Dog trains man

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Viva the Tracking Dog Against All Odds

Who said a 7 year old dog that never has tracked before, and is fighting with serious health issues like spondylosis, cushing's disease, allergies and a fear complex, cannot track?

Viva is becoming quite an excellent tracker and Kenzo is getting some serious competition.

Viva has great focus on the track and there is not a lot that can distract her when she is tracking. What I love so much about tracking with both Kenzo & Viva is their different style.

Viva has a determinant style. When we trained cross tracks today - a "fake" track crossing the track I want her to follow - you can see that very clear. When she realizes she is distracted by the cross track, she makes an abrupt turn with her head and snorts, like if she is annoyed she has let herself get distracted! Here is a video of that - although it is difficult to actually hear the snorting part so you have to trust me on that:

Pretty impressive if you ask me! When we train cross tracks I lay treats directly after the cross so there is a reward when they follow the right track, or when they return on it after being distracted. Viva is an easy student.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Story of Ruby: Pit Bull on Death Row

Now that there is a chance the breed ban in Denmark might become abolished after the election of a new government, it would be interesting to have look at other countries that repealed their breed bans in an attempt to learn from their experiences.

Yesterday I wrote the first installment about the Dutch, who repealed their breed ban in the start of 2009. This is the second installment.

What we can learn from the breed ban repeal in Holland is best told by Ruby. This is her story.

Ruby was seized in 2008 under the original Dangerous Dog Act, which banned pit bull type dogs. Ruby was put on death-row after being accused of attacking a 1-year old boy, but her owner appealed that decision in court.

When the Dutch repealed their breed ban in 2009 Ruby was still on death-row and her case in court still ongoing. The new law required any dog involved in an incident, regardless of breed, to undergo a behavior test before euthanizing. Ruby seemed lucky. As the new rules will apply for her too she should be tested first.

Ruby gets her test and fails. Spending 11 months isolated in the pound has stripped her from any social skill that was possibly left. Again Ruby is back on death-row.

A famous Dutch trainer, Martin Gaus (the Ducth "Victoria Stilwell") goes in and offers to re-socialize Ruby so she can pass her behavior test. The judge allows it. Ruby gets her second test and passes!

Ruby was finally set free, after spending more than one year in dog-jail on death row. Politicians embrace her success story. On April 22, the Dutch Minister responsible for Animal Welfare, declared in Parliament that Ruby was no longer a danger to society.

One month later, Ruby finds herself in the mids of a media storm. She apparantly seemed to have attacked 2 persons on the same day, together with another dog. And after that, attacked a person in the apartment complex she lives. Ruby is seized once more. The media goes in a frenzy:

"The lobby for the pit bull and the new freedom of a notorious pet."

(see yesterday's post for the complete intro to her story as the press wrote it).
The television program "Zembla", the Dutch equivalent of "60 minutes", aires a 35-minute special (video in Dutch) with the above headline. The message is clear, Ruby must die and the Dangerous Dog Act must be re-installed. The behavioral scientist responsible for Ruby's tests, Matthijs Schilder, declares "the test seem not to work as intended and this behavior must be genetic", and decides to put Ruby on death-row once again.


The Minister is under tremendous pressure, but stands firm to uphold the law. Once again, Martin Gaus steps in, he refuses to believe that Ruby could have attacked those people: "I know Ruby so well, she could never have done this". Together with the Dutch foundation "Help For Seized Dogs" and Ruby's owner they go in court once more.

As it turns out, Ruby's so-called "attack's" where nothing more than incidents in which she jumped up to people. As was the case with her very first incident, which put her on death-row in the first place. The owner could not keep Ruby under control and stop her from jumping on to people. The Dutch Foundation and Martin Gaus plea for the re-homing of Ruby. The judge allows it.

Ruby with new BFF Angel
That was two years ago. At this very moment Ruby is living happily with her new - specially selected - family. Her is a video of Ruby in which you can see Martin Gaus on the left and Ruby's mom on the right. It is in Dutch but have a look just so you can see who I am talking about.

Ruby almost died 3 times, because legislation failed, jumping up on people was misunderstood as aggressive behavior, and her owner could not control her appropriately. As a consequence Ruby spend 1½ year of her life in isolation on death-row.


