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FAQs about Behavior Modification

  1. What do you mean by positive training methods? Originally developed for military dogs, dog training has traditionally used aversive techniques. For example, a dog might be taught to sit on command by pulling up on a choke collar until he sits, then releasing the collar (a technique known as negative reinforcement). For many dogs, such techniques can inhibit behavior and lead to fearfulness or fear-related aggression. In contrast, positive training methods use the concept of reward to encourage dogs - or any animals - to repeat desirable behavior. Using the above example, a piece of food might be used to "lure" the dog into a sit position, and then to reward the sit. In either case the dog learns to sit on cue, but with reward-based training the dog also learns to trust the handler. Because many behavior problems are anxiety-related, it is particularly important to use positive training methods in their management.
  2. My schedule is very full. Will I have enough time to train my dog or cat? Luckily, dogs and cats don't have a limitless attention span. Behavior modification is not equal to nonstop training. We will work with you to change the way you interact with your pet and to modify the environment in practical ways, if needed. Training itself would take only minutes per day, or would be incorporated into your day-to-day interactions so that you don't need to schedule a dedicated training session.
  3. Is behavior modification the same as training? The two are related, but are not entirely the same. Behavior modification - changing the behavior of your pet - uses the principles of learning theory in several ways. It includes directly training your pet to do certain things, but might also include (for example) changing your pet's environment or schedule or changing the way others interact with your pet. Behavior modification can also include medication to reduce anxiety and reactivity. As you can see, while training is an important part of a behavior modification plan, management of behavior problems involves more than training alone. We will demonstrate and explain any recommendations for behavior modification, keeping the goals realistic and achievable.
  4. Why do I have to use food for training? Will I always need to have food available? Like people, animals need some incentive to learn a behavior. The cliché that we would not work without a paycheck actually makes sense; a basic principle of learning theory is that a behavior with a positive outcome (reward) is likely to be repeated. Food happens to be a potent reward for most animals, so we use it to teach behaviors. When an animal is first learning something new, the reward itself needs to be consistent. Once the animal has learned its task and will perform it when asked, the rewards should be more random. So, the answer is that you will always need to reward your pet with food at least some of the time, but you do not have to have food available at other times.
  5. Can my dog trainer be involved in the behavior consultation? If you are working with a dog trainer who is interested in observing the behavior consultation (with your consent) and the trainer is willing to incorporate our recommendations and work as a team, it may be possible for them to join the behavior consultation. Assuming behavioral goals and standards of humane training are shared, we often work together with trainers in the long-term management of our patients.
  6. Should I send my dog to "boot camp" (boarding for training) so that his/her behavior problems are treated once and for all? It is not recommended that dogs be sent to board at a facility for training, for several reasons. First, you will not be present to supervise your dog's treatment at the hands of the trainer. It is not uncommon for harsh training methods, such as shock collars and rolling dogs onto their backs, to be used at dog training facilities. Second, behavior problems are most often associated with the dog's family and home environment; training at a "boot camp" often does not translate well when the dog returns home. This is especially true if you are not involved in the hands-on training exercises. Finally, training alone is unlikely to resolve behavior problems at home. Anxiety, fear, aggression, house-soiling, fighting between animals and other serious problems are best addressed by a behaviorist.

If you have a question about behavior modification that still remains unanswered, feel free to contact us.