Welcome to Canis BLOGus

Canis BLOGus – Dog blogging

Who am I

My name is Laure-Anne and I am an English-speaking expat dog specialist based in the Hague (the Netherlands).
For a detailed bio, click on About me.

What the blog is about

In a nutshell, this blog tries to spread good science about dogs, and relates tales from life in the Netherlands’ dog world.

I am on a mission: spread fact-based and thought-provoking information about dogs. I am relentlessly:

  • busting apocryphal stories, speculation, fallacies and biased tales; and
  • promoting responsible dog ownership.

I enjoy delving into technical subjects and re-surfacing with an article that every dog owner can understand. I am hoping to make specialist subjects like diseases vaccination, genetics, more accessible to a broad audience.

So what qualifies me to write about dogs? I have done A LOT OF self-study, but I also have formal qualifications (professional and academic).

What do I write about?

My specialist subjects are:

  • dog training;
  • evolution; 
  • ethology; and
  • canine first aid.

I also write about:

  • Veterinary care;
  • Dog sports;
  • Dog breeds; and
  • Dogs in society (am a bit of a philosophy nut).

To find the articles

  • Click on a category such as ‘Dog breeds’ or ‘Dogs in the news’ (list on the top-right corner), or
  • Scroll down to browse through all articles (latest on top)

Write a comment

I love comments, no matter how short, off-the-mark, or in disagreement they might be.

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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Freudian slip: meet Vienna’s dog trainer Bina Lunzer

Interview with Austrian dog trainer Bina Lunzer
By Laure-Anne Visele: Interview date Dec 2013. Release date Apr 2014
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About Bina

Bina is an animal trainer in Vienna. She helps countless families solve their pets’ problems through psychoanalysis. Just kidding. I couldn’t resist the Freud thing because Bina is based in Vienna. And I guess also because psychoanalysis is not that far off what Bina does: behaviour analysis. In both cases, the patient leaves with a new take on life’s stresses, and with better coping skills.

Bina and her dogs

Bina knows a thing or two about pet problem behaviour. She has gone through years of struggle with her own dog before stumbling across behaviour analysis. The dramatic results she got with her new skills attracted so much attention that she had to quit her day-job just to keep up with demand by other pet parents who needed help.

Read on for a peak behind the curtains in Bina’s life as an author, mother, animal trainer and dog entrepreneur.

Bina’s life long love story with animals

LV: How did you get started with dogs?

BL : My first experience was a bite… And the next one too. The third bite even sent me to the emergency room. The first incident happened when I was three. I was walking with my parents in the countryside and this farm dog came out of the yard and just bit me. I’ve no idea why.

The last time was the German Shepherd of a friend of mine from kindergarten. He lived in a pen outside but my friend’s parents let him out to mow the lawn. They forgot I was visiting. I was taken to the hospital for that one. He’d already bitten four people before me, and he bit four after. They shot him dead in the end …

LV: [stunned silence]

BL : Looking back, I know these dogs weren’t properly looked after. The German Shepherd was trained thirty years ago, for schutzhund [protection work], and with methods that were thirty years out-of-date even then… Even when I was five I suspected the humans had been the problem there. I still think so.

So those were my first experiences with dogs…But I still loved them. When I was five, my mom said: “Kiddie, when will you ever learn not to like dogs?” I just said: “Am not afraid of the whole dog, just the head.”

My parents have been so fearful of dogs since the bites that they don’t understand how I can keep two ‘carnivores’, as they call them, in the same house as my daughter. But I don’t know where my deep love of animals comes from. Life without them is not worth living for me.

Bina tells all about her family (rat warning)

LV: So what’s the Lunzer family setup?

BL : I live with my husband and daughter, and our two dogs (Emil and Nello), and three rats (Kuba, Kristin and Kigali).

LV: And the rats are trained I presume?

BL : Of course! They do tricks like scent-discrimination, card tricks.

LV: Card tricks?!

BL: Yes, they can pick the aces out of a 32-card pack and flip them over. They will do these things again and again and again, and more and more enthusiastically. Rats just love to work. It was a cool shaping experience for me. And of course I’ve taught my dog, Emil, to find my keys.

LV: I’ve taught my dog that too! And also to find bank notes. Handy hey?

So, does your daughter also love dogs?

Bina and ratBL : She has my genes for that. When she was six, she started asking for a dog. I said no, so she said: “OK, then, A horse. You had a horse as a kid.” I said it was too expensive, so my daughter said: “OK, then a little brother or sister. Everyone’s allowed to have that, right?”

… So we bought a rat!

The idea was: to qualify for a dog, she had to prove she could care for a rat for two years. And she did brilliant. So we got a mini poodle (eleven months at the time of writing).

LV: Haaaaa! You still need to go through the teenage phase with the poodle and soon with your daughter.

BL : [laughs] She’s a cool kid! She really gets positive reinforcement. She does it to us. After I help her with homework, she’ll say: “Thanks mom. That was a great help!” instead of complaining.

LV: [stunned silence again]

Bina crosses over to force-free methods

LV: So how did you become a dog professional?

BL : Emil, my Pinscher, had every behaviour problem in the book. My previous dog had been so easy, that it took Emil for me to relate to people with dogs with behaviour problems. It was exhausting. I had bought him for search and rescue, but he just didn’t respond well to training. If pressured, he would run off and hide under the car.

LV: Did you get him as a pup?

BL : Yes. But he was under-socialized. His breeder had lost two litters from disease so he took hygiene very seriously. I can put myself in his place: he didn’t want to lose a litter ever again. But according to the American Veterinary Association, more dogs die from behaviour problems related to insufficient socialisation than from infection. It is tragic if your pup is the exception to the rule, but, statistically, it is the better choice to attend early puppy class.

Bina and Emil

LV: So Emil had not been socialized sufficiently?

BL : That’s right, and he had other problems too, like resource guarding. I even travelled to get help from famous trainers. But most of them recommended I just give him up. But I don’t give away family members.

So the advice the trainers gave me was to hit my dog harder. And you could never hit hard enough for them. Sometimes, I would cry all the way home, thinking: “Having an obedient dog is just not worth this. I am disgusted with what I am told to do.” So, I quit traditional training. I hated it.

LV: How long ago was that?

BL : About seven years ago.

LV: Wow, so the positive revolution is quite recent in Austria, then? Are most schools now positive?

BL : Some of these schools were already positioning themselves as positive. But they were only positive as long as the dog complied. As soon as they added distractions and the dog got it wrong, they asked you to hit your dog.

Bina’s qualifications

LV: So how did you start learning about dog behaviour? Did you follow a course?

BL : I did the Certificate in Canine Behavior Science and Technology with James O’Heare’s Companion Animal Science Institute. I only did it to help with Emil. I had been waiting so long for this: the course finally confirmed to me that force was completely unnecessary to raise a reliable dog.

CASI_logo

LV: Wow, James O’Heare! He is a giant in Behaviour Analysis [a behaviour modification approach based on the manipulation of what precedes and follows unwanted behaviour].

BL : Oh yes! I would labour over a tough point for days, in vain. Then I would ask him and he could answer in half a minute.

