I’ve compiled a short list of animal-related books that I strongly recommend.
The first list are books that will interest and entertain people who have a concern for animal welfare, particularly young people who should be encouraged to have a love and respect for both companion animals and wildlife. The second list is for dog owners. This isn’t a list of “how-to” training guides, although there are several excellent ones that I could recommend if anyone is interested. Instead, this is a list of books that will help people understand how their dogs perceive the world, why they behave in any particular way and what they are attempting to communicate.
Your comments and recommendations are most welcome. I’ll update the site’s References page with these titles (some are already posted there), along with any good recommendations that may come in.
In 1947, researcher Rudolph Schenkel published a very influential study titled Expression Studies on Wolves (Schenkel, 1947), which became the basis for the understanding of canine behavior and training practices for decades to come. Schenkel wrote of the hierarchical nature of wolf “societies” with a dominant mated pair of wolves at the head of the wolfpack, and stratified levels of more and less dominant wolves under them. This was reinforced by a later (1970) study of wolves by David Mech, in which he introduced the concept of “alpha” pack leaders (Ha and Campion, 2019)
Dogs playing at public park. The muzzle grabbing is part of the smaller dog’s play repertoire.
This became the model for 20th century understanding of canine social behavior and was incorporated into the practices of dog trainers – because, after all, dogs are close relatives to wolves. Dog trainers, including very influential ones such as William Koehler (Koehler, 1962) incorporated a mindset that a human dog owner must be the dominant figure (the Alpha) to his dog and constantly enforce that relationship (*). The use of dominance and pack theory has been adhered to by a large number of trainers, including celebrities, such as Cesar Millan and The Monks of New Skete (Monks of New Skete, 1978).
Under this theory, dogs feel more secure when they have a distinct place in a hierarchy. Dominance trainers will tell their clients to physically place their dogs in subordinate positions, such as holding them by the muzzle, or putting them in “alpha rolls”. Owners will be told to engage in dominance displays such as staring contests, forcing their dogs to look away first. This extends to play activities: owners will be told to never let their dogs win a tugging contest and to take away their toys when the play activity is done. They are told to claim territory and never allow dogs on chairs or beds, never allow the dogs to precede them through a doorway and other controlling activities. All this under the belief that domestic dogs are pack animals that thrive in a strict hierarchy and that the owner must be the “alpha dog” (Peeples, 2010; Herron 2009). It should be noted that in later editions of How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend, the monks have moved away from recommending dominance enforcing actions such as “alpha rolls”, due to the number of biting incidents that resulted from this advice (Monks of New Skete, 2002).
This belief has given rise to the theory of “dominance aggression” in which dogs who growl at, or bite, their owners are disputing their position in “the pack” and are actually challenging them for the position of “alpha” (*). These displays of aggression are seen as rebellion and resistance on the part of the dog which require the owners to reinforce their position as leader and instill submission on the dogs’ part (Uchida, Dodman, DeNapoli and Aronson, 1997).
This entire practice is fundamentally wrong on many levels:
First: Schenkel was not researching wolf packs in the wild. He was observing a population of unrelated wolves that had been put together in a confined space in the Basle Zoological Garden. His theory of a pack hierarchy was based on observing a highly stressed population of wolves that had been put in a very restrictive environment, analogous to a human high-security prison (*). Mech later retracted much of his conclusions about his research into wolves social behavior, when later investigations showed that his study population was atypical (Ha & Campion, 2019). More recent research has shown that neither feral dogs nor pet dogs engage in any social hierarchies and that simple resource guarding has been commonly misinterpreted as a dominant behavior between dogs (Bradshaw, Blackwell & Casey, 2009)
Second: Wolves are not dogs. Although they are related species, they diverged from each other about twenty thousand years ago and have followed different evolutionary and behavioral paths. Dogs have thousands of years of behavioral adaptation between them and their wolf cousins. Dogs’ body language is more subtle than wolves and depends largely on individuals
. For example, holding another dog’s muzzle in its mouth could be an attempt to make the other dog stop doing something, or it could be an invitation to play – depending on the dog or the situation.
Third: Dogs know that humans are not dogs. They are adept at reading our expressions and body language and do not need us to act like dogs to understand our emotions and intentions (Sinischalchi, d’Ingeo and Quaranta, 2018).
Fourth: Dominance does exist in the canine world, but it is situational. It centers on avoiding conflict rather than establishing a hierarchy. When a dog owner tries to lock eyes with his dog and the dog looks away, the pup is not acknowledging that he is subordinate; he is responding to his owner’s aggressive stance and attempting to calm the situation and defuse a confrontation (Rugaas, 2006).
The white dog is voluntarily rolling over in a submissive display as a calming signal to the black dog.
