Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA)

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) approach to training and behavior.  So, what is it?  The latest training fad?  Hardly.

LIMA is an approach that has been adopted by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) as a humane and ethical practice of dog training and behavior modification.1  Although this approach was developed for canines, it can be applied to all living creatures.  LIMA incorporates a systematic hierarchy of procedures that should be followed in all cases.

Hierarchy of Procedures for Humane and Effective Practice

Source:  m.iaabc.org/about/lima/hierarchy/

  1. Health, nutritional, and physical factors: Ensure that any indicators for possible medical, nutritional, or health factors are addressed by a licensed veterinarian. The consultant should also address potential factors in the physical environment.
  2. Antecedents: Redesign setting events, change motivations, and add or remove discriminative stimuli (cues) for the problem behavior.
  3. Positive Reinforcement: Employ approaches that contingently deliver a consequence to increase the probability that the desired behavior will occur.
  4. Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior: Reinforce an acceptable replacement behavior and remove the maintaining reinforcer for the problem behavior.
  5. Negative Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, or Extinction (these are not listed in any order of preference):
    1. Negative Punishment – Contingently withdraw a positive reinforcer to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.
    2. Negative Reinforcement – Contingently withdraw an aversive antecedent stimulus to increase the probability that the right behavior will occur.
    3. Extinction – Permanently remove the maintaining reinforcer to suppress the behavior or reduce it to baseline levels.
  6. Positive Punishment: Contingently deliver an aversive consequence to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.2

 

As seen above, a humane and ethical trainer/behaviorist will first determine if a behavior is caused by a medical or physiological issue.  Often, they will have their clients consult a veterinarian to determine whether such an issue if contributing to the behavior.  Once this first step is eliminated, they will then attempt to simply remove or modify any conditions or stimuli that are causing the behavior:

Example:  Fluffy stands at the window and barks at passers-by, even though they are a reasonable distance from the house.  Assuming that no medical conditions are involved, a behaviorist may recommend installing shutters or blinds that can cut off her view of the street during times that barking is an issue – like when the baby is taking a nap.

Only when these two first steps have been considered will the behaviorist try behavior modification techniques, emphasizing the positive reinforcement of desired behaviors.  In all cases, a trainer should ask “What do you want the animal to do?”

By emphasizing reinforcement of desired behaviors, and minimizing any aversive measures, a trainer or behaviorist can humanely teach an animal alternative reaction to a stimulus.  Using the above example, the trainer may prompt Fluffy to sit quietly when people walk past the house, or may help Fluffy’s owners desensitize her so that she only reacts when strangers come closer to the house.  However, a trainer who ascribes to the LIMA approach will only use aversive measures, such as a bark collar, only when all other options have been ruled out.  IAABC and ADPT sites for detailed position statements on the use of punishment during training and the use of “training aids” such as shock collars.

1 apdt.com/about/about-lima/

2 m.iaabc.org/about/lima/hierarchy/

Finding a Canine Behaviorist

So, your puppy is growing up, or your rescued dog has been in your home for a while, and your best buddy is turning into a terrible roommate.  Your dog is incessantly barking, or chewing everything in sight, or aggressively charging other dogs, or doing something else that is making you miserable.  You’ve taken the first step and decided that you need help.  Who do you turn to that can transform your problem pet back into the sweet companion that you brought home?

This is the difference between a dog trainer and a canine behaviorist.  A behaviorist is a professional who addresses a problem behavior – namely something the dog does either too often or not often enoughto the extent that it cannot be ignored.  All you need to do is figure out who’s the right behaviorist to help you.  How can you tell whether a behaviorist is reputable?

Like many pet-related professions, this is an unregulated business.  Literally anyone can put up a website, print some business cards, and call himself a behaviorist.  Let’s discuss how you can find one who’s actually put in the time and effort to learn this profession, abides by professional standards and ethics and knows what he’s doing.

First off, a good behaviorist will not:

  1. Start off by saying that he’s dealt with situations like this and knows exactly what to do.
  2. Immediately tell you what’s causing the dog’s behavior and how he’ll fix it.
  3. Guarantee results.
  4. Say that he’ll take the dog to his facility for treatment, and bring it back completely fixed.
  5. Advocate the use of aversive methods or punishments as a standard approach.
  6. Disparage other professionals or their methods.

On the other hand, a good behaviorist will:

  1. Tell you that he will have to determine exactly what triggers and reinforces the problem behavior by careful observation of the dog before, during and after that behavior occurs.
  2. Involve you in identifying the causes of the behavior and implementing a treatment.
  3. Be credentialled by the ABS, IAABC, CCPDT or other reputable body.
  4. Not guarantee results.
  5. Collect data on the effectiveness of the treatment being applied and change the behavior modification program, as needed, based on that data.
  6. Provide you with feedback and progress reports.
  7. Abide by the ethical practices of this profession.