LV: The chapter he wrote about the different trends of behaviourism is a thing of beauty.

BL : He is a genius. Then I also did Tag Teach 2 [a teaching method optimizing learning efficiency through teaching in bite-size, visual chunks]. And then I did the “Clicker Trainer Switzerland/Germany/Austria.” It is similar to Kay Lawrence’s KAP.

tag_logo

Bina’s journey from office work to dog job

LV: So how did you turn pro?

BL : After I did James O’Heare’s course, people started noticing that my dog was completely focused on me, he’d stopped scavenging, came when I called, walked on a loose leash, etc. And they would ask me to help with their own dog. So I helped them out for fun. But these people then spread the word, and before I knew it, I had to set up a business.

It started with six clients, then nine, and it just grew from there, as each client told three others how fast it worked. I had to reduce my day-job hours more and more. In the end, I only had ten hours in the office, so I quit. Going professional just happened to me. It wasn’t a planned decision.

LV: What were you doing before you became a trainer?

BL : I was a process optimizer. It’s obvious when you watch my tutorials. People often remark about how different my two careers have been, but actually, I still optimize processes. Only now I optimize the processes between four- and two-legged animals, rather than computers. I still look for that precise tiny thing that will make the difference, so I don’t end up changing things that already work today.

Bina’s work with Dogs and kids and storks

LV: Tell me about your work with dogs and kids.

BL : I help dog trainers to become instructors in programs helping young families with dogs:

I coordinate these activities for the German speaking countries. Jennifer from Family Paws does the licensing.

That project is my professional baby. I am really proud of our network of German presenters. We work with the highest quality trainers you can get. Getting great trainers is also a question of safety in this case, as children are involved.

I love that I can reach completely different clients through this work than I do through the training school. It gets me people with seven-year old dogs who’d never done much training and who barked all night if he’s not allowed to sleep on the bed with them.

pregnant

Bina’s Familie mit hund project

LV: You’re saving a lot of dogs from the shelter that way, no? I know so many people who have abandoned their dog when they got a baby.

BL : We call it the ‘rehoming impulse’. Families with kids under three years old sometimes fantasize about what it would be like to not have a dog. Even dog trainers have this phase, apparently. So it’s nothing to do with how much you know about dogs, and it’s nothing to do with how severe the behaviour problems are. It is just that the small things like pushing the stroller with a dog who pulls on the leash can be exhausting.

A client called me lately to say “Thank you! My dog has just growled, but if it hadn’t been for your workshop, I would have re-homed him. Now I know how to tackle it: I’ll protect the dog to protect my kid -I will prevent future growls by setting the dog up for success.”

And we also teach parents about dogs’ body language in these workshops. It is an important safety measure in a household with a dog and a baby.

Bina’s “routine”

LV: Is there such a thing as a typical week for you? What’s that like?

BL : I give about six behaviour consults per day. It’s mainly for dogs, but I also do other pets. A couple of days per week, I go to my training grounds to give group classes. I give puppy classes, basic obedience, sports trials, object search, and that sort of thing… My classes are very solution-oriented, with themes on the recall, on relaxing, etc. I started these classes for my own sanity. So I could see normal pups and not just animals with severe behaviour problems.

LV: Don’t you catch yourself permanently screening for behaviour problems, even in normal dogs?

BL: No. I try not to raise my dogs like a teacher’s child. The mini poodle, for example, barks at other dogs. It looks arousal-based and we work on it constantly, but I won’t instantly assume it’s dog-dog aggression. I try not to approach problems until I have them. This is something my daughter taught me.

bina's poodle

Nello: Bina’s daughter’s poodle

LV: So what do you do the rest of the time?

BL : I spend one day a week on office work: bookkeeping, writing articles, preparing presentations, etc. and, at week-ends, I travel to the German countries (Switzerland, Austria, Germany) to give seminars. My most popular one is about Loose Leash Walking.

I also consult with animal trainers and other organizations. Right now, for example, I am talking with this orphanage that allows its employees to bring dogs. There is a lot of teaching potential in animal-kid interactions there. At that same institution, there is also a social worker who graduated from a university course on animal-assisted therapy. When we work together, I focus on the dog’s behaviour: body language, setting up safe situations, etc. And I also teach basic manners so the dogs can be safe around kids.

Bina and dog training in Austria

LV: Is dog training a protected profession in Austria? What kinds of trainers are offering their services?

BL : In the German-speaking countries, breed clubs charge a one-off 100 euro (or so) fee, then a yearly 30-50 euros. That entitles you to free dog training classes. The professionals then have to compete with free trainers. The difference between the free classes is not always obvious. But you do see classes with twenty loose puppies ranging from weeks-old toy dogs to adolescent giants. In contrast, we run with four pups per class.

training school

Bina’s dog training school: dog sports, object training, retrieve

I value the free puppy trainers. Lots of dogs would get no education without them. But you can’t expect them to have the same educational background as a behaviour consultant. So it’s tough starting a business where other people offer similar services for free.
Having said that, professionalization is making strides in Austria.

LV: That sounds like a tough market. So what do you call yourself? Animal trainer? Behaviourist?

BL : “Animal trainer and behaviour consultant”.

Bina’s credentials

LV: You’re having a trail-blazer of a career. Can you run me through your big milestones?

BL: I wrote two books. One is about helping nervous dogs lead a calmer life; the other one about pulling on the leash [My dog pulls]. And then of course I coordinate Dogs & Storks and the Dog & Baby Connection for the German-speaking countries.

My dog pulls

I also did a YouTube video about loose leash walking that got a bizarre amount of hits (almost 200,000) [To see the video In German or in English]. That means something like one out of ten German-speaking dog owner has seen the video!

LV: That’s an insane number!

Bina’s highs and lows

LV: What are your proudest moments?

BL : Every time I can resolve a dog’s issues with science-based training. Things like resource guarding, leash pulling, lack of cooperation, etc. I am happiest when I can improve the dog-human relationship. That is really motivating.

LV: I know the feeling! It’s really nice.

BL : That’s why we do this job.

LV: Good results, despite the fact that I get them nearly every time, always take me by surprise. I enter into it thinking: “If they listen, they listen. If they don’t, I am not going to get too invested. That’s a recipe for a burn-out.” So I am always surprised when they write back to say how much their lives improved. They follow through! It’s so nice to hear.

BL : That’s the cool thing about our job, when lots of clients appreciate our help. I bumped into this client from years ago in the supermarket, and they hugged me! They were so thankful, you’d think I removed a brain tumour.

It’s the modern way of living with dogs. We see them as family members. A dog’s behaviour problem is not just a dog problem any more. It severely affects the family’s harmony. And a dog trainer can solve that.

Bina and her dog 02

Bina and Nello

I also enjoy seeing a client realize that brutality and fear are not necessary for training a reliable dog. I love to watch them put this to practice.

LV: A lot of clients are relieved when I tell them they don’t have to keep intimidating the dog. Every one else up till that point had told them it was the only way.

BL : Yes, like when I went home from training crying. Who would enjoy going through this? Hitting my dog – who is a family member – and feeling so bad for it.