The elements missing in the new law that replaced the breed ban came quickly to the surface in Ruby's story:
  • Behavior tests: you cannot test dogs that have been isolated for a long time. They will need to go through a re-socialize program first. This is now provided by the Foundation "Help For Seized Dogs". It doesn't always work. Some dogs cannot come back, or they do have an issue that cannot be repaired. But at least they should have a fair chance.
  • The owner: a part of the problem lies with the owner. If you cannot fix that, you cannot fix the dog. There is one Dutch municipality, that after Ruby has implemented a test for the dog AS WELL AS the owner. When the owner fails and the dog passes, the dog is re-homed. This is managed in Holland on local level, but hopefully makes it way into national legislation.
  • Law enforcement: the police is still poorly equipped and educated to investigate and report on incidents. In Ruby's case it was long unclear what the facts were. Good instructions are needed, or better even a specialized unit, concerning dog incidents.
  • Fear: the sentiment of people that are afraid does not change because you made a law. Neither does the media. In Ruby's case, her jumping was still misunderstood as aggressive behavior with people. It underlines that exact and precise dog-(bite)-incident statistics not only are necessary for proper legislation, but an essential ingredient to inform and educate the public. Enabling them to make the shift from a state of fear into a state of knowing. Unfortunately the Dutch have not put a sufficient registration in place yet.
The breed ban is still "out of order". Let's hope we all can learn from Ruby's story and how the Dutch are dealing with their breed ban repeal. The BSL ghost is still just around the corner. The Dutch had a close call. Thank you Ruby.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dutch breed ban repealed: what can we learn?

Now that there is a chance the breed ban in Denmark might become abolished after the election of a new government, it would be interesting to have look at other countries that repealed their breed bans in an attempt to learn from their experiences.

Like the Dutch, who repealed their breed ban in the start of 2009.


The Dutch implemented a "Dangerous Dog Act" in 1993 in the same knee-jerk response towards dog bites we have seen all over the world when Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is implemented: 3 dog bite incidents - one lethal - made the news in a short timespan. The aim of the Act was to decrease the number of dog bites, and to eradicate pitt bull type dogs. In short, when you looked like a pit bull you were in trouble.

In 2009, when the Dutch found out the only statistic that was changing were the pit bull type dogs killed in the pound, they repented, concluded their Breed Specific Legislation didn't work and lifted their ban on pit bull type breeds. The Act was replaced with a new one, in which it was not allowed anymore to discriminate on breed to depict a dog as dangerous, but focus on the deed instead.


Now what did the Dutch do in their new Act, "Regulation of Dangerous Animals"? The new Act, in short, contains these items:
  • Education and prevention: a campaign was started to inform and educate the public on responsible ownership and how to decrease the risk for dog bites. An excellent and informative website (in Dutch) was build on the subject why dogs bite and how you can prevent from being bitten AND how to socialize and train your dog to function properly in society.
  • Dangerous dogs: any dog, regardless of breed, involved in an incident must undergo a behavior test. Depending the result of the test it can be decided to return the dog to the owner with additional requirements - like wearing a muzzle at all times - or when deemed necessary: euthanization.
  • Mandatory identification and registration: all dogs carry an ID - like a chip - and are registered in a national database together with ownership information.
  • Breeding: a mandatory "good behavior" test for breeds - Amstaff, Rottweiler, Dogo Argentino, Mastino Napolitano and the Fila Brasileiro - that should be part of the pedigree. It is only allowed to breed on parents that passed the behavior test.
  • 5-year evaluation cycles: in which the results of the Act - the number of dog bites - are evaluated and possibly adapted.
Although a very decent list, in which the deed is punished and not the breed, one very important element is missing. When you want to decrease dog bites, you have to take the other end of the leash - the dog owner - into account. A missing element that will soon give the Dutch new headaches. But more about that later.

The new breeding regulations seem to be accepted and carried out by the Kennel Club. But why should we also not do this regardless of breed. I am not sure of the actual genetic effect, but what a great message to sent to the general public all dogs used in breeding are tested. It can stop the "fighting gene" discussion once and for all as well.


As we speak, September 2011, the new law is in its second year. There is still no registration to enable a reliable dog bite statistic. Also the mandatory ID & registration has been postponed multiple times but should be in place before the end of this year. As always, implementing a Law is a lot more difficult than getting it through Parliament. But I don't see any reliable statistics ready before the first evaluation cycle which is a shame.

Where is the press in all of this? They always tend to play a dubious role when it is about dangerous dogs. Well, they waited only until May 2009 to make their first headlines. It is the story of Ruby, of which I will write in the next installment. But here is already a preview of how Ruby's story started, in "Zembla", the Dutch TV show equivalent of "60 minutes", in May 2009:

"The lobby for the pit bull and the new freedom of a notorious pet."

