En toch is het een lieve hond! (And still it’s a good dog)

de meester lieve hondPUBLISHING YEAR: 2013 (posthumously for Rudy de Meester)

SUMMARY: Interviews with owners of dogs with serious behaviour problems. Collaborative work by a vet behaviourist and a historian.

AUDIENCE: If you speak Dutch and have a dog with issues, this one’s for you. And it should be compulsory reading for anyone involved in helping owners with their dog’s behaviour.

02 Professional


Authors: I am favorably biased about this book as both authors have directly influenced my career.

Rudy de Meester was a vet behaviourist and researcher. He was a leading figure in the Dutch movement for an evidence-based and best-practice approach to dog behaviour. He pushed me to follow my postgraduate specialization in animal behaviour – despite my Dutch being appalling at the time. He passed away in 2012 and left a gaping hole behind in the dog world.

Elian Hattinga van ‘t Sant is a trained historian and writes a lot about dog behaviour. She was one of my lecturers – on the history of dominance in research, clinical practice, and training fields. She was also my ‘fake client’ during a practice consult. A thousand client interview manuals couldn’t have replaced her feedback.

Style and contents

Eliane tracks down owners of dogs who have been referred to Rudy for behaviour problems.  The owners share their tales of isolation, fear, guilt, and frustration. Some of the stories end well, some don’t. It shows the length of self-sacrifice people are willing to put themselves through to help their dogs fight their inner demons. The book shows us what canine behaviour pathology looks like day-to-day: from training addiction, hyperactivity to owner-directed aggression. We find out the reality behind the lady whose dog has so little impulse control her friends  have long stopped visiting. We follow this couple who lives behind baby gates for fear the dog will attack them again. We hear of this agility trainer who gets ostracized by the professional community because of her dog’s neurosis.

The book asks the owners about their exhausting and sometimes traumatizing journey. The owners open up about the impatience of trainers, the judgement of friends, the pressure of partners, and misinformed but oh-so-assured public opinion. It also witnesses the constant pull between persevering and giving up, and explores the turmoil of taking the decision to euthanize.

The final chapters were written by Rudy de Meester himself. He explores euthanasia, welfare, psychopharmacology and the profession from an ethical and human perspective.

Pearls of wisdom

The discussions on the ethics of the profession and on psychopharma resonated deeply with me. And here are some random gems from the book:

  • (by owners asked whether they felt guilty about their dog’s behaviour despite all evidence of a pathology) “Yes, even if the vet behaviourist explained the causes to us. Because that’s what everybody kept telling us”
  • (by Rudy de Meester, on the structure panacea) “Sometimes too much structure does as much harm as too little”
  • (by Rudy de Meester, on professional expectations) “I can only make sure that if people do something “wrong”, they do it a little bit less after they’ve seen me”
  • (by Rudy de Meester, on owner expectations) “When people leave and I’ve managed to restore their trust in the dog, they expect the dog will never again do what he was still doing two hours before.”
  • (by Rudy de Meester, on euthanasia) “The last question […] is “Was this day worth living for your dog? Did he enjoy more than he suffered?”

Suggestions for improvement

I loved the idea of interviewing owners and closing up with essays. As it’s the first book of its kind – that I’ve heard of – it’s tough for me to visualize what ideal it has to live up to. So it’s tough to suggest improvements. I guess I have one request: it would be lovely to see an English version.


Reading owners’ testimonies was eye-opening. I might leave clients better informed, more empowered and less guilty but I realize even more now how hard it is for them to put the changes I ask of them in motion. I know this all the better now that I am experiencing the client side of the equation as my own dog is developing disturbing old-age behaviour problems. Leafing through the book again gave me immense comfort.

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Author: de Meester Rudy, Hattinga van 't Sant Elian
Genre: interviews
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