LV: What is your favourite aspect of what you do?

BL : I love everything about my job: presentations, group classes, private consultations, writing. I love that I have all these options. I also love working with animals and with people.

LV: There must be a least favorite aspect, no?

BL: I don’t like bookkeeping.

But apart from that, no. I even like more difficult customers. They challenge me. They keep my people skills sharp.

Bina’s parting words

LV: If you had a magic wand that would brainwash everybody into believing what you say for the next few seconds, what would you say?

BL: Trust is vital for reliability, so a reliable dog is one that was trained without fear. If you took a dog home as a companion, treat him like a family member and he’ll become one. If you hit him, he’ll never be a family member.

bina's pinscher

Contact Bina

Contact Canis bonus

I offer the following services:

  • (free) Book reviews: Send me a hard copy of your book for a review. My book reviews are read by many pet professionals and parents.
  • Dog training school: OhMyDog! is The Hague’s fun-packed, force-free and science-based dog training school. Small groups, great results, relaxed atmosphere and beautiful field. Lessons in English and Dutch.
  • Private training and behaviour therapy: If you are in The Hague or region, I can help you solve your dog’s behaviour problems using no force or intimidation.  In Dutch, English and French.
  • Writing services: If you are a dog professional anywhere in the world, I can re-write your landing page for better readability and search results. I also write science popularization articles about dog behaviour in English and French. I also translate technical material from French and Dutch to English.
  • Pet photography: Professional pet photography for your own pet, magazine, book or dog business.
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Pit Bulls are Dogs too, guest post by Lori Nanan

Guest post about reward-based training on pit bulls
By Lori Nanan, Mar 2013
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Intro

Lori got on my radar in Facebook, with her great pictures advocating force-free training. All pictures featured Pit Bulls carrying out all sorts of training feats. I approached Lori to ask her to write an article for Canis bonus. Enjoy!

The myth of the heavy hand

It may come as no surprise to anyone who follows Canis Bonus that pit bulls are dogs, just like poodles or pugs. It may also come as no surprise that pit bulls, or any other power breed, can be trained just like any other breed. What may be a surprise is just how many people are not aware of this or flat out disagree.

Myths about dogs in general abound and when it comes to pit bulls, it seems many people hold tight to those myths- about leadership, dominance and the need for a heavier hand.

less behaviour

These myths do no justice to any dog, who can be abused in the name of training while applying those principles. And, yes, I do believe that abuse is an appropriate way to describe what is done to dogs who are alpha-rolled (rolled onto their sides and pinned down in an attempt to “calm” them, resulting in the dog either shutting down or reacting aggressively), scruff shaken, leash corrected or physically intimidated.

I believe the use of fear or startle in training is abusive. I believe this because I have done my homework. I have worked hard to understand animal learning and behavior. I have spent hours training dog after dog without having to use force. I have developed skills and use scientifically-proven methods which allow me to do this. Even with pit bulls. Even with dogs who have had years to practice “bad” behavior. With puppies. With dogs who have zero training experience. With dogs who have previously been trained with force. Time and again, it is proven to me by dogs that it simply is unnecessary. Time and again, I am amazed at the power of reward-based training.

seek to understand

As someone who previously trained using aversives, I see the difference. From the pit bull who had been trained via shock collar to do a down-stay when people entered the house and cowered at the word “down” (we changed the cue and got a beautiful response), to the lunging, barking mixed breed who was taught a “watch me” as an alternate behavior, the power of positive reinforcement reveals itself to me daily.

As someone who has come to love pit bulls and the similar dogs, I have seen more abuse bestowed upon them dogs than any other type. I am aware that many other power breeds (Dobermanns, Rottweilers, German Shepherds) are subjected to more than their share of abusive techniques, but it seems to me that pit bulls inparticular are perceived as a breed needing a heavier hand. The media has certainly contributed to this and there is no shortage of people who love their dogs and still believe it.

This is problematic on a number of levels. The first being the assumptions about a dog’s behavior without a true understanding of why he is behaving the way he is. If we take a step back and think about things from a dog’s standpoint, it becomes much easier to assess certain things.

irony

Let’s take a look at pit bulls and a certain irony that I often think about. Pit bulls are generally dogs who are human-friendly. Their ancestry lends itself to that exact trait. Dogs who were bred for fighting needed to be handle-able by humans. This made for dogs who were rather malleable in human hands, and many of today’s pit bulls seem to retain the trait.

In many cases, we have exuberantly affectionate dogs (who were also bred for athleticism) who are jumpy and enthusiastic. They like to say hello by giving kisses (like many dogs do) to people on the face. A positive reinforcement trainer will help the dog learn an alternate behavior, like sitting. A balanced or force-based trainer might advise kneeing the dog in the chest. Neither dog ends up jumping, but dog #1 sits to get kisses and still loves to see you; dog #2 sits to avoid being hurt (best case), is no longer as happy to see you (middle ground) or becomes distrustful, anxious or aggressive (worst case). I don’t know about you, but I’ll take dog #1: the one who doesn’t get punished for being friendly.

involve me

Another irony for pit bulls is that the very thing people fear about them – aggression – is reinforced by these heavy handed techniques. Dogs – any dog – may become aggressive if exposed to abuse and force and discomfort or pain. So, here we have a strong dog who is trained via force, coercion, startle or shock and he reacts aggressively. Now what? In some cases the public’s perception is strengthened. Simply because a trainer gave out outdated and potentially dangerous advice, one less person may want a pit bull in their home.

stroke rats

And, again – this goes for any dog – dogs have teeth, and likes/dislikes. They have tolerance levels and thresholds. They feel stress. They feel anxiety. They feel threatened and therefore fear. The dog who uses his teeth in those situations is not bad or wrong: all beings should have the right to protect themselves.

It is our responsibility to help dogs feel that they never have to use their teeth to defend themselves. We can do this by setting our dogs up for success. We can do this by being proactive, rather than reactive. We make sure we have the right information and tools, and we are willing to learn the techniques or hire someone who can help. Sometimes keeping our dogs out of trouble can be something as simple as providing more mental stimulation (eating out of puzzle feeders instead of a dish).

generous feeder

Being reactive means that we hope our dogs won’t screw up and then punish them when they do. Like catching a dog chewing a chair leg and punishing him by hitting, yelling or grabbing him by the scruff. We can often head off those types of issues by providing appropriate chew toys. Jean Donaldson has said: “Dogs get into good chew toys the way we get into a good book.” Dogs don’t know the difference between the chair leg and the Nylabone until we teach them.

crossover

In terms of training, we can do this by meeting a dog at the level he is currently at, working and training from there and putting management in place as necessary. So we adjust our expectations. We try to see things from the dog’s point of view and start with teaching behaviors that are do-able today and build from there.

One of the primary goals of Your Pit Bull and You is to dispel myths. Conventional folk wisdom about dogs has not done our canine friends any favors. Science has come a long way since towards helping us understand our dogs. We love them. We owe it to them to meet their needs in a way that doesn’t diminish their capabilities or mythologize their intentions.