See the difference?  A knowledgeable and ethical behaviorist will implement a program of Applied Behavioral Analysis, which is a structured methodology for changing a problem behavior by modifying the events or conditions that happen before and after the behavior takes place.    He might ask you make video recordings of your dog, keep a record of the behavioral incidents – in other words, take an active role in the treatment.

By maintaining a professional certification, your behaviorist is demonstrating that he is continuing his education and keeping knowledgeable of developments in this field, and abiding by stringent ethical standards.  Most importantly, he will abide by the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) protocols for behavior modification.  I’ll get into the details of what this means in my next post, but for our purposes today it means that he will be primarily concerned with your dog’s physical, mental and emotional welfare.

Next:  What is LIMA?

  1. Chance, Paul.  (2006).  First Course in Applied Behavioral Analysis.  Long Grove, IL., Waveland Press

Choosing the Right Dog Trainer

In previous articles, I discussed the differences between dog trainers and behaviorists, and provided some insight into the various qualifications and professional organizations that are part of those professions.  Today, we’ll talk about how to pick the right person.

To keep it simple, I’ll limit this post to picking the right trainer:  What to look for and how to find one who meets your needs.  Picking a behaviorist will have somewhat different criteria and I’ll discuss that in my next post.  Note:  This assumes that we get back to a more normal society in the coming months and can have in-person interactions more freely than we can at present.  In the interim, there are a number of trainers who are providing very effective remote consulting, or one-on-one social-distanced training, during the pandemic.  But, for our purposes today, lets hope for the future.

So.  The first thing to do is ask around.  In this business there is nothing as beneficial as word-of-mouth advertising.  If one of your friends has a well-behaved and socialized dog, and had a good experience with a trainer, that’s definitely a plus.  Not only do you get to see the dog’s interactions and behavior, but you and your friend will probably have some shared values about training methods and similar lifestyles.

Next, look at the trainers’ advertisements and see what qualifications they have.  For example, if they have a CPDT-KA or CPDT-KSA certification, that means they have documented experience, have demonstrated skills and knowledge and –  very importantly – are engaged in continuous education1.    That said, when you see some letters after a trainer’s name, take the time to look that up and see what that certification actually means, what that certifying agency is.  They’re not all the same.  By the same token, when you see “member of ________” , take some time to look that up.  Some professional organizations have stringent membership requirements in terms of qualifications and experience.  Others, not so much.

After that, look at what they offer in terms of training styles.  A trainer who is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, or holds most certifications, will adhere to the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) philosophy of training and behavior work.  I’ll get into the details of this in a later post, but for our purposes today it means that the trainer adheres to professional standards that avoid any punishment-based training measures.  If you see an advertisement of a trainer who promotes the use of punishment methods, such as e-collars2, I would consider that to be a red flag.  Not only are aversive training methods contrary to ethical standards, but they have also been found to be damaging to dogs’ welfare and are less effective than positive training methods3.  Similarly, I would advise looking carefully at a trainer who describes his program as “balanced”.  This can often mean that this person is more prone to implement punishment as a training measure, instead of as a last resort.

If your trainer uses phrases such as “pack”, “authority”,  “Alpha” or other terms related to a dominance hierarchy, this can mean that he is using outdated and discredited training methods4.  This points out the advantage of hiring trainers who are maintaining a certification and are required to keep current on developments in the field.

Trainers will offer a variety of environments for you and your dog.  They may offer anything from group classes, structured playtime for socialization, individual one-on-one training, or board-and-train programs.  They may have a facility for conducting classes, or they may come to your house to offer individualized programs.  Each of these approaches have advantages for dog owners.

If your dog is new in your house, regardless of his/her age, I recommend taking part in a group training session.  This is a good social and bonding event for you and your dog, and also gives you a chance to learn about how well he is socialized with other dogs in a controlled and safe environment.   Again, read reviews and get recommendations before picking a program.

One-on-one programs are particularly useful for specific training in your home environment, such as loose-leash walking, greeting strangers, or other activities that don’t require a social setting but are centered on you interacting directly with your dog.

Board and train facilities, or doggy-daycare facilities that provide training can be very favorable for working people who don’t have a lot of spare time.  However, these programs must include the dogs’ owners in the training.  Your dog isn’t a car that can be dropped off at a mechanic.  A good facility such as this will involve the owner in training and provide work to do at home.

