Better relationships, happier animals

This page contained a short, free training series that sparked a lot of interest – thank you everyone for participating, discussing and sharing!

It was accessible for about a week until Thursday Nov 10th 2016 at midnight CET.

If you arrived here after the clock struck twelve, I’m really sorry.

If you want to see what the fuss was all about, I will offer that short training series for a nominal fee shortly. You can access the first part, for free, by signing up below – and I’ll send you an invitation when I’ve set up the rest.




102 Replies to “
Better relationships, happier animals”

  1. Very well done….enjoyed all 4 videos. please keep me on your contact list for the next time you offer the comprehensive course. I am interested, but the need to start Friday is just bad timing for over the next 2 months.
    Thank you!!

  2. Firstly, thank you for a great dosage of inspiration and for remembering what is important in a clear illustrative way!
    For me the comments on the importance/power of touch were most interesting. And it provoked a question. It is known that dogs may not prefer touches/stokes on the head. Can you give some kind of a insight on that. Where this kind of knowledge may come from? What can be the background of such preference? Any theoretical references?

    1. Hello Liis, glad to have inspired!

      Interesing question. First, I’m not a dog person, never owned a dog – so I haven’t actually heard that… One reflection I have is that if you pat the dog on the head you risk looming over him which might be intimidating. With my own rather limited experience with dogs I would say that there is huge individual variation – I would do consent tests to find out and also note how the dog seeks contact and initiates body contact.

      A quick search in the scientific literature yields nothing for me – that’s not to say that it hasn’t been studied; I just can’t find it.

  3. Great series of videos, thank you. I also value and recognise the fact that you interact with us all and respond to our comments – please never underestimate how much that means Karolina 🙂 So many professionals/academics/experts forget to acknowledge the contribution people make. I find it particularly irritating when I go to a site that invites me to “ask a question”/”contact us” and then you never get a response!

    One small suggestion for the videos…when you say “What is it?” “Can I eat it?” I wonder if you need to add “Will it eat me?” – this is as equally (if not more so) as important a question for prey animals. What do you think?

    1. Thanks Vicci – I feel this engagement is important – and being an animal nerd it’s hard to dismiss interesting conversation, especially since I feel a certain obligation / ownership.

      Good suggestion. I think I said “is it dangerous” for the “what is it”-response, but “will it eat me” has a better ring to it! 🙂

  4. Hallo
    I have 2 dober Girl Living with me. They’re 4 and 6 years old. The youngest – Baronesse Von “Blixen” – have lived with me from she was 8 weeks. The oldest – Attractive Aligance “Holly”, has lived here since last November/about 1 year.
    Blixen love touching and tells me to keep on, by touching me with nose or paws, harder if I don’t respond. She love massage.
    Holly is calming med, sit on me, lay her face close to mine. She always want to laid close and tight. But she is not so keen with touching, when standing on the floor. Then she moves away and come back.

    I saw the video this morning and I learned a lot and I’m sure my 2 girls and my sons 2 Doberman – Rolex and Chilli – will appreciate this seminar.
    I Will share it all my dobermann friend and more
    With love
    Janne Wærum
    Falster, Danmark

    1. Dear Janne, glad you liked the videos! If you haven’t make sure you watch all 4 before they’re removed..! 🙂

  5. Thank you for the wonderful videos. Here are some comments about dogs…

    I taught my Labradors “Find It” as a (seeking) game and play in it the home and in their outdoor paddock.
    Buddha and Gandhi had separation anxiety (SA) upon adoption. With Buddha it was due to extended periods of isolation as a puppy; Gandhi was found as a starving stray one winter.

    Years ago I resolved their SA and keep it at bay (in part) by playing “Find It” at random times, and just before leaving them alone. Instead of entering a panic upon departure they happily goes about seeking resources I secretly tossed about the yard or in our home.

    Working professionally with anxious, fearful and reactive dogs I teach them to play “Find It” when their stress triggers appear (at a distance) and observe them learn to cope with environmental stimuli that previously pushed them over threshold.