The myth that says that pit bulls need a heavier hand is one that is particularly close to our heart. Our tagline is “Animal Learning is not Breed Specific” because we know that all animals learn in the same way. By advocating for a maligned breed that we happen to love, we hope to help shape the public’s perception in a more positive direction. A direction in which more and more dogs are trained without pain.

Contact Lori

Your Pit Bull and You Facebook Page: for great posters promoting force-free training

Your Pit Bull and You website: Well-researched source of information on force-free dog training and education.

Force-free training resources in The Hague

OhMyDog!: Force-free, fun-packed and science-based dog training school in The Hague.

Canis bonus: Behaviour therapy and private training: to help you resolve behaviour problems

 

Posted in Dog breeds, Dogs and society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Responses

Teenage girl takes on force-based trainers

Interview with Youtube prodigy Lucy Irvine
By Laure-Anne Visele: Interview date Nov 2013. Release date Mar 2014
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About the author

I am a dog trainer, freelance writer and behaviour therapist. I graduated in Zoology, certified in dog training, then specialized in dog behaviour problems. I co-founded OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague) and in my ‘spare’ time, I obsessively read and write about dog behaviour.

Behind the scenes with dog pros

This interview is part of a series of talks with dog professionals around the world. I’ve interviewed behaviour-curious vets, certified dog walkersassistance dog trainers, university lecturers, etc. I have these chats to get you a fly-on-the-wall view of what goes on in the world of pet professionals.

How I heard of Lucy

In the Summer of 2013, a seventeen-year-old girl shared the stirring story of her determination to train her dog with humane methods, despite the overwhelming influence of compulsion-based trainers in the region.

The video moved me so much that I hopped in the car to visit Lucy, its creator. Read on for our chat about modern dog training, bomb-proof dogs, and animal-assisted therapy.

There’s something about Lucy….

LV: How come you speak such perfect English? [Lucy lives in French-speaking Belgium.]

LI: I am British. But I’ve lived my whole life in Belgium.

1 Lucy & Inja

Bit by the dog bug

LV: Tell me about your passion for dogs. Is it a new thing or a life-long obsession?

LI: As a little girl, my bookshelves were packed with dog books, and my walls were plastered with dog posters. I used to cut out all the pictures off dog magazines!

LV: A bit of a dog nerd, hey?

LI: I have been called the “two-legged dog breed encyclopedia.” And I just can’t leave it if a TV show gets something wrong about dogs: “THAT’s not a German Shepherd. That’s a Malinois mix.”

[Sounds familiar, husband?]

1 lucy as baby 01

Spanish holidays? Forget Ibiza

LI: I worked at a Spanish dog shelter this summer. It’s run by two retired Brits who found a dog hanging from a tree one day. They started feeding the strays as they realized that otherwise, they would get shot or beaten up.

At some stage, the shelter owners had to survive on dog food themselves. When someone wrote about their situation in the paper, they turned into a proper shelter: Pepi’s Refugio. They still have more dogs than they can deal with, and they’re desperate for free vet care and volunteers. If you want to help out, you can donate here.

My next dog will definitely be from Pepi’s

Getting Inja

LV: Is Inja from a shelter?

LI: No. I originally wanted a shelter dog, but we thought we’d start with one less likely to have issues as he is our first dog.
We got him from a Belgian breeder, at eight weeks. The pups lived in the breeder’s home, with the family.

I’d dreamt of having a dog as long as I can remember. After years of pleading, I begged for a cat. That’s how it was settled: “We might as well get a dog then.” If there’s something my dad wants less than a dog… That was 2012. That’s when we got Inja.

pup 05

A journey through intimidation-based training

LV: What’s been your experience with the local training schools?

LI: We had lots of fun in the puppy class: he was often top student, and I was very proud. But the school handed out choke chains for the “out of control” pups, and they leash-popped dogs who pulled. The groups were also huge – sometimes more than ten pups. That’s a lot of waiting around.

When we joined the next level, this Beagle was getting jerked around on a prong collar. I couldn’t stand watching that! And they stopped using rewards from the age of six months. By then, the dogs were “supposed to listen to you out of respect”. The thing that struck me is that they completely ignored that each dog finds different things rewarding. In their opinion, if the dog doesn’t want to work for the treats, he is being stubborn.

So we moved to a school that advertised itself as science-based and force-free. But leash-popping was still going on, and they gave out e-collar instructions. It was tough to keep my mouth shut. There’s also times when we would get singled out. We’d be told everything we did was wrong, and that Inja had no ‘character’.

LV: [Having met this placid wonder that is Inja] But a bomb-proof dog is a gift! I’d kill for a dog like Inja.

1 Inja portrait DOF

LV: So how far did you go at that school? Until what level?

LI: They don’t work with formal levels, with a curriculum and exams. They did the same thing every week: heeling, stay, recall, changing position, then fetching. They also wouldn’t really advise you on specifics. They’d just ask you to ‘practice more’.

LV: Mmmmhhh, this elusive pursuit of the perfect school sounds familiar. So you do a lot of independent training then?

LI: Yes. I’ve been using the Kikopup videos a lot. Emily Larlham’s great! I even went to one of her seminars. We’ve also started playing around with agility (on tree stumps, etc.). He does a slow-motion weave. That’s typical Inja. He’ll do what you want, just in his own time.

But, after months of searching, I’ve finally found this Dutch-speaking school.

LV: But you’re in the French region. Are you going to learn a new language so you can take your dog to different school? That’s dedication for ya!

LI: Yes, I’m now learning Dutch. The trainers are friendly, the school has a proper curriculum, and there’re explicitly against leash-jerking and scolding. We’re also registered for the agility class. I think we’re going to have a blast!

Animal-assisted therapy

LV: What’s your proudest achievement with Inja?

LI: We have passed all our tests for Activ’Dog, an Animal-Assisted Therapy organisation. Activ’Dog helps isolated old people and disabled kids. They also organize bite prevention presentations in schools, teaching the kids about dog body language.

Activ’Dog only accept dogs with exceptional temperaments and obedience skills like a solid sit, not pulling on the leash, not jumping up and not snatching food. These are essential obedience skills when dealing with elderly people. They also test the dogs’ reaction to sudden sounds and movements, and to being bumped with a wheel chair. Inja was his aloof self: he just ignored it.

1 Inja therapy dog

Of course, they don’t accept shy dogs, but Inja loves interacting with people, he loves being stroked. If I noticed he was uneasy or stressed about it, I would stop without hesitation.

We’re now at the intern level, so we’ve passed all the tests and just need to build up practice hours.

Now what?

LV: So what’s the next step? Would you like to pursue dog training as a career?

LI: I’d loved to study something related, like animal behaviour. Right now, I am with the Cambridge Ethology Institute. It’s so interesting and I am actually having fun learning.

LV: If money wasn’t an issue, if you could go crazy, what would be the dream?

LI: I’d love to own my own dog training school, and give agility classes!

Parting words

One day maybe, Lucy will grow the ranks of next-generation trainers in Belgium. One thing is for sure, force-free dog training could use more advocates like her.