Lastly, interview the trainers that you are considering and tour their facilities.   They should provide their rates up front, along with details of their training program; and information about their business license, insurance and bonding.  Find out if they are affiliated with any shelters or rescues and ask for references.

Every person and every pet have individual needs and personalities.  One size does not fit all. But this will hopefully help in identifying the kind of trainer you need.

Next up:  What to look for in a canine behaviorist.

1  How to become a certified dog trainer – CCPDT

China, Mills & Cooper (2020), Efficacy of Dog Training With and Without Remote Electronic Collars vs. a Focus on Positive Reinforcement.  Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7 (2020).  doi:  10.3389/fvets.2020.00508

3  Fernandes, Olssen & Vierira de Castro (2017), Do Aversive-based Training Methods Actually Compromise Dog Welfare?:  A Literature Review.  Applied Animal Behavior Science 196 (2017).  1 – 12, doi: 10.1016/j.applanim 2017.07.001

4  The Dominance Controversy – Dr. Sophia Yin

Shelter Dog Welfare

This is a short paper that I did a couple of years ago.  Its still current today.

Shelter Dog Welfare Challenges

Dogs hold a unique place in American society.  They have been our companions and work partners for many thousands of years and are unique among non-human animals in their ability to form attachments with members of other species.  They are the most commonly found companion animal in the United States; a recent survey found that 48 percent of US households include at least one dog, and the majority of dog owners are described as considering their dogs to be family members (Humane Society of the United States, n.d.).  Despite the affinity between dogs and humans, approximately 5.5 million are put in shelters every year (Woodruff and Smith, 2017).

Dogs enter shelters or rescue organizations from three primary sources:  They may have been confiscated by local animal control or police as abused or endangered,  or because their owners were taken into custody.  They may have been picked up as strays, having been lost or abandoned by their owners; or simply as “street dogs”.  Lastly, the dogs may have been surrendered by their owners for any of a variety of reasons, such as loss of income, the family having to move, medical issues or behavioral problems.  In some cases, dogs are moved from one shelter to another either for space and funding restrictions, or to provide a better chance for placement.

In any case, the dog entering shelters face multiple challenges to their emotional and physical welfare; some of these issues stem from limitations of care available from the shelter organization, and some simply from the shelter’s environment.   This paper will attempt to identify these issues and their impact on the dogs, and will discuss possible ways to mitigate these challenges to improve the dogs’ welfare while they are kept in shelters.  This will conclude with possible ways of influencing the outcomes of their stays in these organizations.

Welfare Challenges

Methodology.  This review of welfare concerns will deal with dogs in shelters that meet the following criteria:  First, the shelters must be “intake facilities”, meaning that they accept dogs from various sources including owner surrenders and confiscation by authorities.  Second, they must adopt dogs to the public.  Third, the shelters must be “brick and mortar” facilities, meaning that they have a physical location for housing and caring for the dogs.  No distinction will be made between shelters operated by local governments and those run by private organizations.   The various challenges addressed in this paper are drawn from peer-reviewed studies and from data collected and published by animal welfare organizations.

Welfare Issues

Euthanasia.

When a dog is placed in a shelter the possible outcomes are limited.  Strays can be returned to their owners.  Dogs can be adopted or transferred to other organizations such as breed-specific rescue organizations or shelters and rescues with higher adoption rates.  Lastly, the dogs can be euthanized due to space and funding concerns, medical reasons or behavior issues that are judged to make the dog unadoptable.   In many cases, owners surrender dogs to shelters for the purpose of euthanizing them, often for reasons of age, health issues or behavioral concerns (Patronek, Glickman & Moyer 2015).

Estimates of euthanasia rates vary widely, as there are no real metrics maintained by state or local agencies.  Recent survey data shows that approximately 777,000 dogs are euthanized annually; however, there is no information available on how many were “put to sleep” for medical or behavioral concerns or based on owners’ instructions.  Further, the likelihood of a dog being euthanized by a shelter varies by geographic area; shelters in the southeast and southwest united states are more likely to euthanize unadopted dogs than shelters in other regions of the US (Woodruff & Smith, 2017).  In any case, approximately 14 percent of all dogs in placed in shelters every year will be euthanized.

Medical Welfare Issues.

Dogs housed in shelters are particularly at risk for exposure to infectious diseases.  The population of dogs in any shelter is fluid, as new dogs arrive frequently from multiple sources in varying degrees of health.  In many cases, dogs are surrendered or seized by authorities with no, or unreliable, information on their immunizations, medical  history or current state of health.  Dogs seized by authorities as a result of criminal activity, such as dog fighting operations, have been found to have had a very low degree of preventative care and are at high risk for spreading disease and disease-bearing parasites (Cannon et al, 2016).

