When my private training clients are faced with their dog’s behavior issue, we address it through behavior modification, a sort of “doggie therapy,” if you will. But when does a dog need “therapy,” as opposed to regular manners training?
Do versus Feel
Typical dog training is intended to teach your dog good manners: staying on his dog bed while you eat dinner, walking on a loose leash, or sitting while you open the door for him. This kind of obedience training prepares dogs to be polite members of your household and community by teaching them what behavior is acceptable and what is not. For instance, a well-trained dog is able to sit calmly when being pet by a stranger, rather than jump up on him. In essence, training teaches your dog to do something, whether it’s a sit-stay or recall.
Then there is behavior modification. The purpose here is to encourage your dog to feel something rather than do something. Just as many people look to a therapist to help them overcome an emotional hurdle, lots of dogs can benefit from behavior modification to address unhealthy behaviors. Common issues include: leash aggression towards other dogs or people, resource guarding, fearful displays such as hiding or shutting down, separation anxiety, reactivity to loud noises, or intense barking at triggers such as the doorbell. When dealing with any behavior issue, we have to consider the underlying emotions that are driving the unwanted behavior. That is, how can we make your dog feel better? By focusing on the feelings associated with the barking rather than the action of barking itself, you can address the underlying problem.
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In some cases, behavior modification starts with desensitization and counterconditioning. It’s the process of teaching your dog to feel differently about a trigger, such as a passing dog on the street. (You can see the process in action with my own dogs here.) With behavior modification, you sometimes have to help the dog feel relaxed around the trigger before you can ask him to do anything like a sit-stay.
Of course, there are numerous other methods to address behavior concerns, but none of them should involve pain, dominance, or coercion. A qualified, credentialed behavior professional is the best person to help you implement a behavior modification plan.
What Kind of Trainer Should I Look For?
As dog training is currently an unregulated field, you’ll have to do some research to find a credentialed professional that fits your needs. Here are some tips.
Generally speaking, if your dog needs to work on his manners, a dog trainer is what you’re looking for. Dog trainers focus on manners, puppy topics, and possibly canine sports training. Look for the letters CPDT or KPA after a trainer's name, to ensure they have passed rigorous testing and pledged to use humane methods.
If your dog is exhibiting a behavior issue, you likely need a credentialed behavior consultant or even a credentialed behaviorist. The letters CDBC or CBCC after a behavior consultant's name indicate that he/she has passed rigorous testing in behavior issues, participates in continuing education, and has pledged to use humane methods. Beyond that, for serious issues, credentialed behaviorists can be your best bet. Look for CAAB (holding a PhD) or DACVB (vet behaviorist, holding a DVM) after the behaviorist's name. Only individuals with these advanced degrees should be calling themselves a behaviorist.
Having a dog with behavioral issues can be very stressful, but rest assured that there are reputable “doggie therapists” out there to help you.
This article originally ran here at petguide.com.
Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant, certified dog trainer, certified dog parkour instructor, and award-winning author.
The views expressed on this website belong to Kate Naito and may not reflect the views of the agencies with which she trains.