Dog Behavior Book, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists


To this day, Google “dog screamer” in the number one position, up pops a story I wrote for this national newspaper column, called “He Ought To Call Himself the Dog Screamer.” That column, written back in 2006, went crazy viral. I received hundreds of pieces of hate email because I dared express concerns about dog training methods advocated by then popular “Dog Whisperer,” Cesar Millan.

Only a few months later, while attending the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, NV, I was chatting with veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg. He said that he wished his colleagues had a platform, as I do, to espouse appropriate science-based training methods.

I said, “Write a book!”

Veterinary behaviorists, like Landsberg, are experts in solving pet behavior problems, a huge issue for many pet owners. In fact, it’s likely behavior – misunderstood or unacceptable behavior – kills more pets than cancers or heart disease.

When a pet gets sick with cancer or heart problems, the human/animal bond may become stronger. But when a dog is growling at a family member or has accidents in the house, the human/animal bond may fracture. When that happens, pets are more likely to be given up to shelters. And pets with a “history” may not get a second chance.

Of course, animals don’t behave poorly on purpose – just to get us mad, or to get back at us. They are merely coping the only way they know. So, when a dog begins to bark and leave puddle of saliva whenever left home alone, it’s because the poor pup has separation anxiety not because the dog is being spiteful.

A solution for a dog with separation anxiety, according to one TV trainer, is to leave the house, and then the moment the dogs begins to bark, run back inside and “put the dog in his place; show you are dominant.”

Do you believe that returning home to scold an already clearly anxious dog will actually help that dog to reduce anxiety? Does the dog even have a clue why you are angry?  By the way, that popular theory that we must demonstrate we are dominant over dogs is utter nonsense.

And even if the dog understand why you are scolding, how would that help?

It’s a like scolding a person who is terrified of spiders. That response certainly won’t diminish the anxiety to spiders. Now, that person thinks – ‘whenever I get nervous about spiders, I might also be hollered at’ – the same may be true for dogs.

Of course, veterinary behaviorists know better. I consider veterinary behaviorists superheroes of animal behavior – when pet owners feel they’ve nowhere else to turn, they swoop in and save the day, without fanfare or TV cameras. It’s the behaviorists who teach veterinarians, and other professionals.

Veterinary behaviorists preach the gospel of science, and everything they do is based on it. Often it’s veterinary behaviorists who conduct that science in the first place. If you want to know what a dog is barking about, ask a dog. If you want to know why that dog is barking, ask a veterinary behaviorist.

It took some time, but that book I suggested has just been published. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists authored Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behavior and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones,” (Houghton Milfflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $27) edited by veterinary behaviorists Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi, with myself. There’s never been an animal behavior book quite like this one. And the behaviorists are teaching average dog owners.

I write all the time about wonderful dog training books, and while “Decoding Your Dog” includes dog training basics, the focus is on behavior, beginning with helping to explain how dogs think. From shaping puppy minds to dealing with senior dog issues, this book covers it all. Sometimes even normal dog behavior problems bug us, such as dogs who jump excitedly at the door to greet people or dogs who bark at everyone walking down the street.  That’s not to mention a long list of abnormal behaviors covered in the book, from thunderstorm anxiety to compulsive behaviors, such as dogs who don’t stop chasing their own tails.

When I first learned that we signed a book deal, I immediately phoned legendary behaviorist Dr. R. K. Anderson; he was overjoyed that the prospect that his colleagues would now be touching the general public in a far broader way than ever before.

Anderson, was 90 when he passed away October of 2012. He felt that this book  (which is dedicated to his memory) would allow veterinary behaviorists and their science-proven positive reinforcement methods to reach millions of pet owners with the ultimate outcome of saving lives. I believe he will be proven correct.

©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency, LLC