    “Hide and Seek” is another great game that taps into seeking and play, and it strengthens the trained behavior of calling a dog to come back to you. It can be played in the home and outdoors. When my dogs find me I throw a party and we celebrate together. It is a great bonding game!

  6. Since starting to use this in all my interactions with my horse he has started to act remakably like a dog 🙂 it finally feels like training is something he would choose to do <3
    This is truly something every animal owner should learn.

    1. Wonderful – I’m so glad you’re finding this useful – and that your horse does, too! 🙂

  7. WOW – love love love!!
    Thanks for sharing your exciting knowledge with us – will tense follow your Blog in the future – Fun to read about the black and yellow umbrellas such a good picture for those of us who are visual and I have had exactly the same thoughts about Cesar Millan, however, without knowing the chemistry behind the effects of posture – thanks again for sharing 🙂

  8. I’m really enjoying this series. I have horses and dogs and there are many similarities in their body language and behaviours but generally people treat them differently. Imlearning from lots of different avenues and find the theory mixed with practical is working for me. it’s helping to make it all come together and make sense. The dogs are loving the change with use of play and in letting them dictate when and where they choose to be touched. Still a way to go with the horses but really valuable lessons. Thankyou!

    1. April, glad you like these videos and that you actually put their content to use – and see the effects, too! That may just have made my day.

  9. Thank you so much for these videoes – have seen 1 and 2. It gave me an understanding on why I can remove the anxiety in my old dog with bad hearing when I play with her.

    I have a question which has puzzled me for many years now. I owe two dogs which were terrible afraid when I got them (border collies, bred as working dogs – one from Wales and one from Ireland (I live in Denmark). After they started trusting me, they licked and licked me when we had a cosy quiet moment together. I pet them, they lick me back. With one of them I thought she got ‘high’ when licking me 🙂 Is that care behaviour? why do they do it – my other border collies doesn’t

    I’ve shared your videos on my fb-profile where I have many dogs, cats and horses friends.

    Excuse my poor english – hope it understandable 🙂

  10. Wonderful videos – I watch them with big interest. I am also looking forward to see you in Denmark come spring. I an quite curious about epigenetic, what are your thoughts about that? In this video they suggest the main issue to be a question of witch genes are activated ? The nature or nurture discussion? Would love to hear your thoughts..
    best regards rio

    1. Very interesting tweak, I hadn’t heard about that particular study.

      It seems the nature-nurture debate is somewhat dead: it’s not either, it’s both. Natural selection provides us with genes, but then those genes are exposed to the environment, which in turn determines how they’re expressed. Fascinating stuff!

  11. Your comments about “seeking” (third video) help me to understand why my dog is so much calmer and less reactive on walks when I use a 15-foot leash. He has the freedom to explore interesting smells, to poke his nose into bushes, to wander off the path a little bit. We may not walk as far or as fast, but it’s more HIS walk, and clearly more enjoyable for him. Thank you for another great video!

    1. Hi I love this series it is so accessible and enjoyable. I am currently working with two traumatised rescue horses they are approximately 8 and 28 years old respectively. As they are mares and a little older I have introduced a single novel object to encourage seeking and investigatory behaviour as opposed to play given that being older and mares they would play less than geldings or stallions. Thank you again

      1. Jessie, good point. In most species, it’s the young that play, dogs being one exception (play retained in adults). In horses, play in adults has been suggested to be a coping mechanism in stressful situations…

  12. Thanks for these videos Karolina, I fully agree on the important role of play. You could have added to play before and during training, that playing after training seems to also improve the memorisation process (there was a presentation at the canine Science forum 2016 on this topic). Concerning my dogs, they are so different: one was a singleton and had therefore no early play experience within litter but is extremely joyful and playful. The other was in 5 puppies litter, but is very “serious” and hard to get to real play… it is quite unexpected isn’it?

    1. Marie, great comment – yes I recently learned about that study too! 🙂

      Interesting with your dogs being so different from what’s “expected”… well, there’s natural variation, of course..!

