I’m a dog trainer and behavior consultant—not a veterinary behaviorist. Although good dog trainers spend a lot of time dealing with canine behavioral issues and need to stay abreast of what the scientific community is continually discovering about how our canine companions think, feel, and learn, there is a difference between trainers and behaviorists. Good trainers rely on the medical and behavioral expertise of the veterinary and scientific community so that we too can use hard science to unpeel layer after layer of that unique and wonderful animal we call “man’s best friend.” This task is never ending, and we are constantly learning new and more-effective ways to harness the power of scientific knowledge in our work with dog owners on the ground.
Sadly, we live in an era when, as is the case with most generational shifts in thinking, there is a good deal of resistance when it comes to employing the concepts and ideologies that science is proving for us regarding our relationships with dogs. For decades, we relied on since-disproved theories of canine behavior to teach our dogs, and we ended up using misunderstood and misapplied concepts of domination and “alpha wolf” theory as the most natural and effective ways to control them. This put the emphasis on punishing dogs for misbehaving rather than teaching them what to do in different situations. But gradually we began to see the light: although dogs descended from wolves, dogs are not wolves, and they behave very differently. Dogs are not on a quest for world domination if left unchecked, and we don’t need to be their dominant “pack leaders.” Using harsh “teaching” techniques on dogs can, in fact, make many common behavioral issues much worse, or at least much more unpredictable—not to mention the fact that confrontational methods cause mistrust and compromise a dog’s ability to learn and can damage the human–dog relationship.
Modern behavioral science has taught us that dominance and punishment are less effective and more dangerous than positive training philosophies, even for so-called red zone—or very aggressive—dogs, while conscience has told us that positive training also just feels more right. But in this debate over how best to build our relationships with dogs, proponents of the dominance- and punishment-based old-school training methods are not going quietly. There’s too much money, history, and (mostly) pride at stake for them to reverse course and cross over from the “dark side,” and that’s a tough combination to overcome.
But fortunately for us (and dogs!), while you are free to not like what science tells you about a given topic, you can’t really argue with it if the scientific research has been done carefully and methodically. You can certainly try, but chances are you’ll be wrong.
The debate about training methods is over, and positive, force-free, reward-based training has been validated as the most effective, long-lasting, and humane choice by an outstanding scientific behavioral community that is made up in part of the very people who have contributed to this book.
As a dog trainer on TV and in private practice, I have dedicated my life to better understanding dogs, where they come from, how we got to where we are, and how best to give them the tools they need to succeed in our strange, domestic, human environment. Some of this is achieved by staying aware of common sense and our inner moral compass, but a lot of it also comes from understanding and assimilating what behavioral science tells us about our four-legged friends. Use the information you’ll find in this book, as countless other positive trainers like me have done in our careers working with dogs, and you’ll be building relationships the right way—relationships built on mutual trust, respect, and love instead of pain, fear, and intimidation.
Victoria Stillwell—dog trainer, author, editor in chief of Positively.com, and host of It’s Me or the Dog
The vision for this book arose from the collective desire of the ACVB to make available to dog owners scientifically correct information about dog behavior problems and to correct widespread misinformation about dog behavior. Each author of Decoding Your Dog is an ACVB member, expert at interpreting canine behavior.
Not a “bricks and mortar” institution, the ACVB (www.dacvb.org) is an organization of veterinarians with advanced training and experience in the field of applied animal behavior. Recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (www.avma.org) and founded in 1993, the ACVB certifies members, called “Diplomates,” after they complete a rigorous training program. Required credentials include a veterinary degree followed by many years of education and training. In addition to intensive study, candidates applying for membership must publish in a scientific journal, manage hundreds of clinical cases in the field of veterinary behavior, write suitable case reports, and pass a rigorous written examination. Thus, the authors have advanced training and extensive experience in treating the behavior problems of dogs.
The editors of this book, Drs. Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi, are experts and leaders in the field of veterinary behavior, with decades of combined experience. In their respective specialty practices, they have helped thousands of clients resolve their dogs’ behavior problems. Dr. Horwitz, past president of the ACVB and 2012 Ceva Veterinarian of the Year, is author and editor of numerous books for veterinarians, focusing on how to treat pet behavior problems. Dr. Ciribassi, past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, is a popular speaker and author.
Steve Dale, a well-known pet journalist, radio and TV personality, and pet advocate, has assisted the editors and contributors. Steve has long emphasized the critical role of the veterinarian in solving pet behavior problems and the importance of behavior in the human-animal bond.
Behavior problems in our canine companions can erode the relationship we share. Even the closest ties, the deepest affection can be damaged. Behavior problems are common, reported by the majority of pet owners. And although some problems are minor, others have serious consequences. Without successful treatment, the result may be loss of the dog to a shelter or euthanasia. The goal of this book is to help you prevent or manage behavior problems so that you and your dog can live in harmony together.
The authors will recommend first that if you note a change in your pet’s behavior, consult with your dog’s veterinarian, to be certain that a medical problem is not contributing to it. Your veterinarian may be able to help, or he or she may refer you to an ACVB Diplomate or other qualified behavioral professional, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. (See Recommended Resources at the end of this book.) The following pages will show you how to interpret your dog’s behavior and to work with your veterinarian or specialist to manage or prevent specific behavior problems. Solving canine behavior problems is a bit like solving a mystery. Veterinary behaviorists need to know who, when, where, why, and what, to best manage the problem. For example: Who is the dog with the problem? (In multidog households it might not be