Dog Behavior Problems?

Sharing your home with a dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences when things are going well and one of the most challenging and difficult experiences when things are not. When things go bad, many dogs find themselves relinquished to shelters or passed along with their problems to another family where the cycle often repeats itself. Fortunately, there are other options.

Trained and experienced, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) is both academically and experientially equipped to help.

What are the qualifications of a CAAB?

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists have advanced graduate degrees in the science of animal behavior and have met the requirements of the Animal Behavior Society (ABS) by demonstrating a completion of six to ten years of formal academic experience leading to a Master's or Doctoral degree, hands-on experience, and adherence to ethical standards. While anybody can call themselves a "behaviorist" or "behavior consultant", individuals certified by the ABS have demonstrated the necessary formal academic preparation and experience that signifies them as area experts.

Methods and techniques?

Trained as a Behavior Analyst, my approach to training lies in the theories and principles of reinforcement. This means that I believe that dogs do what they do because of what happens to them when they do it. I also believe that it is critical to understand dogs for what they are, not for what we might want them to be. Dogs are not people and are not motivated nor repulsed by the same things that motivate and repulse humans. Therefore, an understanding of dog ethology is critical. In addition, differences due to such things as breed, age, physical condition/ability, early experiences, and current living conditions all must be considered in any plan designed to modify a dog's current behavior.

Techniques for training dogs have changed throughout the years. With the volume of knowledge and research findings available today, it is no longer necessary to rely on the use of painful or damaging experiences to modify a dog's behavior. Instead, behavior can be changed by specifically managing how the dog gets what he wants. While the application of aversive events may be necessary in some cases, the use of them is not the first nor the preferred method of effecting behavior change. When aversives are used it is important to understand that their use can create many negative side effects including aggression and avoidance. Perhaps most troubling, the application of aversives often becomes the only tool an owner ever tries. These owners miss out on the power of reinforcement! It's much more enjoyable watching your dog to see when he's right, than to watch and wait for him to be wrong!

What should I expect in my first visit with a CAAB?

The first step in helping to modify the problem is to assess the problem. It is absolutely critical to understand the history of your dog's behavior and what you have been doing about it. Therefore, a behaviorist will ask you many questions about your dog, your family and your living situation. The answers to these questions help in the development of an effective and humane behavior plan to help modify your dog's behavior.

Next, it is important to determine the family's skills and abilities as they relate to the behavior modification plan. A behavior plan that can't be implemented by the family isn't worth very much, so a behaviorist will work with the whole family to determine how to effect change given the current level of skills and abilities. Of course, families learn and change along with their dog(s) so they become better at being effective behavior managers as they work with the behaviorist and the behavior plan and see the dog's behavior begin to change!

Then, the elements of the behavior plan will be demonstrated and family members will be carefully monitored as they implement the same elements. A written description of the plan will be provided to each client and progress will be monitored closely via follow-up visits or, at times, phone calls (depending on the nature of the problem).

Finally, because behaviorists work closely with veterinarians to insure that behavioral problems are not due to underlying medical problems, a copy of the behavior assessment and program will be forwarded to your veterinarian as necessary.


With an emphasis on humane and effective techniques, I have been training dogs since 1989 and have been offering individualized behavior consultations and training to owners experiencing problems with their canine companions for over twenty years. I earned my B.S. and M.S. at Northern Michigan University and my Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 2005 where my research focused on problem behavior in companion dogs.

As a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist with the Animal Behavior Society, I share the company of fewer than 50 in the nation. I have worked closely with shelters and veterinary clinics in Michigan, West Virginia, Iowa and Wisconsin.

I am currently an assistant professor in the Psychology Department at Northern Michigan University.

Contact me for further information or to arrange an appointment.

Yasso and Peat with Sue

Yasso and Peat with Sue