  13. These videos are amazing! I have a 9 year old dog that I used to have a really great relationship with, don’t get me wrong it’s still good, but I got really sick about 4 years ago and have not had the same energy to do all the fun stuff we used to do. I have now started to get better and have realised that we are not as close as we used to be, and that I haven’t been that fun to be with. I was a little lost about what to do to change this and I feel like these videos gave me really good ideas and I belive alot of play and cuddling is in our future!

    And another plus, as someone really interested in ethology, this is a topic I find really fascinating and necessary. Especially since so many people simply don’t belive animals have feelings at all.

    1. Johanna, thanks for sharing your reflections. I think you’ll find that your dog is forgiving and that you’ll find your way back to the bond you once shared! Good luck!

  14. Once again your video got me thinking. I do often wonder why, with my cockatoos, play diminishes as they approach adulthood? When I say play here I mean playing amongst themselves and with their environment. It seems when they reach sexual maturity, they seem to look at life more seriously. Play does not completely disappear, however, but is certainly greatly reduced.

    Fascinating subject that elicits more questions than answers for me. Play could be a course all unto itself. Thanks, Karolina.

    1. That is very common – great observation! In most animal species, play diminishes as the animal reaches adulthood – apparently we’ve bred that trait out of dogs; one of the few exceptions. Wolf pups play, adults hardly don’t.

  15. I really enjoyed video and as my dog was by my side I decided to stroke her where I thought she liked best…and then waited for the consent test. She moved her ‘bum’ around so I could get a better angle 🙂
    She loves her cuddly toys and has a basket of them. Bedtime for all of has to be accompanied by Teala being asked to get a toy, she chooses and there is a fun five minutes of her taking the toy first to my hubby then running down the corridor; then toy to me. She always gives it to you to give back to her. She then settles down with that toy for the night.
    I’ve shared the link with friends on Facebook and with people that are studying on a dog training course. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.

  16. Wow! Loved the video on Play too 🙂
    My dog bounces around when he is playing, he wriggles, he grins, he is joyful!
    He used to be very reactive with other dogs. At the dog park he was not interested in food when he saw another dog. So, I took tennis balls in my pocket. As soon as another dog appeared in the distance I would take out the tennis balls and start throwing them for him. (We were quite a way away from the other dog/s). Once the dog/s had passed I swapped the ball for a treat and we continued on our walk. This was repeated for every sighting of other dogs. After some time if my dog saw another dog he would turn and run to me because that meant the tennis ball would come out! Eventually we were able to go amongst the other dogs. My dog approached them now with curiosity and relaxed body rather than slowly with tense body. Power of play!

    1. What a wonderful procedure – thanks for sharing! Counter conditioning can be such a powerful tool! 🙂

    2. Very helpful, thank you care is every thing for all species pleased you are on this Planet!
      Chris Franks

  17. My dog loves towel rubs on the head too! He prances about like a lamb when he is happy to see people he loves and loves scratches and pats, particularly belly rubs. He is often initially aloof with people he does not know and may take a little time to get to know people. He is reactive with other dogs but after much practice at playing “Look at That” this has decreased a lot.
    I hadn’t realised that what happens to the mother dog BEFORE whelping the puppies has such a huge impact on them until I read something recently but it explained a lot and your video makes me realise that she would have not been in a good space after whelping either.
    Looking forward to seeing your next videos. Thanks!

    1. Julie, much of this knowledge is rather new – I think a few decades from now we will be shuddering at the thought of some of the things we used to do to animals… or people for that matter..!

  18. Thank you so much for this video. I work with training people and their dogs and focus heavily on building a relationship based on trust. Your video gives me much more to give them in understanding their dogs.

