, Salem, MA


April 5, 2013

Vet Connection: Behavior training for pets — and humans


Animal and human behavior is a fascinating science. Many non-veterinarians are certified behaviorists and devote their lives to improving the owner and pet bond through training classes. There are veterinary behaviorists who have spent two or three years after veterinary school in a residency learning about animal behavior. I have seen some very challenging dog behavior problems presented to boarded veterinary behaviorists and have been amazed that their prescription is many times to go back to some of the most basic behavior training and consistently train/retrain basic skills to make the dog feel more secure. Teaching the dog to establish eye contact on command or to sit and stay 10 times in the morning and again at night stimulates the dog to have respect for the family member doing the training and gives the dog a constructive “job” twice a day. It also gives the dog constructive attention and teaches it a skill. This makes your dog feel much more secure as it happens on a schedule, which dogs love. The behavior learned could be used to calm the dog in a situation where it might be scared or uncomfortable. A dog that is trained to sit and stay and is praised in the face of meeting a stranger or going to visit the groomer will be calmed because it can replace the nervous acting-out behavior with a good trained behavior such as sit/stay.

We humans need the training, as well, because we are primates. Canines, felines and most other animals do not understand human behavior. We tend to wave our hands a lot and yell “No” when we don’t like what our dog is doing. Dogs think yelling and hand waving is reason to get even more excited and out of control. Dogs respond to a calm, upbeat voice of higher pitch. They respond well to body language. For instance, they tend to come to us more readily when called if we are leaning slightly backward. They do not understand pointing to go in a certain direction. They think when we smile, we are bearing our teeth as an aggressor dog would do.

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