The Psychology and Art of Positive “Do No Harm” Dog Training

Dog training is a huge global industry. There are no certification standards in the United States and anyone can claim to be a dog trainer.1

Of course, there are many highly qualified certified dog trainers out there, and canine psychologist and pioneer Linda Michaels is one of them. In her new book The Do No Harm Dog Training and Behavior Guide: Featuring the Hierarchy of Dog Needs, Linda combines science with compassion and I’m sure any dog ​​would appreciate it if their human(s) studied it carefully.2

Here’s what she had to say about using nonviolent, practical solutions to solve common and complex behavior problems and respecting what the dogs need and want to do.

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write The Do No Harm Dog Training and Behavior Guide?

Linda Michaels: My academic training, practical experience and personal ethics compel me to advocate for our unconditionally loving dogs because these traits place me in a unique position of responsibility. In the dog training industry, the apparent normalization of the infliction of mental and physical pain is troubling. My disappointment and frustration with the misinformation and widespread promotion of shock, spike and choke collars and the use of punitive methods in the unregulated field of dog training inspired me to incorporate my ideas into my book.

MB: How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

LM: I have felt a deep love and connection with animals my entire life. My passion led me to a housing of humane society to fulfill the thesis study requirements for my Masters in Experimental Psychology. My experiences there underpin all the work I do today. While searching for solutions to the most difficult cases of trauma, I discovered how I could use my research experience in behavior and neurobiology to heal canine emotions. I have started a very active Do No Harm animal welfare and training group on social media, made up of experienced professionals and pet owners.

MB: Who is your target audience?

LM: My book is written for dogs and the people who love them. It is intended for both academic and everyday use. I dedicated it to our passionate and tirelessly dedicated nonviolent dog trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, groomers, and rescue and shelter workers—and to all pet parents who are struggling to understand their dog’s behavior. I cast a wide net because the need is so great.

MB: What are some of your key messages?

LM: The book is a guide to wellness, hands-on training, and behavior change that adheres to the “First, Do No Harm” code of ethics. It is an alternative to traditional instructional models in dog training, recognizing that canine behavioral problems often reflect human psychological conditions such as attachment disorders, anxiety and underlying aggression drives.

The book is also a bridge between the worlds of research, dog training and pet training. The overwhelming body of evidence in the scientific literature shows that the use of fear, intimidation and pain worsens behavior and can cause aggression. However, the dog training industry has come a long way from what science has painstakingly learned about behavior. Understanding that dogs of all ages have similar brain anatomy and function as a two to three year old child often helps professionals and pet owners treat their dogs with greater understanding and empathy.

By exploring the principle of “consent,” my book seeks to bring industry back to compassion through science. Meeting our dogs’ emotional needs inspires trust – which is critical to building a strong human-animal bond and a secure bond. A comprehensive treatment plan for separation anxiety is included.

Additionally, the book is the operational definition of Do No Harm dog training. The first 100 pages focus on the topics listed in the updated hierarchy of dog needs and are crammed with 18 pages of scientific citations for support. The book also analyzes nutrition and reveals the secrets of biologically appropriate nutrition that promotes optimal health and thriving.

It provides roadmaps for finding the right dog for a family’s lifestyle, choosing the right dog trainer, choosing the right veterinarian, and choosing the right groomer – to give the pet’s parent and dog the greatest chance of success. It explores the importance of careful and appropriate socialization as well as providing generous species-appropriate enrichment.

Unfortunately, even by professionals, fear, trauma, and tonic immobility are often confused with “good behavior.” Learning to listen to our dogs’ communication with us through body language is essential to developing the relationship pet owners want with their dogs and the relationship our dogs need with us. For advanced trainers, the book includes treatment plans to understand what drives and decreases aggressive behavior using the gold standards in behavior change.

In 2021, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior made it unequivocally clear that collars designed to cause pain and dominance methods should never — without exception — be used to train dogs. One of my key messages is that there are no “red zone” dogs or dogs that require a hard hand when seen by a competent trainer. My book provides the tools and treatment plans to become that trainer and pet parent.

MB: How does your book differ from others dealing with some of the same general issues?

LM: My book is unique in that it is dog-centric: it puts the needs of dogs first—before the human need for control, micromanagement, and enforcing docility, obedience, and submission. By understanding and meeting the needs of dogs, dog behavior often becomes more compatible with our own desires as we “let go” and “let dogs be dogs” and focus on relationship, play and achieving a high quality of life.

MB: Do you have any hope that people will learn more about dog behavior?when they become dog-savvy and learn who they really arewill you treat them with more respect and dignity?

LM: I am. Dogs are naturally fascinating. The more I study them, the more I admire the unique gems we have in the heartbeats at our feet.

However, education is not enough. I believe we all need to become activists for stricter animal welfare laws. In line with other industries concerned with the care and treatment of living beings, regulation of the dog training industry is critical to the competency of practitioners and transparency of advertising requirements embedded in the “First, Do No Harm” code of ethics .

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