  19. I just listened to your second video on play – and oh, how I love it :o). Your points are great and they support the notion that play is an extremely important “tool” in both training and in our social relationship with our animals. It also completely refutes the notion that play might cause problems in the dog-human relationship. As a dog trainer I use play as a reinforcer and I also find that the dogs just loooove it.
    My three dogs play with each other even though there is a great age difference between them. I have two older beagles and a young working kelpie. Their play primarily consists of chase behavior interspersed with breaks where new bouts of chasing is invited by either party.
    Thank you for sharing :o)

    1. Thank YOU for sharing! It’s always great to get such a visual image of what it might look like in the real world..! 🙂

  20. Thanks for another great video! My young rat males are quite playful. Especially one of them. When in the right mood he follows my hand around and then we take turns “attacking” each other. I kind of wrestles him with my hand and sometimes I put him on his back and tickles his belly. Other times he is on top of my hand and win the match. Sometimes he initiates playtime by softly biting my toes. I love the fact that rats actually laugh when tickled but hate the fact that I can’t hear it, it would be wonderful to hear their chatter.

  21. Hi Karolina –
    great to see you again in these wonderful videos!
    In my mind I exchanged “animal” with “baby/infant” and it makes totally sense as well! As you said: it is a stable concept for big part of the animal kingdom. And this includes humans, of course!
    You gave me important information for my new field of work: coaching parents (and others) for a “species-appropiate” handling of their children.

    1. Deike! How are you, great to see you here! I absolutely agree, to me the words “human” or “animal” are more or less interchangeable in most of what these videos are all about..! After all, I’m a primatologist!

  22. Hi Karolina!
    Thanks for very interesting videos. I have a guest cat staying with me right now, and it didn’t seem to like me to pet him. Then I tried to pet him at the spot between the ear and the eye for a short moment, took away my hand and waited for the consent. It worked!
    The importance of play is known for cats and dogs. But I also have a horse and I’d like to play with him too. Maybe my fantasy is slightly limited, but how can I start playing with him in a safe way? Have you got any ideas? When horses play with each other, they can be a bit rough…

    1. Dear Susanne, thanks for letting us know that the consent test worked, and you found a spot the cat enjoyed having petted!:-)

      Hmm… I think I just answered Anita – check out the comment below this one. Or is it above?

  23. Great information nicely presented, easy to watch and easy to remember! In all the years as a vet nurse and doing a two year Equine Science course, nobody ever mentioned the seven core emotions, I hope that is going to chance one day.. for our animals…
    As a horse person I slightly envy my fellow dog peeps when it comes to the term “play” 🙂 and reinforcing with play .. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your knowldege Karolina!

    1. Anita, I understand your envy… perhaps some object play? YOu would be part of the context where play occurred even if it’s not social play, so it would mean that some of the place preference would rub off on you. In other words, as long as you’re present when play occurs, and the animal notices, that should influence your relationship in a good way.

  24. The videos help to see in a different and scientific way how relationship with animals, particularly our pets is not only human behavior but also their behaviors toward their parents ( wrongly called owners sometime)

    I’m curios however about the relationship between caregivers in a lab. animal setting. I work in a nhp facility and i would love to learn from you any analysis,approach, even tips in this particular envioroment, because I truly believe and support that they deserve to be happy also.
    Thanks so much for helping to open eyes and mind.

    1. Captive NHPs do benefit from a good relationship with humans, and just as with other animals it should start early – for instance by just hand feeding young animals – this probably generalizes well later (meaning that they’ll assume that people are generally nice rather than something to be feared). Later I would make sure that all first introductions to new humans don’t involve any aversive stimuli: that’s latent inhibition for potential fear learning occurring later. Social housing with conspecifics (and there are ways around potential compatibility issues) is the single most important thing you can do for them (as with many other social animals).

  25. I really enjoyed your first two videos and spent some time on your blogs as well. I have one cat who can not tolerate being touched. I have his brother who is very well socialized. They were barn cats as kittens. I wonder what happened with them that they are so different from each other. Your videos are reminding me what is important, the touch and play. I will be much more observant with my cats and dogs, who likes to be petted and where. Happy times ahead! Thank you for sharing such valuable information.

    1. Interesting that they’re so different. It could be some singe-event learning episode involving some fearful or annoying stimulus, or it could be that they were somewhat differently socialized to humans… hard to know. But it is interesting – and certainly that it’s so malleable! Glad you’re having that small mind-shift!