A 2014 study found that dogs entering shelters from the local community with infectious respiratory illness, such as Canine Influenza, had a very high incidence of affecting other dogs held by the shelter (Pecoraro, Bennett, Nuyvaert, Spindel & Landolt, 2014).  Further, the majority of shelters do not have on-site veterinary staff and use local veterinary clinics on a periodic or ad hoc basis (Laderman-Jones, Hurley & Kass, 2016).  The training and disease awareness of shelter staff and volunteers is also a subject of concern, creating higher risk of disease transmission within shelters (Steneroden, Hill & Salman, 2010).

The gaps in veterinary staffing and availability mean that intake evaluations are conducted by shelter staff with varying levels of expertise, increasing the risk that medical conditions or infectious diseases will not be detected (Steneroden, Hill & Salman, 2011).  Further, shelters have a high concentration of animals, which creates a situation in which animals are more likely to be exposed to diseases than they would be in private residences (Newbury, et al., 2010).  Although guidelines have been published for the vaccination of shelter dogs (AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines, 2017), they are not implemented uniformly (Pecoraro, Bennett, Nuyvaert, Spindel & Landolt, 2014), increasing the likelihood of disease transmission within kennels and by transfer of dogs between shelters.

Stress-related welfare issues.

The experience of being housed in a shelter is stressful for dogs.  Upon entering a shelter, dogs find themselves separated from any personal attachments they may have, isolated in unfamiliar surroundings and being cared for by strangers.  This naturally creates a state of heightened fear and anxiety, which impact their health and behavior.  This fear reaction can result in dogs’ exhibiting defensive behavior and avoidance of humans and other dogs (McMillan, 2017).  Aside from the direct impact on a dog’s quality of life, the behavioral indications of stress, such as stereotypic behavior, increased arousal or displays of anxiety, negatively affects dogs’ chances of being adopted (Wright, Smith, Daniel & Adkins, 2007).

There are multiple stressors affecting shelter dogs’ quality of life:

Separation.

Dogs have lived with humans for tens of thousands of years and have adapted to be human companions.  They affiliate with humans and form attachment bonds with their owners and caregivers, and these bonds provide a measure of security for dogs when they are in unfamiliar situations (Bradshaw, 2012; Mariti, Ricci, Zilocchi & Gazzano, 2013).  Isolation from their human attachment figures and people in general, particularly in an unfamiliar environment, causes anxiety and stress.  This condition persists as long as the animal remains isolated (Marston & Bennett, 2003).

Further, dogs are social animals with a natural desire to interact and form attachments with other members of their species.  To reduce the transmission of disease and the possibility of aggression and fighting, shelters typically isolate them from each other. Thus, shelter dogs are aware that other dogs are nearby, but are unable to engage in normal social activity with them.  They can detect stress and excitement from the other dogs’ vocalizations, but are unable to communicate and interact with them as part of their natural behavior (Hedges,2017).  This serves to increase their frustration and anxiety while housed in shelters (Grigg, Nibblett, Robinson & Smits, 2017).

Confinement and reduced activity.

While kept in shelters, dogs are housed in confined spaces and have limited access to outdoor spaces.  The fact of being kept in a restricted space with no means of exit and no opportunity to engage in any play or physical stress-relieving behavior has been shown to increase the anxiety and stress reactions of dogs in shelters (Normando, Contiero, Marchesini & Ricci, 2014).  The confined space also requires dogs to engage in an unnatural behavior of eliminating and urinating in close proximity to the spaces in which they eat, drink and sleep, adding to their anxiety (Wagner, Newbury, Kass & Hurley, 2014).

Environmental stressors.

The lack of a familiar environment in a shelter can be exacerbated by sensory overstimulation.  The dogs are suddenly thrust into completely new surroundings and the sounds and smells within a kennel can be overwhelming.  Their senses are suddenly bombarded by intense new odors and sounds.  The noise level found in shelters is particularly concerning from a welfare standpoint.

Dog shelters are noisy environments.  The shelter interiors are generally hard, smooth walls and floors to facilitate cleaning and disinfecting.  While these hard surfaces are beneficial from the standpoint of hygiene, they contribute to the problem of excessive noise levels inside the buildings.  Although dog’s hearing is far more sensitive than that of humans and extends to frequency ranges that are not audible to humans, dogs housed in kennels are regularly exposed to continual noise levels that exceed ranges considered safe for a human work environment. The sound levels in shelters has been found to regularly exceed 100 decibels; by contrast, the mean sound level of human houses is 45 decibels (Coppola, Enns & Grandin, 2006).  Although the physical effects of this noise exposure in dogs has not been adequately explored, the noise levels commonly found in kennels have been found to cause damage and stress in animals with less sensitive hearing (Sales, Hubrecht, Payvandi, Milligan & Shield, 1997).

