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


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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