Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones

Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones

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“Although this book has a scientific basis, it was written in a manner that is easily understandable for laypersons. Decoding Your Dog will be a valuable addition to the library of any small-animal practitioner or dog owner.” –Angela Bockelman, DVM, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
Unwanted behavior is the number-one reason dogs are relinquished to shelters and rescue groups. Dog owners face a plethora of trainers offering a bewildering variety of advice. From rewards to dominance training, from to shock collars to clickers, there are too many theories peddled by too few trained experts. Finally, the board-certified specialists of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists are here to decode how dogs think, how they communicate, and how they learn.
Combining cutting-edge science with accessible and adaptable real-life examples, this is a must-have dog behavior guide showcasing the latest veterinary-approved positive training methods. Decoding Your Dog will resolve the complaints, answer the curiosities, and, ultimately, challenge the way we think about our dogs.

“[The] authors nimbly craft a basic primer for grasping dogs’ demeanor and in the process offer up the best life insurance policy you can buy for Fido.” –Ranny Green, coauthor of Good Dogs, Bad Habits

Decoding Your Dog is an important addition to the canine canon, one that will go a long way toward increasing your understanding of your best friend.” –Bark

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547834450
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 01/07/2014
Sold by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 149,202
File size: 19 MB
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About the Author

Drs. DEBRA F. HORWITZ and JOHN CIRIBASSI are experts and leaders in the field of veterinary behavior, with decades of combined experience. Dr. Horwitz is a past president of the ACVB and Dr. Ciribassi is a past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. STEVE DALE is a nationally syndicated pet journalist and radio host who has written numerous books.

The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists are the undeniable authorities when it comes to explaining why our pets do what they do, and also in dealing with the most extreme behavior problems. The ACVB is a professional organization of veterinarians who are board-certified in the specialty of veterinary behavior dedicated to advancing the behavioral health of all companion animals through education and outreach. ACVB members, known as diplomates, have undergone rigorous professional training and scrutiny, publishing peer-reviewed articles, speaking professionally around the country (many around the world) to veterinarians and others interested in behavior topics, and in general demonstrating that they are the leading experts in the field.

