Veterinary Behaviorists, Decoding Your Dog


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I bet veterinary behaviorists save more pets than even the most talented surgeons.

Veterinary behaviorists tend to see the worst of the worst cases, like dogs jumping out of windows when owners leave for the office, or cat owners living in smelly homes because a cat just can’t aim accurately into the litter box. By the time veterinary behaviorists see the pet the human-animal bond might fracture at any moment. If and when that bond fractures, euthanasia or relinquishment to a shelter become real possibilities.

Pet expert Steve Dale with Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi on Decoding Your DogWithout the human-animal bond, all else is lost. Often behavior issues which have occurred for months or years, are expected to be solved in weeks or days.

There are all sorts of behavior professionals – and many are superb, but none can tease out if there’s a specific medical condition which may contribute or cause the behavioral response as a veterinarian behaviorist can. For example, a cat who urinates outside the box may have kidney disease or diabetes.

Also, in many instances, it’s veterinary behaviorists who do the research which others have communicated to pet owners. Why shouldn’t veterinary behaviorists themselves communicate their own work to pet owners?

Examples include research about psychopharmacology (which drugs work, how they work and about dosages, etc), which behavior protocols may be most effective, and specific cat or dog preferences (undemanding signaling in dogs and cats, what non-verbally pets are saying).

Individually, many veterinary behaviorists have been quoted in the media, published in blogs, magazine articles and have appeared on radio and TV. And certainly, they’re a hit in peer-reviewed journals, but they’ve never teamed up to author a single book on animal behavior for the public, based on their gospel, called science.

I thought several years ago – they oughta collaborate, get their name and expertise ‘out there,’ so more pet owners are aware of their availability.

When it comes to pet behavior, there’s so much misinformation – which often does more harm than good. Sure, I could have authored a book to ‘set the record straight,’ but I am not the best or the ultimate expert. As I group, I suggest veterinary behaviorists are the definitive voice.

The concept for this collaborative book idea was hatched at the Western Veterinary Conference, in a hallway at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. I commiserated with veterinary behaviorist. Dr. Gary Landsberg as we walked out of a session wondering why all these knowledge professionals could be fooled by a TV dog trainer talking about dominating your dog, supporting tactics of a popular TV dog trainer.

We agreed that it was about time for another perspective —one based on current science. I suggested “write a book!”

At a Decoding Your Dog book signing

At a Decoding Your Dog book signing

Dr. R.K. Anderson loved the idea of the book being accomplished. He encouraged me to turn down another book offer in favor of this one.

Dr. R.K. Anderson loved the idea of the book being accomplished. He encouraged me to turn down another book offer in favor of this one.

“Follow the science” is what legendary veterinary behaviorist, the late Dr. R. K. Anderson often said. When I approached Dr. Anderson with the idea of the book he said, “You have vision – you need to do this – climb to the top of the mountain my friend, and save lives.”

Dr John Ciribassi

Dr John Ciribassi

So, we did just that, as 22 veterinary behaviorists contributed to “Decoding Your Dog” which I co-edited with two veterinary behaviorists, Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi. “Decoding Your Dog” was published in December, 2014 with book reviews that made me blush, and high sales that followed.

Dr. Debra Horwitz

Dr. Debra Horwitz

I know that Horwitz, Ciribassi and everyone involved are gratified that the book has been so well received by veterinarians and veterinary nurses, many give away the book to new puppy owners or new clients (yes, old dogs can learn new tricks).

The emails we’ve received from dog owners are also humbling – to think we’d make a difference, even saved lives. Of course, that’s why we did the book in the place.

Arguably one of the most important topics discussed in “Decoding Your Dog” is learning theory – training becomes better when pet owners better understand how dogs learn in the first place. And no, dogs don’t try to dominate their people. And no, dogs are not wolves.

From house training skills, to teaching dogs basic obedience, such as how to greet guests in your home to walking on-leash is all explained.

There’s a discussion of anxiety related behavior issues, such as separation and thunderstorm anxieties. Dealing with aggression to people and to aggression to other dogs are among the many other behavior problems detailed in the book.

Increasingly, dogs live day to day without family members at home – and it turns out enriching environments isn’t only easy, it can be a fun family project. – and is definitely beneficial for dogs. Speaking of which,  how to help dogs and kids to get along

Landsberg, who happens to be a world renown expert on geriatric dog problems (and a condition called canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome – like Alzheimer’s) authored the senior dog chapter.

The book is dedicated to Dr.Anderson, who passed away just before the book was published.

If you haven’t purchased a copy, for yourself, or as a gift to another dog lover, now is a great time!

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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