Keeping up with Lucy

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New photoshoot at the Ockenburgh

We went on another dog safari at the Ockenburg park in The Hague (29 and 30 Dec 2013.) We were hoping to capture classic poses for our body language presentation for the dog training school (OhMyDog!.)

As usual, we got distracted and ended up just being caught up in the dogs’ charming antics, totally forgetting about science. Enjoy!

If you’re one of the dogs’ owners, feel free to download it from the gallery below. Please leave the copyright notice and do not distribute. If you’d like an unmarked copy for further distribution, contact me for details.

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Dog photoshoot at the Ockenburg

Photoshoot from this morning’s (10 December 2013) communal dog walk at the gorgeous Ockenburg park in The Hague. It had been faaaar too long since I went on a dog safari.

I love the Ockenburg, especially with the fallen leaves. If you live near The Hague, check it (and my other green secrets!) out.

I try to go as often as I can to get Rodgie, my dog, to enjoy canine company. Getting your dog to frolic around with four-legged mates works miracles for a calm demeanour. Please try to give him these long canine group walks as often as you can, yes?

Now that admonition time is over, enjoy the pictures of his friends: Makker, Diesel, Kay,…

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High-performance agility with force-free methods: meet Canine Nation’s Eric Brad

Interview with agility dog handler, radio personality and author Eric Brad
By Laure-Anne Visele, out November 2013
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About Eric Brad

Meet Eric: dog agility trainer-cum-podcaster-cum-author who dedicates pen and microphone to spreading his message of logic and rationality through the dog training world.

Eric and Tiramisu

Eric is based on Vancouver Island (Canada), where he lives with his wife, Petra, and their dogs Rizzo and Tiramisu.

Eric and I have a lot in common: dual careers in IT and dogs, a science-based blog on dog behaviour, and a passion for logic and science.

About the interview

L-A: Your dog career has piqued my interest, so I had to give you a turn on the hot seat!

I have been chatting with a series of unique dog pros so my readers can peak behind the scenes of working with dogs. As my blog aims at challenging misconceptions about dogs, it’s always good to speak to fellow science-based people.

EB: That’s an aim we share!

About the cross-over story

L-A: Let’s start with your cross-over story [when a person switches from force-based to force-free dog training methods]. The process is always fascinating.

EB: I wrote about it in perhaps more poetic prose in my very first post in Life as a human [a progressive human interest magazine].

We had trained our first dogs, two collies and a Groenendael, with more traditional force-based methods. They were probably bored out of their minds. They acted out some, and nipped a few guests, but, by and large, they were quite good-natured.

And then we had Vince – a Tervuren. If he was misbehaving, he wouldn’t stop when we’d ask him. He would give us the cold stare when we tapped him on the snout, instead of the ‘I am sorry look’ we were expecting. And it kept escalating, until we were doing scruff shakes and alpha rolls [disciplining the dog by rolling him over onto its back and pinning it down. A technique popular with pack theory trainers, and laced with dangerous consequences. An all-round bad idea.]

Vince

He had also started to growl us away from his bowl when he was eating [resource guarding]. It got so bad at some point that we couldn’t get within 10 feet of his bowl. After a week of that, my wife said “I can’t do this any more. We either return him to the breeder or we re-home him.”

I called the agility instructor my wife had been working with and he said: “Read Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash“.

L-A: Wow, you got lucky!

EB: Yes! With my IT background, Culture Clash appealed to my sense of logic and reasoning.

It completely reset my view of dog behaviour, and it drove me into reading more on learning theory:

  • Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog”;
  • Pamela Reid’s “Excel-Erated Learning”;
  • Bailey’s and Burch’s “How dogs learn”; and
  • etc.

We immediately began applying the “Nothing in Life is For Free” program [The dog doesn't get food, attention, affection unless it has 'earned' it by behaving politely or performing to expectations. The technique is falling out of favour with purely positive trainers, but proponents argue that it brings consistency and predictability to the dog's life.]. We quickly modified the technique. It tends to be a little proscribed and a little too much on the negative punishment side for us [negative punishment = you don't give the dog a reward he has come to expect, unless he stops 'misbehaving'].

Vince passed away three years ago and, right up to the moment he died, we never completely repaired the trust between us. It must have been quite traumatic for him when he was small: he would still occasionally go into defensive postures with me. And I had to deal with that knowing what I know now. So he taught us many lessons – not always positive.

Shortly after the change of course with Vince, we got our Tiramisu as a pup. Tiramisu is my little science experiment! We have raised her from scratch with clicker training and behaviour science.

Tiramisu and Eric

By the time she was six months old, she mastered thirty different trained behaviours. Seeing just what you could accomplish by educating your dog instead of reacting to ‘inappropriate behaviour’ really reinforced behaviour science for me. Her achievements opened me up to possibilities I wouldn’t ever have had dreamed of. It has reset my thinking on what dogs are capable of.

About writing

L-A: And when you gained all these insights, you started sharing them on your blog.

As a fellow blogger, I struggle to keep my posts short and catchy. Readers don’t have time for large chunks of text and big words, so it’s a balancing act between keeping it compelling without oversimplifying the science. What are your writing demons?

EB: I am trying to move away from the cheerleading stuff. The articles that seem to get the most traction are the ones backhanding traditional trainers (Like: “Selling snake oil…” and “Blunt force trauma canine reality“.) But I want to talk about what’s right about science-based training, not what’s wrong with other approaches.

L-A: I hear you: now I write a controversial title to draw people in, and then hopefully get some subtle points in there.

EB: Yes! I’ve been quite diabolical, creating a title that sounds like the article is about something else. For example,“All the dogs you can manage” sounds like it talks of multi-dog households, but it’s really Yodaism for “All the dogs – You can manage”, meaning “Every dog can be managed”.

I try to introduce a topic from a perspective that people haven’t considered before.

L-A: You are also writing a series of books.

EB: Yes, I am working on the third one.

Each book groups my blog posts by theme so the topics can be read in a logical flow, rather than chronologically as they were written:

  1. “Dogs: as they are” talks of physiology and ethology. It showcases what animal we’re dealing with and what dogs’ natural tendencies are;
  2. “Teaching dogs: effective learning” focuses on how to communicate with dogs to get the best results; and
  3. The book I am writing now focuses on the human-dog relationship and on our emotional response to each other. It’s about what happens when things go off the rails. It’s about the dynamics behind that.

There will probably be five more after that!

[They are available at Dogwise.]

Eric sees “Dogs, as they are”

L-A: I have read your first one with great pleasure ["Dogs as they are" is reviewed here.] The series could become a classic piece of work.

EB: Your lips to God’s ears!

But the truth is, I am not doing it for fame and fortune. I feel I’ve contributed something if just one person’s life became easier as a result of reading my work.

Someone came up to me the other day and thanked me profusely for my articles on hypothyroidism [hypothyroidism = shortage in the production of thyroid hormones, affecting the sufferer's behaviour in more severe cases.]

About physical conditions and behaviour

L-A: About hypothyroidism, well done on your dog qualifying in the runs after a long period of ill health. You must be relieved!

EB: Yes. She was diagnosed about 18 months ago. At the time, we thought we’d never play and show agility again. But sure enough, she’s come back!