They are known for their aggression, bite force and determination. Pitbulls are among the most dangerous dogs in the street. They caused serious injuries and there are a number of children mauled to death
by pit bulls. For years there was special legislation that would prohibit keeping aggressive dogs. The pit bull lovers revolted and carried a sometimes aggressive campaign to reverse the ban of their dogs. With success, because from January 1, 2009 the law is off the table. Why?

When in in the early nineties three consecutive children were mauled to death by pit bulls, the government acted. On February 1, 1993, the Dangerous Dog Act was introduced. Since then, the keeping and breeding of pit bull type dogs was not allowed. As a pit bull as a breed is not recognized, it was determined by physical characteristics, including width of the jaw and athletic physique. Did the dog resembled the characteristics, it was seized.

After the Dangerous Dog Act was implemented, the pit bull association UKCE does all what it takes to stand up for their dogs. Association members intimidate people who dare to say anything negative about pit bulls. Dogs seized are housed in shelters. The owners of some of these shelters are then threatened. The pressure to return the pit bull is apparently so great that the Minister ordered the evaluation of the law by a committee. Their conclusion: the prohibition of aggressive dogs has not worked and should therefore be withdrawn. This happens on January 1 this year [Kenzo: 2009].

According to the new law, the government may only seize and euthanize dogs as a behavioral test proofs that they are aggressive. Symbolic of the confusion about the pit bull is the story about Ruby. The dog attacked a 1-year-old boy on January 20, 2008. When the Dangerous Dog Act was still in place. She was put in an asylum and would be euthanized. The owner went into court to fight that decision.

In the long trial which followed it was agreed that due to the now changed legislation after the Dangerous Dog Act was repealed, that Ruby should undergo a behavior test. February 2009 Ruby gets her test, which she successfully carries out. Ruby was returned to her owner. As an extra guarantee Ruby even gets additional training with specialist Martin Gaus [Kenzo: the Dutch "Victoria Stilwell"].

The Minister reported in Parliament on April 22 that Ruby had successfully completed her training and was no more danger to society. But still it went wrong: on March 12 Ruby and another dog attack two people within one day. Ruby goes unpunished. On April 18 Ruby attacks a resident of an apartment again. Ruby is seized

Havn't we seen these headlines before? Sometimes I wonder if they wrote it in advance, and just opened a drawer and pressed publish when the time was right.

After the new Act was put in place, a new "lobby" was created with like-minded people that just couldn't cope seeing the pit bull types back in the streets. They erected a number of "hate" websites, like (dangerous dogs) and (against pit bulls). They are not harmless, and a simple google test in Dutch will point to their sites instead of the ones supported by the government to provide education and prevention on dog bites.

Together with the press they form a poisonous cocktail. Can politicians keep their back straight in this storm. Does reason continue to prevail? Coming up in the next installment: the story of Ruby.

Friday, September 16, 2011

New Majority in Denmark: Breed Ban Repealed?

Denmark has a new government after yesterdays election. Could this mean Denmark will now repeal it's breed ban? Before and during the election campaign we sure got the impression the new government would repeal the breed ban, once they were in power.

Let's help them remember what they promised. I changed the petition letter to target the new politicians responsible for animal welfare in the new government like this:

Dear Bjarne Laustsen and Kristen Touborg,
Congratulations with your victory in the recent Danish elections.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the still on-going suffering of dogs and dog owners in Denmark. Suffering that was caused by the discriminatory BSL laws (hundelov) implemented by the former Danish government.  I read the reports by Cecilie Thorslund "Danish breed ban rests on historically thin basis" and the recent research of the Danish association "Fair Dog" documenting that dog bite incidents still increase even one year after BSL was implemented in Denmark.

I am writing to you to ask you to re-evaluate the Danish BSL, as you promised during the elections. That BSL doesn't work is the experience from other countries too, like Holland and Scotland, which are a lot like yours. Although BSL does not make people feel more safe and decrease the number of dog bites, it does lead to endless suffering of individual dogs and dog owners, who have done nothing wrong. A new legislation where the deed is punished and not the breed, is needed.

Every time the petition is signed, the politicians responsible for animal welfare in the new government, will receive the above e-mail.

Keep on voting!

 Bjarne Laustsen

Animal welfare spokesman for the political party, The Social Democrats
Kristen Touborg

Animal welfare spokesman for the political party, the Socialist People's Party.


Related posts:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's The Environment Stupid

We rented a small house close-by last week's dog show. Honestly, how interesting can a 3½ hour drive and a dog show be for a dog? So the idea was to give Kenzo and Viva a little bit of extra quality time.