  26. Karolyn , super ‘ play ‘ video idea.
    It corresponds with an article in a psychology magazine that tested Labradors in learning something new and retaining it.
    The Labradors that were played with after a training session retained 40% more than the Labradors that were not played with.
    Wouldn’t it be interesting what result play before and after a training session would be?
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. That’s a very fascinating study, thanks for bringing it here! 🙂 and yes, that would be interesting!

  27. I loved this and it goes really well with the consent to pet video and other info I give my clients. One question though. Is CRF Cortisol Releasing Factor? I’m not familiar with that acronym.

    1. Thanks! It’s Corticotropin-releasing factor. It’s a neurotransmitter (so, active in the brain) and causes a cascade reaction that leads to a release of cortisol in the end (which is a hormone). Among other effects…

  28. I found your comments about “consent” especially useful. One of my dogs makes his consent to petting very obvious, while the other, whom we’ve had only a few months, is a little harder to read, but I’m learning. He initiates contact, but mostly by licking, and I’m wondering what that’s about. Thank you for your great video!

    1. Your dogs will thank you for reading them..! One way of assessing your new dog’s willingness to be petted might be to film an interaction or two. Sometimes it’s easier to see those small nuances on video..!

  29. Love the consent test idea. I’ve been spreading the word about this to my dog training students. I’m all about improving relationships with people and their dogs. Thanks for the wonderful talk! Looking forward to the rest of your videos.

      1. Hi Karolina

        Thank you for your wonderful video . So important to raise awareness of emotions and how to best support and build relationships with them. I can’t wait for the next video.

  30. Fantastic first video, very insightful and practical. It took many sessions and patience getting my rescue dog to accept touch massages but by respecting his signals and learning were and how, he now loves it and has learned to trust me.

    1. Glad to hear that! Yes, I tried to keep it practical rather than dive into theory for this training series.

      Your story put a smile on my face – thank you!

  31. Excellent video. Two important nuggets for me:
    (1) The link between grief and care
    (2) How you cannot touch ‘spoil’ a young animal enough

    Question: Do you think that touch could help with separation anxiety as a component of a more complex protocol? E.g. Has anyone checked what happens if a dog with mild SA receives a calming massage for 10 minutes before the owner leaves? Does it exacerbate/improve/make no difference to the animal’s emotional state when being left alone?

    1. Shlomit, excellent idea of summarizing your main take home-points for us! 🙂

      Great question too. I have not seen the procedure described anywhere, but science suggests that emotional states or moods impact future behaviour – which indicates that it’s a really good idea. But – learning also impacts behaviour. So I’d be careful doing those calming massages in other contexts too to avoid the animal learning that “after the fabulous massage they LEEEEEAVE”. And using other techniques too. Certainly worth trying!

  32. Karolina, enjoyed your first video. Looking forward to the rest. As I was listening I, of course, was relating to my animal of choice–parrots. In the US, parrots are mostly pulled from their parents’ nest and hand raised so that they will be tame for the companion parrot market. I have done so as a breeder in the past, but now am very much against this procedure. Your comments reaffirm for me how important parental care is for the offspring. Humans make poor parrot ‘parents’ no matter how hard we try. Hand raised parrots grow up on a very poorly constructed foundation and most will suffer from some sort of behavior problems as adults as a result. (I’m sorry that I don’t have any scientific studies to back up any anecdotal observations I’ve had over the years except that I live with both parent raised and hand raised cockatoos. The difference is remarkable. I much prefer parent raised birds.)

    As to the power of touch, yes, very important. Again, relating to companion parrots, inappropriate touching of companion parrots can elicit sexual responses from the parrot so care must be taken how the bird is handled, as you pointed out with your dog and cat examples.

    Sorry to go on so long. As you can see, your first video really got me thinking!