Conclusion

Dogs in a kennel environment face unique challenges to their health and general welfare.  The causes for these challenges tend to overlap, requiring great care in identifying and addressing particular issues.

The most pressing concern is the possibility that shelter dogs will be euthanized for non-medical reasons.   Although there are no statistics available to determine the number of dogs that shelters euthanize for medical reasons, the raw numbers suggest that non-medical euthanasia occurs at a high rate.  Short of increasing space, funding and training for shelter staff and volunteers, the most obvious solutions would appear to provide outreach and assistance to owners in the process of surrendering their dogs and to increase the dogs’ chances of being adopted once they are in the shelter.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that interviews with owners who are surrendering dogs to shelters, coupled with assistance in resolving the issues leading to the surrender, would assist them in keeping their dogs at home (Protopopova & Gunter, 2017).  Increasing dogs’ chances of being adopted once in the shelter can be accomplished by human interaction and socialization, coupled with enrichment of their environment and training in basic behavior.  (Luescher & Medlock, 2008).

The next major concern is the risk to dogs’ health. Animals in shelters are at a heightened risk of exposure to contagious diseases due to the density of the shelter population and the varying states of preventative care that the animals received prior to intake.  Steps should be taken to increase the level of training among shelter staff and volunteers in disease awareness and transmission, and to encourage the administration of all recommended and optional immunizations for shelter dogs, regardless of their medical history (Steneroden, Hill & Salman, 2011; American Animal Hospital Association, 2017).

The above steps would also serve to remove causes of stress and anxiety in these dogs, enabling them to interact with visitors and becoming more adoptable.  When it is all said and done, the best way to improve a shelter animal’s welfare is to have a family take it home.

References

American Animal Hospital Association (2017). Vaccination Recommendations – Shelter-Housed Dogs. Retrieved from: www.aaha.org/guidelines/canine_vaccination_guidelines/shelter_vaccination.aspx

Bradshaw, J. (2012, November 19).  The bond between pet and owner. Psychology Today.  Retrieved from www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pets-and-their-people/201211/the-bond-between-pet-and-owner

Cannon, S. H., Levy, J. K., Kirk, S. K., Crawford, P. C., Leutenegger, C. M., Shuster, J. J.,…Chandrashekar, R. (2016). Infectious diseases in dogs rescued during dogfighting investigations.  The Veterinary Journal 211 (2016). 64-69.  doi:  10.1016/j.tvjl.2016.02.012

Coppola, C. L., Enns, R. M. and Grandin, T. (2006), Noise in the animal shelter environment:  Building design and the effects of daily noise exposure.  Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 9 (1). 1-7. doi: 10.1207/s15327604jaws0901_1

Grigg, E. K., Nibblett, B. M.. Robinson, J. Q. & Smits, J. E. (2017).  Evaluating pair versus solitary housing in kenneled domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) using behavior and hair cortisol: a pilot study.  Veterinary Record Open 4 (193) doi: 10.1136/vetreco-2016-000193

Hedges, S. (2017).  Social behaviour of the domestic dog.  Veterinary Nursing Journal 32 (9). 260-264. doi: 10.1080/17415349.2017.1333474

Humane Society of the United States (n.d.).Pets by the numbers.  Retrieved from: www.animalsheltering.org/page/pets-by-the-numbers

Laderman-Jones, B. E., Hurley, K. F. & Kass, P., H. (2016).  Survey of animal shelter managers regarding veterinary medical services.  The Veterinary Journal 210 (2016). doi:  10.1016/j.tvjl.2016.02.007

Luescher, A. U. & Medlock, R. T. (2008). The effects of training and environmental alterations on adoption success of shelter dogs.  Applied Animal Behavior Science 117 (1-2). 63-68.  doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.11.001

Mariti, C., Ricci, E., Zilocchi, M. & Gazzano, A.  (2013). Owners as a secure base for their dogs.  Behaviour 150 (2013). 1275-1294.  doi: 10.1163/1568539X-00003095

Marston, L.C. and Bennett, P., C.  (2003) Reforging the bond – toward successful canine adoption. Applied Animal Behavior Science 83 (3).  Doi:  10.1016/S0168-1591(03)00135-7