From one day to the next she started acting alert, nervous, or worried. She would shut down immediately and want off the agility course if she heard a sudden sound, for example.

We initially had her tested for T4 concentrations – the classic test for hypothyroidism – and the test came back negative. She also wasn’t displaying any of the classic signs: dull coat, lethargy and weight gain. So our vet concluded that it probably wasn’t the thyroid.

We insisted that the blood pannel got sent to Dr. Jean Dodds’ Hemopet lab in the States. The results showed Tiramisu’s T3 concentrations were drastically low. As T3 clears the cortisol [the 'stress hormone'] from the system and as cortisol inhibits serotonin binding [serotonin = biological correlate for a sense of well-being], our dog was physically unable to experience a feeling of well-being. She was in a constant state of stress! So we got her on the recommended dose of thyroid supplements and we saw changes in only two days!

I learnt a lot from Dr Jean Dodds’ book “Canine Thyroid Epidemic.“ It covers not only physical symptoms, but also behavioural ones. The book warns that classic symptoms [dull coat, lethargy and weight gain] only occur when hormone concentration is already down to 30-40%!

Early diagnosis is difficult, as the early behavioural signs mimic other behavioural problems. Yet, we elected not to treat this as a behaviour problem from day one. We could have used desensitization and counterconditioning  but, as she wasn’t clearing cortisol from her system, this would have made her worse.

[Note: the hypothyroidism diagnosis continues to be controversial in the veterinary-behaviourist communities. Please contact a specialist for advice if you suspect your dog is a sufferer.]

That period reinforced our standard operating procedure in the face of a sudden behaviour change: go and see the vet immediately and find the physical cause.

L-A: Good advice, but difficult to apply here in the Netherlands for three reasons:

  1. Vets can get irritated at specialist trainers’ presumption that they know what specific physiological tests are relevant for each case;
  2. Many local vets still recommend dominance and obedience in the face of 99% of behaviour problems; and
  3. Blood tests can be prohibitively expensive for most dog owners here.

EB: We have the same response in Canada. The vet just went: “She looks fine. Why do you want a blood panel?” When we insisted, we got the “OK, but-you’re-just-throwing-your-money-away” eye roll. When the results came back, suddenly, we were very smart dog owners.

We need to be advocates for our dogs. If you know something’s wrong, use the internet, or books, or whatever you can to get the vet on board. And only when you’ve eliminated every possible physical thing do you address it as a behaviour problem.

Here’s another example: a friend’s dog started to perform poorly in agility and started to get ratty with other dogs. It took A YEAR AND A HALF to find a hairline fracture on the dog’s front leg! It was living in constant pain but, being a Tervuren, it wouldn’t limp or whine. So it came out as aggression towards other dogs. So the owner took the dog off agility for a year to let it heal up. Now all the behaviour problems have disappeared.

L-A: It’s scary how much luck we sometimes need to stumble across a physical diagnosis underlying a behaviour problem.

On ‘misbehaviour’

EB: It’s not luck. When our dog’s behaviour changed suddenly, we used a process of elimination to find the physical cause. Dogs don’t misbehave because it’s intrinsically reinforcing to misbehave. There has to be a reason.

L-A: Dogs often do ‘misbehave’ because it’s intrinsically reinforcing. Of course what constitutes ‘misbehaving’ is in the eye of the beholder, but animals – including humans – are driven to act to gain the most rewarding outcome in any given situation.

EB: Sure, there has to be some reinforcing property of behaviour for a dog to perform it.

This lady had a rat terrier mix who wouldn’t come back when she called it [see my article on the recall to teach your dog to come back to you.] She would get angrier and angrier. I asked her: “Based on your physical demeanour and tone of voice, would you come to you right now?” So she re-taught the recall gradually by reinforcing every successful recall. Two weeks later, the problem was mainly resolved.

Ken Ramirez - head trainer at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium - called this ‘the balance of reinforcement’. He set up a scale summing up the punishing and reinforcing properties of a behaviour. To get the animal to behave in the way you want, you have to add things to the reinforcement side.

L-A: That’s a nice model. It is less black-and-white than the Skinner quadrant. It introduces the notion of trade-offs and gradations.

EB: I frequently talk of “competing reinforcers” in agility. If you’re practicing in a barn with horse manure , it’s like Disneyland for a rat terrier. So you need to be more interesting than horse poo. Bring their favourite treat and give it frequently: make it roast beef or ham or cheese. Make it easier for them to get cheese than to indulge in the horse poo.

L-A: That’s what I tell my clients too – Only my problem is rabbit poo. Ah, dogs, those scatological specialists… – “Make unwanted behaviour boring and hard-work, and make desired behaviour rewarding and easy.”

EB: Focus plays a part too. We teach our agility students to re-engage the dog when he is distracted with three behaviours so simple the dogs can’t believe they’re being rewarded for it: nose touch, look at me and sit. This draws the dog’s focus back to you and beats yanking the leash and saying ‘no’, which only makes it unpleasant.

And we can’t control what a dog will find rewarding. Rizzo, our youngest dog, enjoys tracking so much he didn’t want to stop to get rewarded. He just wanted to keep tracking! Tiramisu gets rewarded by… variety. If I ask her to do the same thing too many times, she gets bored. So I need to throw random cues at her for known behaviours during training. When she has done what I cued, she’ll happily go back to the new behaviour we were working on.

L-A: She was born for free-shaping [allowing the dog to offer spontaneous behaviour and reinforcing the ones you like!]

EB: Big time. I have something of a problem with her because if I don’t find something to mark quickly, she will offer a flurry of the usual behaviours and then I’ll get the paw: spin, zoom, bow, back up,… Then it’s: “Screw you, I am off.” I have five seconds to figure out how to help her or she’s done.

But I am always thinking of competing reinforcers. People take their dogs to a dog park with all these interesting smells. Then they expect the dog to come to them immediately. Why?

L-A: People tell me “Because my dog should listen out of respect.” I am unsure dogs have the cognitive ability to grasp, and act upon, an abstract notion like respect.

EB: Jaak Panksepp’s research [pioneer in the field of affective neuroscience, and discoverer of the hilarious lab rat tickle] supports claims that they lack this ability.

Besides, even if dogs could grasp respect, how would they have grasped what we humans consider respectful? [Interesting question opening up the theme of domestication and co-evolution with humans. Research into why dogs are one of the few animals to understand human pointing gestures explore the subject. A search for "Hare and Tomasello" in Google Scholar will suck you down the old intellectual rabbit hole on this topic.]

Even among humans, the same behaviour (i.e. looking in the eyes) can be interpreted as friendly by most Westerners, and disrespectful by some native Canadian tribes. [Eric's point is this: If miscommunication arises between individuals of the same species, imagine the potential for it between different species.]

About agility

EB: So, as a Belgian, you must know Belgian shepherds?

L-A: I have lived with a Tervuren and a Groenendael, actually. But they were too much like Ferraris for me. My heart goes to lethargic dogs, the kind you have to regularly poke to make sure they’re still alive.

