By Anthony De Marinis, CDBC, ADT, LFDM, FFCP
Behavior modification also known as behavior rehabilitation or behavior resolution, is a treatment approach for changing the undesirable behaviors that your dog exhibits. Behavior modification can address a broad range of issues and is designed to meet the specific needs of each dog and household.
Behavior modification addresses issues such as:
- Aggression toward people, dogs, and other animals
- Reactive behaviors on walks, such as barking and lunging (commonly known as leash reactivity)
- Fear of noises, people, other animals, and storms
- Separation anxiety and other issues when home alone
- Excessive barking
- Resource guarding and territorial-based behavior
- Excessive attention-seeking
- Compulsive based behaviors
These are just some examples of behaviors addressed by behavior modification.
A qualified behavior professional takes many things into account in order to provide an appropriate plan, as behavior modification can be very complex. In order to provide a proper behavior plan, a behavior professional will:
- Identify what the presenting concerns/issues are in the specific case
- Understand the circumstances of the behavior issue, including what happens before, during, and after an unwanted behavior
- Find out more about the dog’s health and day-to-day life, the environment the dog lives in, his or her exercise habits, and the owner/family
- When necessary, provide safety and management strategies
- Explain canine behavior and canine body language based on the the dog and the dog’s behavior
- Provide problem-solving recommendations, training skills and behavior modification protocols and strategies to reduce and/or address the issues.
Dog Training Methods and Beliefs
There are many different methodologies and philosophies in the world of dog training and behavior. It’s important to have a basic understanding of these, as well as the tools used by people who practice the various methods when choosing the best dog trainer to work with you on modifying your dog’s unwanted behavior. To learn more about the different dog training methodologies take a look at my blog post called Dog Training Methods and Beliefs, where I discuss training philosophies and methods in detail.
What methods will my trainer use to modify behavior?
Again, there are many methodologies that behavior professionals use. If you hire a professional who provides behavior modification services using a positive reinforcement and LIMA framework (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive), they are taking a humane and evidence-based approach to training and behavior modification. This is true whether the person identifies as a positive-reinforcement or balanced trainer. Again, you can learn more about the different training methodologies by visiting my blog called Dog Training Methods and Beliefs for a simple break down.
These professionals will use training exercises and behavior modification techniques that involve rewarding desirable behaviors, which is called operant conditioning. They may also use practices known as counter-conditioning and desensitization, which help dogs overcome fears and other discomforts with certain things they encounter in their daily life. Many LIMA-based trainers feel that in some cases, using a form of punishment to stop or reduce a behavior is necessary, and sometimes it is the most humane and fair to the dog. (Keep in mind that I am using the word “punishment” loosely here, and I am not promoting harsh, heavy-handed, or abusive treatment of dogs.)
Techniques such as operant conditioning and counter-conditioning are more humane and are meant to teach a dog during the behavior modification process, rather than punish the dog.
In addition, these types of professionals will implement management strategies when needed to help reduce or stop behavior. Management simply means changing your dog’s environment to make it impossible or unlikely that he’ll perform unwanted behaviors.
What Should I Look for When Hiring a Behavior Consultant?
What a great question!
I would suggest hiring someone based on the issues or priorities you have. While many professionals are great at what they do, finding someone who has a relevant area of expertise can be extremely beneficial. For example, I specialize in working with aggressive dogs and reactive dogs. Finding an aggression specialist or a puppy specialist can sometimes make all the difference based on your needs.
It is important to realize that the dog training industry is currently not regulated. There are numerous certifications dog trainers can obtain but, as I discuss in my blog post about certification called, Do I Need to Hire a Dog Training and Behavior Professional With Credentials? – The Art & Science of Dog Training, it is not necessary to choose a professional solely based on certifications or credentials. There are some organizations offering credentials that have set standards through testing and competency. This provides the public with professionals who meet certain minimum requirements. But again, hiring who you feel is the best for your pet is most important.
If you are looking for a dog behavior trainer and live near me on Long Island, please visit my help for dog behavior problems and behavior modification in dogs page on my website. If you are out of my area, I also provide virtual dog training and virtual behavior consultations with online tools such as Zoom.
Behavior Modification — How to Get Started
Here are some helpful tips that you can use to get the most for your money when hiring a professional behavior consultant.
What is your dog saying? Learn about body language
Our dogs are constantly communicating through their body language and behavior. Understanding canine body language and communication signals is important, as it helps us understand why they are displaying certain behaviors. Taking the time to learn about canine body language and communication signals is the first step in treating any behavior issue. Here are some credible sources of information to learn about canine body language and communication:
If possible, and if safe to do so, capture video footage of the behavior(s) of concern. (Please do not put yourself, your dog, or the public in harm’s way to capture video of unwanted behaviors.) You can record it on your cell phone or by setting up portable cameras where the behavior(s) typically happen. Remember to record both before, during, and after the behavior so that your behavior consultant has a full picture of the issue. This video can be reviewed with your behavior consultant during your comprehensive consultation.
Keep a journal
Writing down specific incidents when the problem behavior(s) happens is key! You should also include what happens before and after the behavior(s), as this provides valuable information. Include as much detail as you can.
Frequently Asked Questions for Behavior Issues
What causes behavior issues in dogs?
Behavior issues in dogs can be a result of many things. Some common reasons behavior issues occur include:
- Lack of proper, early, and appropriate socialization
- Fear, anxiety, and stress
- Lack of training
- Traumatic experiences
- Rehearsed behaviors (when a behavior is practiced over and over)
- Improper training and/or the use of training tools that could case negative effects to the specific dog/learner in a specific context
- Fear and intimidation tactics and physical force
- Genetic predisposition (poor breeding)
- Medical and physical issues
- Reinforced inappropriate behaviors
How long will it take to fix my dogs behavior issues?
The timeframe for behavior modification relies on a variety of factors.
- The type of behavioral issue
- How long the issue has gone on
- How you have addressed the issue in the past, if at all.
- Your dog’s ability to process and comprehend behavior modification protocols and training
- Your follow-through on implementing training and behavior modification protocols
- The severity of the issues:
- Severe cases may require the help of a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist in addition to a behavior modification plan.
What should I expect from a behavior consultation?
During a comprehensive behavior consultation, you should expect your training and behavior professional to:
- Get to know your dog with an in-depth and thorough behavior history form.
- Help you understand your dog’s behavior.
- Discuss your goals and concerns to develop a plan.
- Introduce training concepts.
- Provide helpful suggestions and information.
- Observe and evaluate your dog.
- Discuss safety and/or management strategies.
Many trainers will begin implementing some of their proposed strategies during the initial consultation.
It is important to note that your behavior consultant may recommend seeking help from your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to rule out any health- or pain-related issues and/or to seek help with behavior medication.
About Anthony De Marinis
Anthony De Marinis specializes in working with dogs with behavior issues, specifically with aggressive behavior. He provides comprehensive in-home behavior consultations and dog training services in most of Nassau County and western Suffolk County on Long Island, NY. (Online Virtual Consultations for aggression and behavior modification are also available for clients who are local and out of state.) Anthony is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Accredited Dog Trainer by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Licensed Family Dog Mediator (LFDM), and a Fear Free Certified Training Professional (FFCP). Anthony currently has an interest in training and behavior modification in Working & Sport bred dogs. He is also learning about and currently competing in agility and sheep herding with his own dogs. Anthony has two Australian Kelpies, Journey and Quest.