McMillan, F. D. (2013). Quality of life, stress, and emotional pain in shelter animals.  In L. Miller and S. Zawistowski (Eds.), Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff (pp 83-92). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell

Newbury, S., Blinn, M. K., Bushby, P. A., Cox, C. B., Dinnage, J. D., Griffin, B.,…Spindel, M. (2010).  Guidelines for standards of care in animal shelters.  Retrieved from: www.sheltervet.org/assets/docs/shelter-standards-oct2011-wforward.pdf

Normando, S., Contiero, B., Marchesini, G. & Ricci, R. (2014) Effects of space allowance on the behavior of long-term housed shelter dogs. Behavioral Processes 03 (103). 306-314. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.01.015

Patronek, G. J., Glickman, L. T. & Moyer, M. R. (2015).  Population dynamics and the risk of euthanasia for dogs in an animal shelter.  Anthrozoös 8 (1).  31-43. doi:  10.2752.089279395787156455

Pecoraro, H. L., Bennett, S., Huyvaert, K. P., Spindel, M.E. & Landolt, G. A. (2014). Epidemiology and ecology of H3N8 Canine Influenza Viruses in US shelter dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 28 (311). doi: 10.1111/jvim.12301

Protopopova, A. & Gunter, L. M. (2017) Adoption and relinquishment interventions at the animal shelter: a review. Animal Welfare 2017 (26). 35-48. doi:  10.7120/09627286.26.1.035

Sales, G., Hubrecht, R., Peyvandi, A., Milligan, S. & Shield, B. (1997).  Noise in dog kenneling:  Is barking a welfare problem for dogs?.  Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52 (3). 321-329.  Doi: 10.1016/S0168-1591(96)01132-X

Steneroden, K. K., Hill, E. H. & Salman, M. D. (2010). A needs-assessment and demographic survey of infection-control and disease awareness in western US animal shelters.  Preventive Veterinary Medicine 98 (2011).  52-57. doi: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2010.11.001

Steneroden, K. K., Hill, A. E. & Salman, M. D. (2011).  Zoonotic disease awareness in animal shelter workers and volunteers and the effects of training.  Zoonoses and Public Health 58 (7). 449-53. Doi: 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2011.01389.x

Wagner, D., Newbury, S., Kass, P. & Hurley, K. (2104) Elimination behavior of shelter dogs housed in double compartment kennels. PLoS ONE 9 (5). doi: 10/1371/journal/pone.0096254

Woodruff, K., A. & Smith, D. R. (2017), An Estimate of the Number of Dogs in US Shelters [Slide presentation].  Retrieved from: petleadershipcouncil.org/resources/uploads/MSU_Shelter_Census_Presentation_NAVC_2017.pdf

Wright, J., Smith, A., Daniel, K., Adkins, K. (2007). Dog breed stereotype and exposure to negative behavior:  Effects on perceptions of adoptability.  Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 10 (3). 255-265.  doi: 10.1080/10888700701353956

Trainer or Behaviorist?

In an earlier post, I talked at length about the certifications to look for in a dog trainer or behaviorist.  If you took the time to read it, you might be wondering what’s the difference between them.  After all, they do the same thing, right?  Well, not really.  They represent two different disciplines that you might need in living with your dog.

So, you are sharing your home with a pretty intelligent non-human who has social and emotional needs, and communicates non-verbally.  And he is turning into a terrible roommate.  One of you needs help, but what kind of help?  As in all things, that depends.

First, keep in mind that anyone can put up a website, print some business cards and call himself a dog trainer or behaviorist – or dog whisperer, dog guru, dog spiritual healer, dog communicator, or any other title.  This is an unregulated industry, with its share of quacks and frauds.  In the first article in this series, What Do All Those Letters and Certifications Mean? I discussed the various organizations that certify and vet members of these professions.  In the next article, I’ll address what to look for in picking the right person to help you with your dog, but at this point, we’ll discuss what these professionals do.

What is a dog trainer?

Putting it simply, a trainer is someone who teaches you and your pet the skills needed to function well in your home and in society.  This includes manners, pet etiquette and behaviors that are needed to safety and a happy life.  These can range from basic skills such as sitting and lying down on command, coming when called, walking nicely on a leash, traffic safety, etc., to advanced skill levels such as protection training, sports and other activities.

Types of dog training.

The training can take many forms, ranging from multi-dog classes for teaching basic skills to owners and their pets, moderated play sessions for socialization (generally for puppies), advanced group classes, private sessions at owners’ homes, or board-and-train sessions in which the dog lives at the trainers’ location for a time.  In my next article I’ll go into these approaches in depth and discuss how to pick a trainer, but for the time being, it suffices to say that trainers have a number of tools at their disposal, and a number of different business philosophies and approaches.  One size does not fit all.

