Luisteren is leuk (Happy Handling)

van Weperen - LuisterenPUBLISHING YEAR: 2014

SUMMARY: Dog training guide using state-of-the-art techniques that are human- and dog-friendly.

AUDIENCE: The book was intended for enthusiastic dog owners and trainers. It has the scope and specificity to add value to any professional looking to revamp his training school curriculum.

02 Professional


Jolein van Weperen is one of the Netherlands’ most vocal representatives of the force-free and science-based dog training movement. As these happen to be my values too, I noted many parallels between her methods (Jolein runs de Laar in Arnhem) and ours (I co-run OhMyDog! in The Hague).

The list ran long:

  • The positive interrupter
  • The release word
  • Awareness of the client’s body language
  • Redirecting and preventing unwanted behaviour
  • Preparing for distractions
  • Debunking the dominance myth
  • etc.

The describes the protocols she has perfected over the years, based on years of experience and, evidently, a lot of reading. Like us, she squeezes the best out of modern methods (BAT, mat settling, Look-at-That, clicker-less clickering, and capturing) into powerful bite-size exercises for the layman.

To leave you with an idea of the author’s vision: you can view one of her videos or read my interview.

Style and structure

The book is written like a manual, so don’t be expecting a lofty literary journey. Still, it was pleasant to read with a clear structure and breathing space between paragraphs. I particularly liked the original font and illustrations. They also adapted the company logo (half-sketched drawing of a dog) to illustrate the exercises.

The structure was laid out with a bunch of exercises, each with their raison d’etre, detailed instructions, and a troubleshooting section. Some exercises also had additional pointers for professional dog trainers.

With her no-frill style, she packed an entire school curriculum into 82 pages without sacrificing clarity.

Some interesting angles

I loved the school’s pro-active approach to reactivity or resource guarding. Instead of being caught by surprise, she teaches her students to handle these problems preventatively.

Her vision strongly focused on an engaged dog, and she explains the steps to get there. It will require pet parents to go through a bit of “meta-training” before they teach their dog the concrete stuff.

She favours capturing (catching the dog in the act of doing something you want, then giving it a name) and targetting (e.g. pointing your finger for your dog to touch) over food lures (getting the proverbial donkey to follow the carrot). This sets them (and us!) apart. She also goes beyond the caricatural misconception of “just-ignore-bad-behaviour” and explicitly teaches owners to respond to attention-seeking and self-rewarding behaviour differently (ignore, and avoid/redirect respectively).

There was a couple of nice tips for the pros, like attaching the tug toy to a string and having it do jerky motions on the ground to entice unflappable toy ignorers.

Some gems

She formulated classic ideas in a way really drive the point home to the layman. Some were so good that we are going to quote her in future theory seminars. Here are some examples:

  • “The self-control of your dog depends on your own self-control.”
  • “Selfishness is the motivation behind nearly every behaviour”
  • “Each time you repeat a command, put a euro in a jam jar”
  • (about the ‘watch me’ exercise) “If your dog is not looking at you, see it as feedback from your dog

Potential improvement

Because there is always room for improvement in life, these are my suggestions for future editions:

  • Whilst the book advocates evidence-based training, it does not offer any citations. A reference to Bradshaw et al’s review article on dominance would have lent more weight to the paragraph on the pack theory, for example. I would have also loved to see references systematically pointing to the original work where (parts of) a particular technique was used (e.g. Grisha Stewart’s BAT, Patricia McConnell’s LAT, etc.).
  • The idealistic method may scare away the less dedicated pet owners. Average Joe doesn’t give his dog’s education that much thought. Science-based dog training can be a tough sell and sacrificing perfection and giving our clients a less perfect but still acceptable plan B can help keep them on-board. Experience tells me that Average Joe may have the reactions below from reading the book. I know the answer, but sometimes a compelling and rational argument just isn’t enough:
    • “Drive to another place just so my dog never pulls on the leash?! Sounds like hard work”
    • “I have to rush from work, stuff some food down my kids’ throats, gather up my dog training stuff and drive to the school. The last thing I need is to have to pack up three different types of food for the dog”
    • “You want me to systematically desensitize my dog to the harness? Sounds like hard work. I’ll just take the risk that he just doesn’t like it”

And then the really trivial, teeny stuff:

  • I would have loved an illustration with the hand-cue, the reward zone, the tug toy, and the harness.
  • The professional tips sections were marked by asterisks, so I kept looking for end notes. Maybe text boxes will be easier for the reader.
  • Giving out full URLs in the book was impractical. Perhaps it would be best to refer to just one webpage (with a shortened URL), and then keep all the links fresh on that page.
  • It would be great to see the multi-phase exercises split per phase (e.g. positive interrupter, various recalls).


The publication of ‘Luisteren is leuk’ is a milestone in Dutch dog training. The methods are factually sound, ethically responsible, and practically focused. Every Dutch trainer in charge of putting together a dog school curriculum needs to have read it.

With its attempt at making a best-of-breed trainer out of every client, the book occasionally flirts with idealism. But hey, if you need a point of reference to build your curriculum, best you start too perfect than the other way round, right?

An English translation, Happy Handling, is now available in electronic format.

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Author: van Weperen Jolein
Genre: professional manual
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