The show was in "Skærbæk". See the right of the map below. And we found a nice place on a small Danish island nearby, "Rømø". A 15 minute drive. We never visited Rømø before, and we did a lot of planning on how to make this work for Viva.

View Larger Map

Traveling with Viva is not easy. Her fear of new places and dogs in particular demands some additional planning. Like to make sure the view of the place we stay doesn't have a whole lot of people and dogs go by. Or to find places for walks that are equally undisturbed.

All our worries turned out to be in vain. The island was beautiful and you could walk and see in all directions without meeting people or dogs. And it quickly showed from the first minute we spent outside, how much Viva just loved this place.

The first thing we noticed her do, was her interest to spider the horizon. You could see miles away and it must have comfort her she could scout the country-side ahead and make sure we were as good as all alone.

When we were on the move, she was ahead of us all the time and made her own decisions as to what direction we should go. Yes, this is the same Viva that is always on my side. Or rear. As manipulative humans, we of course took advantage of the situation and let her walk up and down the sand dunes. A great work-out for Viva to strengthen her muscles in the fight against spondylosis.

Even when we had been hiking for more than 2 hours, she kept on going. Independent. And ahead of us at all times. And sometimes she hit the jackpot. A fresh pile of fox poo to role around in! Sorry there is no video of that, although I am glad I could retrace the spot where I dropped the camera every time she did that.

I have never seen Viva take to a new place like this before. As a matter of fact, she even liked it better than the places we usually have our walks. She told me loud and clear: "It's the environment, stupid!".

Monday, September 5, 2011

Father and son

Finally the big day arrived. Kenzo participated in his first dog show ever and delivered a "good". But we will remember this day for something completely different.

4 years ago, when we got Kenzo from the breeder, we also received a stack of papers. Inside all the papers was a photo of his dad "Odin". A personal message to Kenzo was written on the back. Kenzo's mother was a black and brown Hovawart. But Odin was a blonde, just like Kenzo. We always kept that photo and wondered if Kenzo would grow up to look like - and act like - his dad Odin.

The breeder unfortunately retired, and contact with the litter and both parents was lost before it could start. But we were glad we had the photo. I researched Odin, officialy named "Chaccomo vom Bohrertal", and found out he even made it to Danish Champion 2009. And when Kenzo reached maturity, he did become the spitting image of his dad on the photo.

When we drove up the parking lot to the show area, people were walking their Hovawarts and made show preparations. I couldn't believe my eyes when we drove by one particular couple. The resemblance with Kenzo was striking, and then it flashed through my mind: could it be Odin?.

What must have looked like an emergency stop, I hit the brakes and opened the car window, asking: "Is that Odin?!". The man, surprised by the sudden commotion, gave a hesitated "Yes?". And I answered: "I have his son in the back" and got Kenzo out of the car so we all could meet.

It felt like a family reunion. Kenzo and Odin couldn't care less, but for us humans it was a little emotional roller-coaster. For us it was awesome to finally meet Odin in real life. And for Odin's parents it was awesome to meet the lost son.

Kenzo (left) and his dad Odin (right)
As we were all nervous for the show, this wasn't what we needed to calm down, but we got through the day before entering some state of nervous break down. Kenzo, aka "Sveablik's Igor", got his "good" and we were all proud.

Due to my ill preparations and non-existing knowledge of ring-etiquette, Kenzo pulled this one through all by himself. Odin's dad gave a lot of good tips from his vast show experience and told were we - read: me - should improve. Odin himself scored an "excellent".

After we came out of the ring, people came to see Kenzo up close, arguing how it could be he didn't score higher. A Swedish breeder fell in love with him and asked me a thousand questions about Kenzo, scribbling everything down on a piece of paper.

From the jury report it showed that Kenzo scored highest on the shape of his head. It is so distinctive, and also what he has in common with Odin. The reason I could pick Odin out of 60 Hovawarts in a split second was his face. Other areas praised in the report were the width and depth of his chest, and his overall angles. And last but not least, probably the most important of all, he was judged a "Freundliches Wesen". German for a "Kind Spirit". Thats my boy.

We had to leave early and couldn't stay to see the finale, as we had to see to Viva back home. All those dogs would just have been too much for her. It was an amazing day, mostly thanks to Odin and his dad. A dog show can appear to be all talk about lines and characteristics. But when you know and love the dogs personally, it is so much more than that. I am so glad to have found this missing piece in Kenzo's tale. Boy, I am so proud of him, that sometimes it hurts.
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