Behavioral wellness is critical for all pets, dogs in particular. Fractures of the human-animal bond resulting from unwanted and inappropriate behaviors are one of the most deadly injuries we treat. Like most diseases, these behavioral problems can often be prevented; teaching clients to foster good behavioral health is among the most important services a veterinary practice can provide.
Sadly, veterinarians receive very little specific training in behavior during vet school. Much like dentistry, behavior has been overlooked in our professional curriculum, and those of us with an interest are left with much learning to do after we graduate. As Dr. Burns, the team and I continue to learn, we are finding that there are a great number of resources out there, some good, some bad, and some potentially dangerous to you, your dogs, and the bond you share. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite resources with you here.
Karen Pryor Clicker Training is the website of Karen Pryor, author of Don’t Shoot the Dog and one of the best-known proponents of the positive training method known as clicker training. This website contains free articles, blogs, and other information about operant conditioning–a scientifically proven teaching and training method used to train a wide range of species from dolphins to rhinos to Nile crocodiles and even aquarium fish–and its applications in dog training. I’ve done most of Archie’s training using a clicker, and I am a huge believer in its effectiveness.
It’s Me or the Dog airs on Animal Planet; in strong contrast to another popular TV show, this one demonstrates only the non-aversive techniques of positive reinforcement and negative punishment. Dog trainer Victoria Stillwell helps families learn how to train problem dogs using positive techniques. Victoria is a no-nonsense trainer who isn’t afraid to tell pet owners when they are responsible for creating the problems they’ve asked her to fix, and you won’t catch her using outdated references to dominance, physical punishment, or other aversive or compulsion-based training methods.
4 Paws University provides training services in Sacremento, California. Owner Lisa Mullinax and her team have created a fantastic library of articles on a huge variety of training topics. Of particular usefulness are a number of very clear explainations about the dangers of dominance theory, a great discussion about how to compare dog trainers and behavior consultants, and specific tips for correcting a variety of problem behaviors using positive techniques. Many of the articles include “recommended viewing/reading” references for those who want to learn more.
Dr. Kelly Moffat is Arizona’s only board-certified veterinary behaviorist. We’re quite fortunate that she is here in the southeast Valley, and she is a great resource for our most difficult and perplexing behavioral cases. Board-certified veterinary behaviorists are veterinarians who have completed a residency in veterinary behavior and behavioral medicine and passed a rigorous certification exam. They are true specialists–on the order of the surgeons, ophthalmologists, cardiologists, and internists that we refer other challenging cases to when we’ve reached the limits of our expertise or experience.
The Kikopup Dog Training Channel on YouTube is maintained by positive trainer Emily Larlham and features the most comprehensive library of training videos you’re likely to find online. The short videos range from how-to’s to amazing examples of the tricks and behaviors she and others have trained dogs to perform using only positive techniques. “You don’t have to use punishment to teach obedience,” Emily says. I couldn’t agree more.