What is a canine behaviorist?

A behaviorist is someone who can address a problem behavior that your dog has developed.  A “problem behavior” being defined that something that the dog does too often, or not often enough.1   For example, if your dog has anxieties about certain situations – such as being left alone in the house, or your dog barks excessively at the neighbors, or is overly protective of his food bowl, these are problems that the behaviorist can help with reducing.

Behaviorist Methodology

Where a dog trainer uses repetition and encouragement to educate dogs and owners in how to perform certain actions; a behaviorist will work with the owners to observe what the dog does, determine what events or triggers cause it to happen, and develop an intervention to reduce or modify the problem behavior.  The key elements of this are to closely observe what happens before, during and after the behavior occurs; and develop an intervention based on behavioral science and professional ethics.

I hope this helped to clarify when you should seek a trainer or behaviorist.  We’ll get into the mechanics of training and behavior modification in a later article, along with what you should look for when searching for a reputable and effective professional to help you with your dog.

What to Look for in a Dog Trainer. What do all those letters and certifications mean?

You’ve taken your puppy home and are looking for a trainer. Or your adorable puppy has grown up and turned into a teenager.  Or the dog you’ve taken home from a shelter or rescue has developed anxieties and behavior problems.  So, you’ve begun a search for someone who can help you.  And you’ve found and entire internet full of trainers, and are overwhelmed with options.  What now?   What’s right for you and your dog?  This is a series of articles to help you pick the right trainer and training program.

First off:  Every article has an alphabet soup of certifications and qualifications.  What do they all mean, and how do you wade through all that?

Things to keep in mind:  In the United States, this is an unregulated field.  Every single person who advertises himself as a dog trainer can also certify other people as trainers, without any qualifications or standards and print out a fancy certificate.  This isn’t to say that the person who has gone through a course of training or internship under that program doesn’t know what he or she is doing and isn’t an excellent trainer.  But often it means exactly that.   As Victoria Stillwell says:

“Just as almost anyone can refer to themselves as a professional dog trainer, almost any entity can currently state that it ‘certifies’ its members or graduates to be a certain level of dog training  professional. While this classification can sometimes be as valuable as the paper used to designate the certification, the dog-owning public continues to place varying degrees of importance on the label of being ‘certified.’

 The truth is that the value of any dog trainer certification depends upon the criteria and assessment processes in place by the entity granting the certification to the trainer as well as the guiding principles and reputation of the certifying entity.1″

This is a list of the more commonly found reputable professional dog training and behavior consulting certifications.  Each of these certifications requires documented experience (ranging from hundreds of hours to years) in canine training and behavior, education and/or rigorous testing, and attestation of that person’s qualifications by professional peers.  Each of these organizations require their certificants to abide by a code of ethics, best practices and professional standards.  The individuals holding these certifications are also required to maintain their expertise through continual education in the field.  I encourage you to look at the links provided below to determine the best fit for you and your pet.

DACVB – Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.2

CAAB:  Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (granted by the Animal Behavior Society).3

ACAAB:  Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (Animal Behavior Society).

CPDT-KA:  Certified Pet Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.4

CPDT-KSA:  Certified Pet Dog Trainer – Knowledge and Skills Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

CBCC-KA:  Certified Behavior Consultant Canine – Knowledge Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

CDBC:  Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).5

IAABC-ADT:  Accredited Dog Trainer (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).

KPA-CTP:  Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Program6

A more complete list of animal-related certifications, and the criteria for those certifications, can be found here:  www.whole-dog-journal.com/lifestyle/human-focus/professional-dog-training-titles/

When looking at advertisements for trainers or behaviorists, pay attention to the fine print.  Does the trainer provide a set of credentials?  If so, you can search that certifying organization’s web site to determine whether that trainer is in fact certified and in good standing.  Also, does the trainer say that he’s a member of an organization, such as the IAABC or APDT without providing further information?  If so, look further.  Membership in these organizations is a great thing:  It provides access to training, current research and other benefits.  But there are also various levels of membership, including the general public.

If a trainer lists course that he or she has taken, take a look that the courses and see if they are listed as providing Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for maintaining certification.  This will provide you with a basis of determining the value of that course of training.  Also,  if a trainer describes himself as having attended a formal training program such as those conducted by Victoria Stillwell7, Pat Miller8, Karen Pryor6 or the Animal Behavior College9, look to see if he has successfully completed that training and has been credentialed by it.