    1. Chris, some great comments you’re making. Often we just follow in the footsteps of our predecessors without much thought… so sometimes it’s useful to really re-think those decisions. Overall, humans make a poor substitute for the real thing. And as I discussed in another comment, there could be many problems involved including abnormal behaviour and sexual behaviour directed towards humans… Glad to get you thinking! 🙂

  33. Wow, what a great talk!
    It really made me rethink!
    I thoroughly enjoyed it!
    I have a 3 year old horse that is easily stressed and unsecure. I got her 6 months ago and are now working on building up her confidence.
    Thanks so far for this, and looking forward to the next videos!

  34. Great video! I have a really frightened cat that I just got from a shelter… touching is out of the question! How do you build a relationship with someone who’s frightened and just wants you to go away..?

    1. Nina, I can relate to that.

      Actually, I’ll talk more about what to do (playing and sd/cc) in the upcoming videos – but in the meantime, if you just got her, make sure that you have Feliway installed, lots of hiding places, multiple escape routes, access to three-dimensional space and several kitty boxes – and give her time to adjust without having to meet all the family members at once…! Good luck!

  35. Really interesting video, thank you. I will share on Monty Roberts Online Uni as I know they would find this interesting. I wonder if I could ask a question? Orphaned animals can be notoriously difficult if raised by humans as they do not properly learn their own ‘language’. Our desire to ‘overcare’ and ‘humanise’ animals can make it at best difficult for them to interact with their own species if returned and at worst, dangerous. However, this is not always the case. I wonder what your thoughts are on the difference between solely human reared animals, and ‘naturally’ reared animals with human interaction.

    1. Great question, Vicci, and your raising a really problematic issue.

      I’d say the extent of that problem depends on a couple of things: a) the amount of learning that occurs after birth relative to innate behavioural repertoire (highly species-specific), and b) the nature and quality of social interactions, and c) the degree to which (and age) they are exposed to their own species. And perhaps I should also add whether sexual imprinting occurs or not (if they learn mating preferences by association or if these are innate – again species-specific). So, for instance, males in human-raised birds and hooved animals often imprint sexually and might try to mate with humans when they grow up, cats and dogs don’t. Primates learn most of their behavioural repertoire – cows don’t…

      My take on this: try to keep the animal with its own species as much as is possible. If the mother doesn’t have any milk she can be trained to allow the infant to be fed whilst she’s holding it… preventing much of these problems down the line.

    1. Kerstin – If you liked that one, I think you’ll find the next one even more interesting… 😉

    1. Dear Megan, glad you liked it! Also, thanks for allowing me the use of your massage session-video!

  36. A lovely explanation of the CARE system – will share this with my ‘new puppy clients’ to back up the explanation of why puppies shouldn’t be left alone to ‘cry it out’!
    Look forward to your next video.

  37. Thank you Karolina, I found this first video very interesting. I was a veterinary nurse for years and wish we had learned a bit more of this emotional work in my training. My dog, Willow, a lurcher, loves what we call ‘rub-a-dub’ ~ it started as a pup when we would get in from a walk and she was wet. I drop a towel on top of her and rub her all over ~ her favourite part is her face, head and neck which she constantly offers as I’m trying to dry the rest! 😀

  38. Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge with us! I love your way of giving “heavy” information in a “light” and interesting way. And your English can be understood by everyone :-). I am looking forward to part II!

    1. Thank you… I find myself that I remember information better if it isn’t too complicated. Understanding is one thing, remembering another..!

  39. Thank you!
    People tell me sometimes that my dogs are spoiled. Now I am very sure that they are comfortable.
    I always enjoy listening to your intelligent and animalcareing advice. Thank you again!

    1. Ahhhh… interesting that many people won’t consider corrections problematic but that affection might be..!

  40. Your courses are so fascinating, eye-opening and important. I’ll share and hope it may help others the way it helps me understand and being more responsive towards the animals in my care. Thankyou!

  41. Ha ha – “elevator butt”! I guess that means I passed the consent test with my cat. 🙂 Thanks so much for the great advice, Dr. Westlund – soooo useful. Can’t wait to hear more useful tips in the next video!

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