What is Dog Behavior Modification?

Smiling dog looking at the camera with green grass in the background.

What is Dog Behavior Modification?

By Anthony De Marinis, CDBC, CBATI, VSPDT, TTWC, VSA-DT

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?


Hire A Behavior Professional With Credentials

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 beliefs they apply when providing training and/or behavior modification services. Many dog owners are surprised to find out that there are many different methods used for working with dogs.


Old Fashioned Training Techniques

There are trainers who still use old fashioned and heavy-handed correction approaches. These inflict fear and intimidation on dogs. On the other end of the spectrum are trainers who use humane and modern techniques. These are typically known as positive reinforcement, science-based, and force-free training techniques. There are also some trainers who train a mixed approach of positive reinforcement and old fashion methods. These techniques are known as balanced training.

I personally categorize myself as a positive reinforcement training and behavior professional. I always use humane and modern techniques.

You are probably wondering why I am explaining all of this, right? Well, this is important because knowing who to hire will determine how your dog’s behavior will be modified.


Small dog indoors looking at the camera.


What is behavior modification?

Behavior modification is a treatment approach for changing the undesirable behaviors that your dog exhibits. Behavior modification can address a broad range of issues. First, discussing your dog’s issues helps explain why they might do the things that they do. Next, plans and protocols are created to help manage and modify the behavior(s) of concern. Behavior modification programs are designed to meet the specific needs of each dog and household.


Positive Reinforcement Is A Humane Approach

Professionals who modify behavior using positive reinforcement based methods take a more humane approach. These professionals will use training exercises as well as behavior modification techniques such as counter conditioning and desensitization protocols. These types of professionals use evidence-based information that have been proven through studies and science. At the end of the day, the goal for behaviors like aggression, fear, anxiety and reactivity is to create a positive association with the things that cause your dog to display specific behavior issues.

In addition, these types of professionals will implement management strategies when needed. 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 based professionals do not resort to punishment tactics as a first resort, if at all. They will not use electric shock collars, choke chains, force or intimidation to inflict fear or pain onto a dog. These tactics can harm the emotional side of a dog. Ultimately these “quick fix” solutions can negatively affect the human-dog relationship. Using these types of approaches typically cause fear in a dog and/or only suppress a dogs behavior. This means that the behavior may only be temporarily fixed and /or can make the behavior(s) worse over time!


Your dog is your family member, so why not treat them like one!

Look at it like this; would you want your child’s teacher or tutor to treat your child this way? How about letting your boss smack you across the face? Would you let your family members, friends or significant other talk down to you, degrade you and treat you like trash? If you said no to any of these questions, then why would you let your dog be treated this way using potentially harmful tactics? After all, they are our family pets. We love them, care for them and see them as part of our families. Let’s treat them like family!

Personally, I will never judge dog owners who currently use or have used methods that I do not practice. Dog owners are not entirely at fault. The professionals they have hired to help them should be the ones at fault! After all, they are being hired for their expertise.

If you want to learn more about the science behind positive training and the effects of the use of tools like the electric shock collar, take a look at two helpful articles written by celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell. Read her articles on the negatives of shock collars and the science behind positive reinforcement training.


Is your dog trying to be the boss?

Many 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. Remember that dogs have emotions. They respond when they are happy, uncomfortable 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.


What does behavior modification address?

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
  • Excessive attention seeking


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.

These include:

  • 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


Dog looking a the camera on a grassy background with a toy on the right side.

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. 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.

To learn more about how to choose a trainer and behavior professional, read this article written by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.


Helpful Tips

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:


Capturing Video

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, CDBC, CBATI, VSPDT, TTWC, VSA-DT

Anthony De Marinis is the owner of De Marinis Dog Training & Behavior on Long Island, NY. He provides private in-home training and behavior modification solutions using positive reinforcement-based methods. He also provides video consultations remotely as he has many clients across the United States. Anthony has 6 professional certifications which include: Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, 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 nose work together. You can visit Anthony’s website and learn more about him and his services at: www.demarinisdogtraining.com