Dogs’ actions that had been previously thought to be displays of submission to higher-status animals or people are now understood to be “calming signals”, intended to avoid conflict. Looking away, sitting, tail positions, and even rolling on its back are a dog’s efforts to signal that he is trying to avoid a confrontation and bring calm to a stressful situation. We must remember that these behaviors are part of dogs’ communications repertoire and are a completely voluntary – we must not impose them on our dogs. When we roll a dog on its back, grab its muzzle, glare into its eyes, we are acting like highly aggressive animals trying to provoke a confrontation. Our dogs will typically try to appease and calm us down by engaging in “submissive” or calming signals. This isn’t real submission to a pack hierarchy, they’re just attempting to avoid conflict. When we engage in dominance behavior with our dogs, we’re simply creating an antagonistic relationship with them (ASVAB, 2008).
Similarly, there’s no such thing as “dominance aggression”. When we act in a dominant or aggressive way with our dogs, we make them stressed and fearful. When we impose dominance during play or simply walking, we are not making our dogs more secure in their “pack status”, we are making them insecure. And when we ignore every appeasing and calming signal that the dog is desperately sending us, when we take away every other way for them to escape the stressful environment we’ve created for them, they will act in a way that we call “aggressive” (McConnell, 2002). This isn’t an attempt to move up in some imaginary hierarchy, they are simply desperate to make their owners stop scaring them. What has previously thought to be “dominance aggression, in which dogs are attempting to assert themselves in being “alpha”, is now understood to be the dogs being fearful of their aggressive-behaving owners (Herron, 2009).
Dogs, like us, are individuals. Some are more assertive than others, some are braver, some are timid, some are more or less outgoing than others and some are socially awkward. But they are never trying to challenge us for leadership. Dogs have been with us for thousands of years and are the most human-cooperative animals in the world. You don’t need to impose your dominance on your dog, all that does is damage his trust in you and make him stressed and apprehensive when you are around. Your dog should be your buddy and companion. Take the time to learn his personality traits, just like you would with a human friend, and train him in the skills he needs to live with humans just like you would with a human child. Use positive reinforcement and make your interactions with your dog fun, even joyful.
Bradshaw, J. W. S., Blackwell, E. J. and Casey, R. A. (2009). Dominance in Domestic Dogs – Useful Construct or Bad Habit?. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 4 (3). 135 – 144. doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2008.08.004
Ha, J. C. and Campion, T. L. (2019). Dog Behavior, Modern Science and Our Canine Companions. Academic Press, London, UK
Herron, M. E., Shofer, F. S. and Reisner, I. R. (2009). Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational Animal Behavior Science 117 (1-2), 47 – 54. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.011
Koehler, W. R. (1962). The Koehler Method of Dog Training. Retrieved from Amazon.com
McConnell, P. (2002). The Other End of the Leash. Ballantine Books, New York, NY
Siniscalchi, M., d’Ingeo, S. and Quaranta, A. Orienting Asymmetries and Physiological Reactivity in Dog’s Response to Human Emotional Faces. Learning Behavior 46 (4). 574 – 585. doi: 10.3758/s13420-018-0325-2
The Monks of New Skete (1978). How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend. Little, Brown & Company. New York, NY
Uchida, Y., Dodman N., DeNapoli, J. and Aronson, L. (1997). Characterization and Treatment of 20 Canine Dominance Aggression Cases. Journal of Veterinary Medical Science 59 (5). 397-9. doi: 10.1292/jvms.59.397
When you examine the various advertisements for dog trainers or behaviorists, you will find a number of them describe the approach they use in training as “balanced”, or will indicate that they follow the “Koehler Method” or some other methodology such as the use of “e-collars”. You should take the time to research what is meant by that terminology. In general, these training approaches incorporate the use of “aversives” or punishment as part of the dog’s training.
What is an “aversive”? Why are they used?
Essentially, an aversive is something that the training does to the dog when that dog does something undesirable. They can take the form of an electric shock, an unpleasant spray to the face, throwing an object at the dog, making a sudden startling sound, jerking the dog’s collar, jerking on a prong collar or choke chain, or physically punishing the dog by hanging or choking. In short, an aversive is an action on the trainer’s part to make the dog afraid of not obeying, or afraid to do something other than what the trainer wants. The use of punishment in dog training is closely associated with the dominance or “pack” theory, in which trainers physically correct dogs with unpleasant outcomes for their actions. This theory of behavior will be addressed in more detail in a later article.
A “balanced trainer” typically follows the training philosophy that punishments should be part of the trainers’ toolkits, along with incentives. This is a carrot and stick approach. Some of them claim that it is a science-based approach and point to the four quadrants of operant conditioning as justification for this thinking. Proponents of the Koehler method will state that dogs are being given freedom of choice about their actions and are learning to not make certain choices because of the pain or discomfort that they receive afterwards.
