By Anthony De Marinis, CDBC, ADT, FDM, CBATI, TTWC, VSA-DT
Behavior modification 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 to people, dogs, and other animals
- Reactive behaviors on walks, such as barking and lunging
- 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
- and other behavior issues
A true behavior professional takes many things into account in order to provide an appropriate plan as behavior modification can be very complex depending on the concerns and issues presented. 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 situations the behavior issues occur: how the issues begin, what happens when the issues begin and what happens after the issues occur
- understand more about: the dogs health, day to day life, environment the dog lives in, the owner/family
- when necessary provide safety and management strategies
- explain canine behavior and canine body language and communication based on the specific case
- provide problem solving recommendations to reduce the issues
- provides ethical and humane behavior change strategies to teach the learner
What Methods are Used to Modify Behavior?
There are many different methods and philosophies to dog training and behavior modification. This surprises a lot of dog owners as many think that there is only one way to train a dog. This is actually false! It is always a good idea to understand the different methods and how a professional you are interested in hiring trains and modifies dog behavior so that you feel comfortable with the process. My practice provides behavior modification services using a positive reinforcement and a LIMA (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive) approach.
Professionals who provide behavior modification services using positive reinforcement and LIMA take a more humane and evidence-based approach to training and behavior modification. They will use training exercises and behavior modification techniques that involve rewards, operant conditioning, counter conditioning, desensitization, shaping and premack principle. These techniques are more humane and are meant to teach a dog during the behavior modification process, rather than punish a dog during the behavior modification process. It is also important to note that in some cases 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.
In addition, these types of professionals will implement management strategies when needed to help reduce or stop behavior. Management simply means “Changing your dogs environment to make it impossible or unlikely that he’ll do the unwanted behavior(s) you do not want him to do.” (Behavior Adjustment Training 2.0, Grisha Stewart).
Positive Reinforcement & LIMA (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive)
Positive reinforcement means reinforcing your dog for doing the right behavior. When teaching a dog skills or modifying behavior, we want to reinforce (reward) the correct behavior. When a behavior is reinforced, it is likely to be repeated. Reinforcement can be in the form of treats, toys, praise etc. Through clear reinforcement, practice and consistency, the goal is to get your dog to respond to cues with little to no food.
LIMA is an acronym that refers to “Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive.” Trainers and behavior consultants who follow the principles of LIMA adhere to least intrusive, minimally aversive strategies to achieve the best outcome for success when training or addressing behavior concerns. The concept of LIMA is that you start with the most positive approach possible (based on the situation). If and when those techniques or procedures are not effective, you move up the latter in the most humane way possible. To learn more about LIMA, click here
Hire A Behavior Professional With Credentials
When looking for a dog training and behavior professional, it gets confusing to figure out who is qualified and who you should hire. People call themselves certified specialists, behaviorists, behavior consultants, master dog trainers and more! What do all these titles mean?
As I just laid out, there are many different titles individuals may call themselves. My first suggestion would be to see what qualifications professionals have obtained. The dog training industry is NOT a regulated industry. It is important to learn about the specific organizations a training professional is certified by.
Next, ask what methods and philosophies they apply when providing training and/or behavior modification services to see if you are comfortable with them. As I mentioned earlier, many dog owners are surprised to find out that there are many different methods used for working with dogs. You have professionals who provide behavior modification services using positive reinforcement, positive reinforcement & LIMA (positive reinforcement professionals and professionals who follow LIMA take a more humane science-based/evidence based approach to training and behavior modification) , balanced training (this is where a professional will use positive methods along with tools like choke chains, prong collars and electric collars when they feel it is needed, hence a “balanced approach”), and these last group are shock collar trainers (these trainers usually believe in using an electric collar right away and.or will use other forms of harsh corrections and force- which can be VERY damaging to a dog and can cause behaviors to unfortunately become worse.)
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 use of tools such as electric collars, chokers, fear 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
- The severity of the problem
- How long the issue has gone on
- How you have addressed the issue in the past, if at all.
- Your dog’s to processing and comprehension of behavior modification protocols and training
- The 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 professional to:
- Get to know your dog with an in-depth & 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 &/or management strategies
- Implementation of strategies typically begins during the consultation
Is my dog trying to be the boss?
Some dog training professionals and many dog owners still believe that the reason a dog behaves a certain way is because they are trying to be the “the boss, alpha or dominant”. Instead of looking at it this way, I coach people to start understanding their dogs body language and communication signals while also teaching them to look at WHY their dog might be displaying specific behaviors. Dogs have emotions. They respond with emotion when they are happy, uncomfortable, feeling threatened and afraid. Many times our dogs are displaying certain behaviors based off of those emotions. This is really important because once you start understanding this, you will realize that your dog isn’t just trying to be the “boss”, but instead there might be a lot more behind why your dog behaviors a certain way. Renowned dog trainer, behavior expert and author, Pat Miller, has a great article explaining the dominance theory and why we should not use it when trying to modify our dogs behavior issues. And for further understanding, you can also read the IAABC position statement on dominance in dog training and behavior modification.
What should I look for when hiring a behavior consultant?
What a great question! As I mentioned before, the dog training industry is currently not regulated. However, there are some organizations out there that have set standards through testing and competency. This provides the public with verified professionals to help them and their beloved family pets. The following are nationally recognized professional organizations to look for when searching for a professional behavior consultant and dog trainer.
- Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) by the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC):
- Those who have this certification should feel proud! This is quite a rigorous exam that has only a 50% pass rate. The IAABC is at the forefront of setting the industry standards for behavior modification, behavior consulting and animal welfare.
- Certified Behavior Consultant Canine – Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) by the Certification Counsel for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT):
- This organization is the largest certifying body in the United States for dog trainers. CCPDT also has a certification for behavior consultants.
To learn more about how to choose a trainer and behavior professional, read this article written by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
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?
Our dogs are constantly communicating through their body language and behavior. Understanding canine body language and communication signals is important. Understanding our dog’s feelings 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:
- Book: On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
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 harms way to capture video footage.) This video can be reviewed and broken down with your behavior consultant during your comprehensive consultation. 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.
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.
About Anthony De Marinis
Anthony De Marinis is the owner of De Marinis Dog Training & Behavior and provides comprehensive in-home behavior consultations and positive reinforcement dog training services across Long Island, NY. (Online Virtual Consultations for aggression and behavior modification are also available for clients who are both local and out of state.) His specialty is working with complex aggression and behavior cases. Anthony has 7 professional certifications which include: Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Accredited Dog Trainer by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Certified Family Dog Mediator (FDM), Certified Graduate of distinction from the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior, Certified Behavior Adjustment Trainer, Certified Victoria Stilwell Licensed Positively Dog Trainer, The Third Way Certified Trainer and is a Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer. Currently, Anthony has a young Australian Kelpie named Journey. They are learning about agility and sheep herding. You can visit his business website at www.demarinisdogtraining.com and you can check out Anthony’s personal blog at www.myjourneywithdogs.com