Read an Excerpt

I’m a dog trainer and behavior consultant—not a veterinary behaviorist. Although good dog trainers spend a lot of time dealing with canine behavioral issues and need to stay abreast of what the scientific community is continually discovering about how our canine companions think, feel, and learn, there is a difference between trainers and behaviorists. Good trainers rely on the medical and behavioral expertise of the veterinary and scientific community so that we too can use hard science to unpeel layer after layer of that unique and wonderful animal we call “man’s best friend.” This task is never ending, and we are constantly learning new and more-effective ways to harness the power of scientific knowledge in our work with dog owners on the ground.
   Sadly, we live in an era when, as is the case with most generational shifts in thinking, there is a good deal of resistance when it comes to employing the concepts and ideologies that science is proving for us regarding our relationships with dogs. For decades, we relied on since-disproved theories of canine behavior to teach our dogs, and we ended up using misunderstood and misapplied concepts of domination and “alpha wolf” theory as the most natural and effective ways to control them. This put the emphasis on punishing dogs for misbehaving rather than teaching them what to do in different situations. But gradually we began to see the light: although dogs descended from wolves, dogs are not wolves, and they behave very differently. Dogs are not on a quest for world domination if left unchecked, and we don’t need to be their dominant “pack leaders.” Using harsh “teaching” techniques on dogs can, in fact, make many common behavioral issues much worse, or at least much more unpredictable—not to mention the fact that confrontational methods cause mistrust and compromise a dog’s ability to learn and can damage the human–dog relationship.
   Modern behavioral science has taught us that dominance and punishment are less effective and more dangerous than positive training philosophies, even for so-called red zone—or very aggressive—dogs, while conscience has told us that positive training also just feels more right. But in this debate over how best to build our relationships with dogs, proponents of the dominance- and punishment-based old-school training methods are not going quietly. There’s too much money, history, and (mostly) pride at stake for them to reverse course and cross over from the “dark side,” and that’s a tough combination to overcome.
   But fortunately for us (and dogs!), while you are free to not like what science tells you about a given topic, you can’t really argue with it if the scientific research has been done carefully and methodically. You can certainly try, but chances are you’ll be wrong.
   The debate about training methods is over, and positive, force-free, reward-based training has been validated as the most effective, long-lasting, and humane choice by an outstanding scientific behavioral community that is made up in part of the very people who have contributed to this book.
   As a dog trainer on TV and in private practice, I have dedicated my life to better understanding dogs, where they come from, how we got to where we are, and how best to give them the tools they need to succeed in our strange, domestic, human environment. Some of this is achieved by staying aware of common sense and our inner moral compass, but a lot of it also comes from understanding and assimilating what behavioral science tells us about our four-legged friends. Use the information you’ll find in this book, as countless other positive trainers like me have done in our careers working with dogs, and you’ll be building relationships the right way—relationships built on mutual trust, respect, and love instead of pain, fear, and intimidation.   Positively,
        Victoria Stillwell—dog trainer, author, editor in chief of, and host of It’s Me or the Dog
The vision for this book arose from the collective desire of the ACVB to make available to dog owners scientifically correct information about dog behavior problems and to correct widespread misinformation about dog behavior. Each author of Decoding Your Dog is an ACVB member, expert at interpreting canine behavior.
   Not a “bricks and mortar” institution, the ACVB ( is an organization of veterinarians with advanced training and experience in the field of applied animal behavior. Recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association ( and founded in 1993, the ACVB certifies members, called “Diplomates,” after they complete a rigorous training program. Required credentials include a veterinary degree followed by many years of education and training. In addition to intensive study, candidates applying for membership must publish in a scientific journal, manage hundreds of clinical cases in the field of veterinary behavior, write suitable case reports, and pass a rigorous written examination. Thus, the authors have advanced training and extensive experience in treating the behavior problems of dogs.
   The editors of this book, Drs. Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi, are experts and leaders in the field of veterinary behavior, with decades of combined experience. In their respective specialty practices, they have helped thousands of clients resolve their dogs’ behavior problems. Dr. Horwitz, past president of the ACVB and 2012 Ceva Veterinarian of the Year, is author and editor of numerous books for veterinarians, focusing on how to treat pet behavior problems. Dr. Ciribassi, past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, is a popular speaker and author.
   Steve Dale, a well-known pet journalist, radio and TV personality, and pet advocate, has assisted the editors and contributors. Steve has long emphasized the critical role of the veterinarian in solving pet behavior problems and the importance of behavior in the human-animal bond.
   Behavior problems in our canine companions can erode the relationship we share. Even the closest ties, the deepest affection can be damaged. Behavior problems are common, reported by the majority of pet owners. And although some problems are minor, others have serious consequences. Without successful treatment, the result may be loss of the dog to a shelter or euthanasia. The goal of this book is to help you prevent or manage behavior problems so that you and your dog can live in harmony together.
   The authors will recommend first that if you note a change in your pet’s behavior, consult with your dog’s veterinarian, to be certain that a medical problem is not contributing to it. Your veterinarian may be able to help, or he or she may refer you to an ACVB Diplomate or other qualified behavioral professional, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. (See Recommended Resources at the end of this book.) The following pages will show you how to interpret your dog’s behavior and to work with your veterinarian or specialist to manage or prevent specific behavior problems. Solving canine behavior problems is a bit like solving a mystery. Veterinary behaviorists need to know who, when, where, why, and what, to best manage the problem. For example: Who is the dog with the problem? (In multidog households it might not be so obvious.) When does the problem occur? Where does the problem occur? Why does your dog exhibit the problem behavior? What is your goal?
   I think the authors would agree that, in a sense, this book was written by our patients—the dogs we have observed or treated for behavior problems, whose voices we have heard, whose signals we have witnessed. The dogs expressed themselves not in words but in flashes of the tail, flicks of the ear, hard stares at strangers. Most importantly, they have communicated to us through subtle signs of anxiety, fear, and conflict. The chapters in this book, written by ACVB members, interpret these signals.
   Decoding Your Dog will help you to best understand your dog, based on his or her behavior, and prevent or manage behavior problems that create conflict. If you live with a dog, this book will be an invaluable guide.
Barbara L. Sherman, MSc, PhD, DVM, DACVB
Past President, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments   xi
Foreword by Victoria Stillwell   xv
Preface by Barbara L. Sherman   xvii
Introduction by Steve Dale   xxi1.   Can’t We Just Talk?   1
      Learning to “Speak Dog”   
      Jacqueline C. Neilson, DVM, DACVB
2.   Choosing Your New Best Friend   
      How to Find the Best Match for You and Your Puppy   
      Meghan Elaine Herron, DVM, DACVB
      Patrick Yves Melese, MA, DVM, DAVCB   3.   Creating a Mensa Dog   38
      What Learning Really Is, and How Dogs Learn   
      Katherine Albro Houpt, VMD, PhD, DACVB   4.   Housetraining 101   59
      Do It Here, Do It Now   
      Leslie Larson Cooper, DVM, DACVB   
5.   Tools of the Trade   83
      Humane and Safe Training Tools   
      Lori Gaskins, DVM, DACVB   6.   School Days   107
      Practical Advice on Getting from a Puppy to a Dog    
      Gerrard Flannigan, MS, DVM, DACVB
      Ellen M. Lindell, VMD, DACVB   7.   I Know They’re Normal Behaviors, but How
      Do I Fix Them?   127
      Common Problems That Can Drive
      Any Dog Owner to Howl   
      Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB
      Lore I. Haug, MS, DVM, DACVB   8.   Lassie and Timmy: Kids and Dogs   150
      Creating a Family That Works   
      Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB   9.   All Dogs Need a Job   177
      How to Keep Your Dog Happy and Mentally Healthy   
      Mary P. Klinck, DVM, DACVB   10.   Aggression Unleashed: Do Dogs Mean to be Mean?   199
      If Aggression Leads to More Aggression, How Do You Respond?   
      Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB
      Stefanie Schwartz, MS, DVM, DAVCB   11.   Loyalty Gone Overboard: Separation Anxiety   235
      The “Velcro Dog” Dilemma   
      E’Lise Christensen, DVM, DACVB
      Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB   
12.   I Know It’s Going to Rain, and I Hate the Fourth of July      263
      Dogs Who Are Phobic About Sound   
      Emily D. Levine, DVM, DACVB, MRCVS   13.   Tail Chasing, Leg Licking—Can’t You Stop?   281
      Compulsive Behaviors   
      Melissa Bain, MS, DVM, DACVB
      Marsha Reich, DVM, DACVB   14.   Dogs with an AARF Card: Growing Old with Grace   296
      Old Dogs Should Learn New Tricks   
      Gary Landsberg DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM (Behavior)
Conclusion   317
Appendix    319
Glossary    321
Recommended Resources   333
About the Editors   337
About the Authors   341
Members of the American College of 
Veterinary Behaviorists

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Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Learned alot
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well done you've succeded in getting me hooked. You shall continue. <p> ~Pad &#24536
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pretty good so far! However I would like some more infornation on the world. But its only chapter 2, so take your time. Please continue!