EB: My two Groenendaels are sprawled out like rugs right now. Belgians can switch it on or off. But as soon as you say we’re going for a walk they’re 100 miles an hour.

Eric and Rizzo in full sprawl mode

L-A: So how did you start agility?

EB: My wife thought that agility might help Vince with his behaviour problems. She thought it would let him blow off some steam. We didn’t realize agility and behaviour problems had nothing to do with each other. But we continued with agility even after we had turned our training around.

For me, agility has been like a science experiment. I wanted to know what would happen if I applied this behaviour science stuff to it. I didn’t care whether I got championships or not.

We started following classes in a local group but some of the things we were being taught were out of synch with what we knew about learning theory. In the end, we kind of got asked to leave! We were asking too many questions… The funny thing is that, after that, other people approached us. People who were also asked to leave similar groups. We called ourselves ‘The Scallywaggs” because we’d been kicked out of every decent agility class on Vancouver Island! We formed a training group without an instructor: we called it peer coaching.

Scallywaggs: Vince and Eric

My wife also started the ‘puppy pirates’ classes because some people asked her to train their puppies when they saw the performance of my wife’s dogs and their relationship with her.

We use clicker training, and we make sure that the animal is not set up for failure. If the dog misses a jump, keep going and fix it next time. Don’t give the dog any indication that they’ve done something incorrect. So don’t punish your dog for making the effort, pay him for making the effort.

When you hit a snag, we always say “Be a splitter, not a lumper.” Good trainers break it down and fix it.

L-A: I have the feeling that the dog’s welfare comes second to performance in many dog sports. Is that justified in your experience?

EB: There’s a problem, absolutely.

This is a typical practice in agility: handlers put themselves in the way of the dog at the last moment to stop it in its tracks and redirect it. I call this ‘projectile agility.’ The dog just ricochets through the whole sequence.

Tiramisu clearing a jump

With agility we are engaging the dog’s predatory instinct. So I am convinced that blocking them is frustrating and aversive. And I definitely see signs of stress in the dogs as it happens. As Patricia McConnell said in “For the love of a dog” [Reviewed here]: “Once you see that stuff, you can’t unsee it.” So I have a lot of difficulty watching some handlers go about agility in that way.

This last-minute blocking makes it impossible for the dog to predict the next move. Imagine that you’re driving and your passenger only tells you where to turn at the last moment. You’d either stop cooperating, or you’d slow down. So either people are shutting their dogs down or they’re slowing them down. Either way there is no emphasis on what the dog is learning.

To us the goal is not to ‘get’ the dog to go over the jump. We want the dog to ‘choose’ to go over the jump! We even slow our students down on the agility course to make sure the dog is really making the decision because it knows it will be paid for it instead of just being carried away by their handler’s momentum.

Here’s a video illustrating that choice (Rizzo was about 16 months old then).

And that blocking technique doesn’t just bring about emotional stress either. Many dogs end up with cruciate ligament injuries as they have to twist themselves mid-air to correct their course and therefore land awkwardly. I wonder if people realize their dog won’t even be able to play three years down the line. I think some realize and don’t even mind, thinking: “I’ll just get another dog.”

That said, there are a few handlers whom I enjoy watching very much. It’s not like we’re the only ones who’ve worked this out. They are dancing with their dog and enjoying every moment. I hope that more people will come to the same conclusion.

L-A: And how is your dog doing in agility?

EB: She has just gotten her second and third championship titles! She completed thirteen runs in one weekend with flying colours. But the championships are secondary to me. What counts is that she was happy, comfortable and full of fun again after her health issues. She gave us barking and playful behaviour, showing she loved agility again.

L-A: Would you say that – like-for-like – you get better agility performance using science-based methods?

EB: Well, I am in the game for personal best. So when I finish a run I just look at my time and whether I qualified, not anybody else’s results. We have won Agility Association of Canada and the North American Dog Agility Council championship titles without doing all that other stuff. So I know that I can get to the same level of performance they do, but with a happy dog.

And our dogs (my wife’s, my mother-in-law’s and the other Scallywaggs’) continue to run fast and happy even as they age, when we often see traditionally handled dogs retiring early and the handler just ‘getting a new one’.

L-A: ‘Getting a new one’… That is what makes me uncomfortable with dog sports. Objectifying the dog for the sake of performance.

EB: To us, it’s about the dogs. We do agility because we have Belgians. We don’t have Belgians so we can do agility.

Tiramisu loves agility: I can see the smile on her face. I can see it in her eyes. She’s a nine year old dog that’s still running more than six yards a second. That tells you she really wants it.

This is a video of Tiramisu in  August 2013:

Podcast

L-A: So tell me about the podcast: Canine Nation.

EB: A friend of mine loves to read my articles but never finds the time. She suggested I create a podcast so she could listen to them in the car. So I started reading the articles so people can listen to the podcast wherever convenient. I’ve been doing this three years.

We’ve had 20,000 downloads now. That’s about 3,000 a month. It’s worked out really well!

Contact Eric

 

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New book review out: Feeling Outnumbered?

Book review: Karen B. London’s and Patricia B. McConnell’s “Feeling Outnumbered? How to manage and enjoy your multi-dog household”
By Laure-Anne Visele, written Oct 2013
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Book review

This article is part of my collection of book reviews.

AUTHORS: Karen B. London & Patricia B. McConnell

PUBLISHING YEAR: 2001

SUMMARY: Step-by-step guide to dealing with common behaviour problems in multi-dog households

AUDIENCE: Owners

REVIEW: 

In the behaviourist’s caseload, multi-dog households often come hand in hand with fiendishly complex behaviour dynamics. I bought the book hoping for a miracle toolkit, but that hope was hopelessly naive. How could anyone cram the behaviourist’s Holy Grail in fifty pages? Instead of addressing complex behaviour problems, the book focuses on simpler, but relevant, training and self-control issues.

Drs. London and McConnell’s book centers around three basic principles:

  1. Train each dog one by one, then gradually ‘proof’ the skill with more dogs present;
  2. Focus on self-control, manners and prevention; and
  3. Manage/restraint if you cannot supervise.

The book describes the industry’s best practices to deal with front door rowdiness, meal time, the ‘leave it’, introducing the new guy, pulling on the leash, etc. with a group of dogs. With a couple of rare (and mild) exceptions, the authors exhort the reader to adopt an exclusively positive approach to dog training.

Added plus point: the authors show intellectual integrity around the controversial pack theory – they tread lightly and avoid speculation.

A couple of chapters give insiders’ tips even a single-dog owner could use (e.g. body blocks instead of yelling, what to do in a dog fight, etc.) .

Interesting angle for the pros: the authors use compelling turns of phrase to sell the usual ‘hard-to-swallow’ advice like the importance of management and of starting slow. I for one am certainly going to try this formulation on my clients, to see if it helps overcome the usual resistance.

On a couple of occasions, the advice appears to stem from a desire for revenge, rather than from pure didactic motivation (e.g. ignore your dog for up to 1/2 day after a fight). But I am really knit-picking here.

