Decoding Your Dog for Christmas


Speaking with Dr. Debra Horwitz, Decoding Your Dog co-editor at the Western Veterinary Conference

Just a couple of years ago, most people didn’t know veterinary behaviorists even exists as a specialty in veterinary medicine. Veterinary behaviorists are specialists just as veterinary cardiologists or veterinary oncologists are – but I argue they may save more lives, though there are fewer than 85 boarded behaviorists in the U.S. far less than about any other boarded specialty in vet medicine.

By the time most pets are seeing a behaviorist, clients have perhaps tried a dog trainer, their own veterinarian and typically the Internet. Unfortunately, while the Internet may be helpful, it’s also loaded with lots of misinformation regarding animal behavior. It’s up to a behaviorist to save that animal, and usually quickly as the human/animal bond has already begun to fracture, like the cat who has urinated on the family’s bed once too often. Or worse, the dog with separation anxiety is disturbing neighbors and the landlord has given the problem a month to quiet down or out the dog goes.

What’s a behaviorist?

There are all sorts of behavior professionals, and many are superb, but only veterinary behaviorists can tease out if there’s a specific medical condition that may contribute or cause the behavioral response. For example, a cat who urinates on that bed may have lower urinary tract disease or the dog with separation distress might also suffer from canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (like Alzheimer’s in dogs).

The problem is that anyone and everyone can put out a shingle and claim “I am a behaviorist.” If that individual is certified by a legitimate organization, you’re probably in good shape (though the exact word ‘behaviorist’ should be reserved only for veterinary behaviorists). However, people often don’t know to look for certifications, or what they mean. And that is one reason why legendary veterinary behaviorist, the late Dr. R.K. Anderson wanted me to edit a book created by American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, which was ultimately called Decoding Your Dog.

How a dog book is born

The concept for this collaborative book idea was hatched at the Western Veterinary Conference. I commiserated with veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg as we shook our heads in disgust walking out of a session wondering why all these knowledgeable professionals attending a talk could suggest that a then-popular TV dog trainer could be right about having to “dominate” dogs and using aversive methods.

Landsberg told me, “You have platforms, but we don’t. How do we get the science out there?”

I suggested, “Write a book!”

Dr. R. K. Anderson

Anderson said, “You have vision. You need to do this. Climb to the top of the mountain my friend and save lives.”

So, we did just that, as 22 boarded veterinary behaviorists contributed to Decoding Your Dog, published in December 2014, with book reviews that made me blush and high sales that followed and continue to this day.

We built it, and they like it!

I know that co-editors and veterinary behaviorists Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi, and everyone involved are gratified that the book has been so well received by veterinarians and veterinary nurses; many give away the book to new puppy owners or new clients (yes, old dogs can learn new tricks).

The emails we’ve collectively received from dog owners are oh so humbling as are the reviews on Amazon. To think we’d make a difference, even save lives. Of course, that’s why we did the book in first the place.

Dr. John and Dr. Elyse Ciribassi and fans

Arguably one of the most important topics discussed in Decoding Your Dog is learning theory. Training becomes better when pet owners better understand how dogs learn in the first place. And, incidentally, dogs don’t try to dominate their people. And no, dogs are decidedly not wolves.

From house training skills, to teaching dogs basic obedience, such as how to greet guests in your home to walking on-leash, it’s all explained – from crating puppies to dealing with old dog problems.

There’s a discussion of anxiety related behavior issues, such as separation and thunderstorm anxieties. Dealing with aggression to people and aggression to other dogs are among the many other behavior problems detailed in the book. I am proud to say this science-based book has been touted by so many reviewers as being fun to read using real-life examples. Behaviors are explained, how to deal with these issues, and in many cases how to prevent them.

The book is dedicated to Dr. Anderson, who passed away just before the book was published at age 90.

If you haven’t purchased a copy of Decoding Your Dog for yourself or as a gift to another dog lover, now is a great time!