William Koehler (1914 – 1993) was a well-known, celebrity dog trainer and his book The Koehler Method of Dog Training was for many years considered to be the bible for dog trainers. Like many trainers of the last century, he used extreme methods of punishing dogs for disobedience or for perceived “defiance”. These methods included hanging a dog by a choke lead until he ceases moving and is unconscious, as well as the use of a weighted hose to discipline a rebellious dog by beating him. In Koehler’s view, allowing a dog to be untrained or disobedient was more inhumane than using harsh methods to instill obedience in the dog (Koehler, 1962). Koehler’s methods are still practiced by a number of trainers today, notably some of the trainers involved in the training of police or military K-9s.
In addition to the beating described above, trainers who incorporate aversives in their programs may use a wide range of tools, including but not limited to prong collars, shock collars, choke chains, thrown objects, loud noise makers and unpleasant sprays. They can also use personal corrections, such as swinging the
Bull Terrier with prong collar
dog on its leash, hanging the dog by its collar, choking the dog, striking them, yelling at them, or a number of other physical punishments.
Why use aversives?
The use of aversive measures in dog training is based on the belief that the dog is intentionally and willfully being disobedient and that he needs to learn that this deliberate behavior leads to punishment. Alternatively, these methods are used to form such unpleasant associations with certain behaviors so as to make the dog avoid performing them. This second aspect is why these methods are sometimes called “scientific” by the trainers using them, as they involve some form of reflexive or Pavlovian behavior modification.
So what’s the problem?
The simple fact is that the use of physical punishment, intimidation and aversive measures in dog training isn’t necessary, or any more effective than positive training methods (Ziv, 2017). In fact, the use of harsh corrections in training has been found to be counterproductive and actually increases behavior problems. Studies have shown that punishment-based training not only increases a dog’s fear of his owners, it affects the dog’s social behaviors and overall trust of humans; the dogs actually become more resistant to training (Rooney & Cowan, 2011). The use of aversives in dog training has been shown to be no more effective than positive training, and will actually increase serious behavioral problems (Hiby, Rooney and Bradshaw, 2004; Blackwell, Twells, Seawright & and Casey, 2008). As mentioned above, dogs trained in an environment that incorporates aversives will actually be more stressed in training and resist taking part in it, due to their anticipation of physical pain and discomfort. Their stress levels and anxiety during training are notably higher than dogs’ who are trained with positive methods. In fact, dogs trained with punishments tend to avoid their owners and be less attentive to them than dogs trained with positive reinforcements (Deidalle and Gaunet, 2014). These methods kill the dogs’ motivation to learn.
Studies have shown that the use of aversives and punishment in training are closely associated with increases in aggression and biting, due to the stress and strain associated with those training methods (Herron, Shofer and Reisner, 2009). Such training methods actually endanger both the physical and mental heath of the dogs involved (Ziv, 2017). The use of aversives actually causes dogs to be fearful and can create unintended negative associations for them – damaging their relationship with their owners and humans in general (Todd, 2018).
For these reasons, animal welfare organizations such as the RSPCA, the ASPCA, the HSUS, the AAHA and the AVMA have issued statements supporting positive training methods and condemning the use of aversives in pet training. According to the AVMA “Aversive training has been associated with detrimental effects on the human–animal bond, problem-solving ability, and the physical and behavioral health of the patient. It causes problem behaviors in normal animals and hastens progression of behavioral disorders in distressed animals.” (AVMA, 2015). The Association of Pet Dog Trainers, the International Association of Animal Behaviorists and the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers have all established the Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive (LIMA) protocol, which emphasizes the use of positive training methods with an absolute minimum of any aversive measures.
The bottom line is that we have learned a lot about animal behavior and learning in the 60 years since Koehler published his training method, and have found that punishment and aversives are not only cruel, they are harmful to animals’ welfare, and result in behavior problems and fear-based aggression. Further, they don’t get any better results that positive methods. In spite of this, although many trainers and owners are resistant to positive-only training, citing their own expertise and questionable authorities.
Blackwell, E. J., Twells, C., Seawright, A. and Casey, R. A. (2008). The Relationship Between Training Methods and the Occurrence of Behavior Problems, as Reported by Owners, in a Population of Domestic Dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 3 (5). 207 – 217. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2007.10.008
Deidalle, S. and Gaunet, F. (2014). Effects of 2 Training Methods on Stress-Related Behaviors of the Dog (canis familiaris) and the dog-owner relationship. Journal of Veterinary Behavior (9) 2. 58 -65. Doi 10.1016/J.veb.2013.11.004
Herron, M. E., Shofer, F. S. and Reisner I. R. (2009). Survey of the Use and Outcome of Confrontational and Non-Confrontational Training Methods in Client-Owned Dogs Showing Undesirable Behaviors. Applied Animal Behavior Science 117 (1-2). 47 – 54. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.011
Hiby, E. F., Rooney, N. J. and Bradshaw, J. W. S. (2004). Dog Training Methods: Their Use, Effectiveness and Interaction with Behavior and Welfare. Animal Welfare 13 (2004). 63-69.