All in all, pick up this book to help you with problem prevention if you are considering a multi-dog household. The book is of limited value to the professional, in my view (contains no revolutionary new insights). Still, I am glad I have read it. It reassures me that I haven’t been missing this magic formula all these years: dog training, for multi- or single-dog households, continues to be about patience and timing.

Your comments

Have you read this book? What did you think? Would you recommend it? Have you read a similar one that you’d recommend to Canis bonus readers?

Further reading

Dogs and society

Dog training and behaviour

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New book review out: High five with your rabbit

Book review: Bernice Muntz’ “High Five with your Rabbit”
By Laure-Anne Visele, written May 2013
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A contact of mine has just released her book “High five with your rabbit” in Dutch. This book enjoys rave reviews on the Dutch market, so I was quite excited when it came out in English. Here’s what I think about it:

Book review

This article is part of my collection of book reviews.

AUTHOR: Bernice Muntz

PUBLISHING YEAR: 2012

SUMMARY: All-in-one rabbit care and… training guide!

AUDIENCE Mainly aimed at rabbit owners, but beneficial to all amateurs of animal training.

REVIEW: Bernice Muntz is a highly successful animal trainer in the Netherlands. From caiman to canary, Bernice’ training techniques have helped improve and even save the lives of countless animals whose behaviour problems made them impossible to live with. Bernice has long been keeping and training rabbits, and finally put her years of lagomorphic experience to paper with “High Five…”.

I can confirm that Bernice’s advice matches the scientific body of knowledge on rabbits’ ethological needs – not a given in the often ill-researched pet literature. A friend of mine, a veterinary technician, even told me that this is THE book her practice have been recommending to their customers.

The primary purpose for me was the chapter on animal training, as Bernice uses the intriguing and powerful SATS training technique.

“High Five with Your Rabbit” gives you step by step instructions on how to train your rabbit not only on matters of household etiquette, but also to perform really neat tricks. Bernice also covers common behaviour problems with rabbits, and how to tackle them.

A couple of “minus” points, at a stretch:

  1. I read the book to get the basics of SATS training, naively hoping it would be sufficient to get me started on SATS with my dog. But of course, a couple of chapters in a book dedicated to pet owners will never replace an in-person workshop if you want to use SATS professionally.
  2. The English translation was clumsy at times, taking away some of the elegance and flow of the original text.

My overall conclusion is: perhaps not a technical training manual for professional trainers, but an absolute must-have for rabbit owners who want to give their pet rabbit a good quality of life.

The Dog Training Daily

This review also featured in The Dog Training Daily of 26 May 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your comments

Did you read this book? What did you think? Would you recommend it? Have you read a similar one that you’d recommend to Canis bonus readers?

Further reading

Dogs and society

Dog training and behaviour

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New dog training school in The Hague

Announcement: science-based, fun-packed and force-free dog training school opens in The Hague
By Laure-Anne Visele, written Mar 2013
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OhMyDog! New dog training school in The Hague

After years of squirreling away the dog training experience (behaviour consults) and qualifications, I kept dreaming of starting my own dog training school. Whilst studying for the renowned O&O dog training qualification, and I met  my match: another university-trained and dog-obsessed young woman with the same dream.

Like me, Nicolle has a specialist university degree (MSc in Ethology), spent years in the mainstream rat race whilst attending dog training courses and seminars on the side. And then, like me, she left the cushy life behind to follow her true passion: dogs.

It all started with  a grand and vague vision: we were going to bring science and reason to dog training. But the dream got more and more concrete, and, before we knew it, we’d set ourselves a deadline of April 2013.

After months of planning and preparation, we are proud to announce the opening of OhMyDog!, The Hague’s science-based, fun-packed, force-free training school.

What makes us different

As dog training customers, we started picking up on do’s and don’ts (I’ve been quite open about the don’ts), and came up with our approach:

  • Positive methods, but measurable progress: With OhMyDog! (The Hague), force-free dog training does not mean permissive. We keep an eye on progress and won’t leave you behind if your dog is lagging.
  • Science-based advice: At OhMyDog!, dog training advice is founded on solid fact, not docu-tainment.
  • Minimum between-turn waiting: We restrict our class sizes to 6 participants.
  • Excellent customer service: Organised, transparent, responsive, and courteous
  • Serving local expats: Courses in Dutch AND in English
  • Fun: We make use of real-life situations and props and make sure that our exercises are dynamic and variable.

We open our doors on April 8, and our lessons will start every Monday night in Scheveningen. We shall start with basic obedience (for adults) and puppy classes.

Come check us out at OhMyDog! Dog Training The Hague and see for yourselves.

Your comments

What is your experience with your local training schools? Any do’s and don’ts? Are you a dog trainer and you’ve founded your own school? What were the pitfalls and successes? Share, share, share.

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New book review out: Feisty Fido

Book review: Patricia McConnell’s and Karen B. London Feisty Fido
By Laure-Anne Visele, written Dec 2012
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This article is part of my collection of book reviews.

AUTHORS: Patricia McConnell and Karen B. London

 

PUBLISHING YEAR: 2005

SUMMARY: Pocket-sized booklet explaining the rehabilitation steps for dogs that are aggressive to other dogs when on-leash.

AUDIENCE If you’re an owner or trainer interested in on-leash reactivity, it’s definitely worth a read, and it will yield non-negligible results if you follow it to the letter. But please do not expect it to resolve the problem fully without further work and specialist help. I see this book as a valuable explanatory tool, rather than a self-sufficient treatment protocol.

REVIEW

Both authors have impressive credentials: they are both clinical behaviourist diplomates AND zoology doctorates. They bring together common-sense and academia, an extremely rare commodity in the world of dog publishing.

Feisty Fido talks of a problem with epidemic proportions: reactivity to other dogs when on the leash.

The authors go through each step of the counter-conditioning and desensitization technique, whereby you:

  • Gradually re-introduce your dog to the stimulus (another dog)
  • Distract your dog from the stimulus
  • Increase your voice control over your dog even in the presence of the stimulus
  • Associate the stimulus with a pleasant outcome, effectively ‘re-wiring’ the unpleasant feeling previously triggered the presence of another dog.

An important side note: The authors appear to be the first to recommend the “where’s the dog” technique: rewarding your dog for looking at the other dog, somewhat of a paradigm shift in the community where, hitherto, we would train the dog to look at the owner. This subtle change of approach makes their techniques that much powerful.

Given the authors’ credentials, it is little wonder that the book promotes non-invasive and evidence-based methods. Thus fear not: no paranoid, dogmatic, dominance-based advice from our two good ladies.

As ever with dog-dog reactivity, the demands of the programme are somewhat unrealistic, and the prognosis is often guarded. Still, reading the book will help you open the bonnet of a desensitization programme, and will deliver sizable improvements.

As often with these highly specialized booklets, I would sooner place it in the hands of a budding specialist trainer than those of a dog owner. My concern is that leash reactivity is best handled by a specialist, as a botched job might achieve the opposite effect.

Your comments

Did you read this book? What did you think? Would you recommend it? Have you read a similar one that you’d recommend to Canis bonus readers?

Further reading

Dogs and society

Dog training and behaviour

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