating at the sound of a bell that predicted they’d be fed.

Operant conditioning is about doing something, performing a behaviour, o.p.e.r.a.t.i.n.g. (see what I did there? operant – operating), to get to a desired outcome (or to avoid an unpleasant outcome). A dog who has learnt that:

  • Barking at you (operation) gets you to throw the ball (outcome).
  • Sitting when you ask him (operation) to gets him a food reward (outcome).
  • Walking (operation) into the examination room at the vet’s gets him pain (outcome).

Thorndike was a pioneer in operant conditioning, but B.F. Skinner is the flagbearer.

B.F. Skinner

Operant conditioning too can get tricky when you fall down the rabbit hole: reward ratios, extinction bursts, the quadrants (positive/negative punishment/reward), etc.

Why it matters so much in dog training?

It matters enormously, as it turns out. Here are some examples.

  • I have to know whether a problem is primarily emotionally motivated (e.g. fear). It makes no sense to hammer on trying to teach the dog a particular behaviour like sitting quietly (operant conditioning) if he is primarily motivated by fear (classical conditioning).
    • When to implement operant counterconditioning: My dog jumps on guests because he gets attention when he does. I am going to make sure he gets ZERO attention when he jumps, and a truckload when his feet are on the ground.
    • When to implement classical counterconditioning: My dog hates the vet’s office because it predicts pain. I am going to take him there a gazillion times and shower him with cookies there, without a trace of discomfort.
  • It helps you understand why you can’t ‘reward fear’. You are often advised against reassuring a scared dog because it would ‘reward its fear’. This makes no sense at all once you understand Classical vs. Operant. You can’t reward a classically formed association. Here‘s why.
  • It helps you understand the clicker (or clicker word), and how to make it effective. The clicker is a sound you make to tell the dog ‘That’s it, mate! That’s what I wanted! Here’s your reward’. You have to first classically condition the dog to the fact that the clicker sound predicts food, and then you can use it in operant conditioning, to tell the dog which behaviour (operation!) is the one yielding the reward.

Down the rabbit hole

But do you know what? I am a huge science snob and that stuff is fascinating and fundamental for its own sake. That’s why I’ve prepared a little reading list for you to go down the rabbit hole. Enjoy getting lost in the fascinating world of learning theory!

References: down the rabbit hole

Illustration credits

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

Why I want behaviour therapy to become a regulated profession

Blog post by dog behaviourist Laure-Anne Visele, The Hague, sharing the harms of unqualified dog behaviour advice
Written in: June 2018.
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.

Why I want to see dog behaviour therapy become a regulated profession

It happened again: yet another unnecessarily traumatised dog

It happened again recently. I had a consult with a dog who got unnecessarily traumatised by old-fashioned methods and old wives’ tales instead of a serious treatment plan.

This dog, a street dog in the middle of his fear period, showed extreme fear from day 1 (months ago) and hasn’t much improved since, on the contrary. So much so that, with every small noise he hears in the apartment, he starts barking uncontrollably, that he can barely walk a few meters before ‘putting on the breaks’ and refusing to walk further, that he sooner crawls than walks, and that he’d rather spend time hidden away in a corner than discover the world. This has been going on for months.

This dog’s owner got these gems of advice in her search for help:

“Go to the dog training school”, they said, a choke collar will help

He was advised to go to the training school where they proceeded to press a choke collar in his hand and get him to teach the dog ‘sit’ and ‘down’.

Why that’s not the brightest idea in the book?

What does obedience have to do with fear? And how exactly will a choke collar help relieve fear?

Force the dog to confront his fear

When the a trainer took on the case 1-on-1, he advised him to force the dog to keep walking, and to actually look for problem situations to put him in. This because: “That’s how they treat agoraphobia in other countries.” The dog would “get used to it” this way.

Why that’s not the brightest idea in the book?

“Flooding”, as it’s called, can lead to even more trauma. And sure enough, the dog is now becoming fearful of his owner on top of his other issues.

The self-proclaimed therapist: snake oil, leash jerks and client-blaming

A self-proclaimed specialist, who later turned out to base their methods on a famous TV trainer’s.

a- Advised Bach flower remedies.

b- Advise the owner to ‘communicate with the leash instead of with your voice’ (upon further questioning, this turned out to be just leash jerking)

c- (When this, predictably, didn’t work) Blame the client because “not everyone has what it takes to rehabilitate a dog”

Why that’s not the brightest idea in the book?

a- As far as I can work out, expensive water hasn’t ever helped with pathological fear case, but maybe that’s just me?

c- Leash jerking would, if anything, lead to not only irritation (at best), but also fear. And, worse of all, to a further loss of trust in the person doing the leash jerking. Not exactly indicated for a dog suffering from crippling fear issues.

c- Without carefully prescribed psychopharma, no one would have been able to rehabilitate that dog. And what good can come out of blaming the client? If the client hadn’t cared enough about the dog, they wouldn’t have come to seek your (expensive) advice, right?

The man on the street: go to a pack walk

Pack walks are all the rage at the moment. Whilst they can really help with some behaviour conditions, they are most certainly woefully insufficient as the only treatment tool and they can make things much worse if the dog is stressed and fearful during the said walks.

Leave behaviour therapy to specialists

Sometimes, you have to call a cat a cat. Sometimes, a behaviour problem is a downright pathology, and it needs to be treated by qualified specialists.

What we’re going to do for the dog in question? I am advising a psychopharmacological treatment immediately (after the necessary blood works has been performed), to give the client and the dog a much needed respite from constant stress and fear. The client’s only assignment between now and when the medication starts to take hold is to do nothing except have fun with his dog, and avoid all stress and fear situations.

The ins and outs of psychopharma have now been discussed between myself and the veterinarian, because I know the limits of my professional competencies.

Illustration credits

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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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