Koehler, W. R. (1962). The Koehler Method of Dog Training, Kindle Edition. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Rooney, N. J. and Cowan, S. (2011). Training Methods and owner-dog interactions: Links with dog behavior and learning ability. Applied Animal Behavior Science 132 (2011). 169-177. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.03.007
Todd, Z. (2018). Barriers to the Adoption of Humane Training Methods. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 25 (2018), 28 – 34. doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2018.03.004
Ziv, G. (2016). The Effects of Using Aversive Training Methods in Dogs – a Review. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 19 (2017). 50 – 60. doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2017.02.004
Most of us who live with a dog or cat have the unenviable job of cleaning up after them. Those of us who live in condominiums and apartments have fewer options than people who live in rural or suburban areas, but still have a desire to dispose of their pets’ waste in a way that is safe for the environment. And, of course, there are a wide variety of products being marketed to address this need for an eco-friendly way to dispose of the poop. I’ll talk about the various products that are being sold for this purpose, and then get into practical solutions. Today, I’ll talk about disposing of dog poo – cats are an entirely different problem as far as waste disposal goes and will be addressed in a separate article.
First off, there are “compostable” or “biodegradable” poop bags. These are plastic bags that are advertised as being safe for the environment because, unlike other plastics, they will harmlessly dissolve over time. If you are a pet owner, you are probably being bombarded with advertisements for them. The problem is, in all likelihood they don’t work in a way that would be useful for you1.
These bags are generally marketed as meeting ASTM D6400 standards, meaning that they are made of a polymer that will degrade in a few months in a commercial aerobic composting facility2. The problem is that municipal landfills are not aerobic composting facilities and, if these bags wind up in a landfill, they will not break down any differently than any other plastic bag3.
And then there are water-soluble “flushable” bags. These bags are made of Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVOH) and are marketed as dissolving readily in water. There is truth to this, but your results will vary. Not all of these bags are created the same; some will dissolve quickly in hot water but will take months to break down in cold water. The good news is, once they have dissolved, they do not leave microplastics in the environment4. The bad news is that they will not dissolve in trash or landfills; and can clog pipes and sewers while in the process of dissolving very slowly in cold water.
If you have a good-sized yard, you might consider a pet septic system, or “digester”. These are generally metal containers with open holes or slots and an opening on the top with a movable lid. They are intended to be placed in a deep hole in your yard, with only the top lid exposed and accessible. The idea is to dump the dog’s poo into the septic tank and add chemicals from time to time to help it break down and leach into the surrounding soil. These systems can work under the right conditions. But if you have a high water table where you live, or if your soil has a high clay content, they are not effective. Also, these systems do not work in cold weather – they simply do not break down biological waste when the weather is too cold (this is why household septic systems are buried below the frost line)5.
If you have a lot of outdoor space and a large garden of ornamental plants, you can establish a compost heap and dispose of your dog’s waste there. But you absolutely cannot use animal feces in composting a kitchen garden or for growing any edible plants. Feces contains bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that are dangerous to humans and should not be used to fertilize any plants intended for consumption. And it will make for a smelly and unpleasant compost heap. If you are interested in recycling your dog’s poop for composting purposes, The Bark, published an informative page that can be found here: pet_poo_what_to_do_infographic_02.19.2020.pdf (thebark.com)
So far, I’ve discussed everything you can’t, or shouldn’t, do with your dog’s poo; along with all the products and methods that probably won’t work as advertised or have serious limitations on their usage. So what can you do with it?
If you live in an apartment or house that is connected to a municipal sewage system, you can simply flush your dog’s poop down the toilet. Your town’s sanitation system will handle your dog’s poop just fine. The drawback, of course, is transporting the poo from wherever your dog leaves it to the toilet. And you cannot flush whatever bag or wrapping you used to carry the waste to the toilet. A word of caution – if your home has a septic system, be sure that it is able to process animal waste before flushing your dog’s poop. And do not flush any bags of any kind into a septic system.
The best solution that I have found is this: If you have a yard, simply dig a small hole or trench about six inches deep, deposit the poop in the hole, refill it with the soil you removed and tamp It down. The bacteria and worms in the soil will break down and digest the poo very quickly and cleanly, with no mess or smell. But do not, repeat not, bury your pet’s feces in or near a garden used to produce food or if the water table is less than 18 inches deep5.
If none of these options work for you, then pick up the poop in a plastic bag, tie it securely, and dispose of it in your municipal trash (unless forbidden by your local municipal codes. It will go into a landfill with all the other biological and plastic materials that your town produces, but it will at least be handled safely.