Next in this series:  Do I need a trainer or a behaviorist?

Upcoming:  What is an ethical dog trainer?  What to look for in a trainer/behaviorist, and what to avoid.

 

References

  1. What Is Certification? | Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior (vsdogtrainingacademy.com)
  2. American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (dacvb.org)
  3. Animal Behavior Society
  4. Certification for professional dog trainers and behavior consultants (ccpdt.org)
  5. International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (iaabc.org)
  6. Become A Professional Dog Trainer Courses – Certification Program (karenpryoracademy.com)
  7. HOME | Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior (vsdogtrainingacademy.com)
  8. Peaceable Paws Intern Academies – Peaceable Paws

Animal Behavior College | Where Animal Lovers Pursue Animal Careers

The Pandemic’s Impact on Pet Adoption

The pandemic has been affecting our lives for over a year.  With vaccines starting to become available, albeit slowly, there is hope that we may be able to get back to normal – or stabilize at a new normal – some time this summer.  Most US states and major cities implemented restrictions on public gatherings, social occasions, recreation and dining establishments, and other forms of reducing peoples’ exposure to the unique coronavirus, with the effect that we all felt isolated and closed off from our friends and loved ones.

This isolation, with all of us spending unaccustomed amounts of time at home, resulted in a rapid increase in the numbers of people seeking pets for companionship.  Shelters reported a boom in the adoption of all dogs, cats and smaller pets.  The shelters were quite literally emptied of adoptable animals as homebound people adopted pets and rescues were unable to have dogs transported from states with high-kill shelters1.  Shelters also reported that they had to establish waiting lists for potential adopters as their supply was, for once, outpaced by demand2.

In many localities, the increase in animal adoptions was somewhat off-site by an increase in pet surrenders, and families faced the impact that the pandemic had on their finances.   Unfortunately, this often occurred in areas where municipal shelters were under particular strain by the COVID-related loss of revenue in their cities and towns, along with the safety restrictions they were required to put in place.  Shelters helped to mitigate this by increasing the number of dogs and cats that were fostered out to homes that could care for them during the pandemic.3   With more people working from home, there are more opportunities for fostering dogs than more normal times.  However, the rate of pet surrenders is likely to increase as people face eviction or foreclosure as the pandemic continues into 2021.4

So, our shelters are heading into 2021 with a lot of uncertainty regarding their ability to serve their communities.

  • Without a relief bill passed by congress, we may be seeing an increase in evictions and loss of housing among pet owners.4
  • As the pandemic eventually eases, there’s a possibility that the fairly good probability that pets being fostered will be returned to shelters as our society opens up.5
  • As we return to work and our social lives become more normal, we might see an increase in pet surrenders and returns to shelters, as people realize that they do not have time for the dogs they adopted or bought during lockdowns. They may find that they simply no longer have the time required to care for and socialize a dog, or that behaviors such as separation anxiety come to the fore when their pandemic pets are left alone while the owners are working away from home.6

The big take-away from all this is that our animal shelters and rescues are heading into a very risky situation.  There are numerous factors in play that could result in a glut of animals being turned in to shelters, either a result of increased financial and housing hardships or as a result of people returning to normal work environments and having less time for adopted and fostered pets.

 

  1. Pet Adoptions are Outpacing Available Animals During Pandemic, CBS Boston. Retrieved from Pet Adoptions Are Outpacing Available Animals During Pandemic – CBS Boston (cbslocal.com)
  2. Looking to adopt a pet? The wait lists are growing as more people look for quarantine companions, The Denver Post, retrieved from Pet adoptions surge during pandemic with waiting lists surpassing supply (denverpost.com)
  3. A. animal shelters brace for influx of pets as people face financial hardships from coronavirus. Los Angeles Times, retrieved from Coronavirus economic woes could overwhelm animal shelters – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
  4. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (2020, December 9) ASPCA Estimates 19.2 Million Pets Living in Households at Risk of Eviction or Foreclosure Due to COVID-19 Crisis. Retrieved from ASPCA Estimates 19.2 Million Pets Living in Households at Risk of Eviction or Foreclosure Due to COVID-19 Crisis | ASPCA
  5. Pandemic Leads to Surge in Animal Adoptions, Fostering. Associated Press.  Retrieved from Pandemic leads to surge in animal adoptions, fostering (apnews.com)
  6. As People Return to Work, Those Who Adopted a Dog During the Pandemic Could be in for a Rude Surprise.   Retrieved from As people return to work, those who adopted a dog during the pandemic could be in for a rude surprise (aaha.org)