New book offers solid advice on curbing canine behavior problems

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To this day, if you Google "dog screamer," up pops a column I wrote back in 2006 headlined, "He Ought To Call Himself the Dog Screamer." The column went viral and I received hundreds of hate-laced emails because I dared express concerns about dog-training methods advocated by then popular "Dog Whisperer," Cesar Millan.

Just a few months later, while attending the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, NV, I was chatting with veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg. He said he wished his colleagues had such a national platform to espouse appropriate science-based training methods. I suggested he write a book.

Veterinary behaviorists like Landsberg are experts in solving behavior problems, a huge issue for many pet owners. In fact, behavior issues, including misunderstood or unacceptable behavior, may ultimately kill more pets than cancer or heart disease.

When a pet gets physically sick, the human/animal bond may become stronger, but when a dog is growling at a family member or having accidents in the house, that bond can fracture. When that happens, pets are more likely to be euthanized, given up to shelters, or even abandoned. And pets that do make it to shelters but have a "history" of behavior problems may not get a second chance.

Of course, animals don't behave poorly on purpose -- to get back at us or make us mad, for example. They're merely coping the only way they know how. When a dog begins to bark and leaves puddle of saliva whenever he's left home alone, for example, it's because the poor pup has separation anxiety, not because he's being spiteful.

The solution for a dog with separation anxiety, according to one TV trainer, is to leave the house, then the moment the pet begins to bark, run back inside and "put the dog in his place; show you are dominant." But do you really believe that returning home to scold an already anxious dog will actually help? The dog may have no clue why you're angry. (And by the way, the popular theory that we must demonstrate our dominance over dogs is utter nonsense.)

Of course, veterinary behaviorists know better. I consider them the superheroes of animal behavior. They regularly save the day for pet owners every day without fanfare or TV coverage. Veterinary behaviorists preach the gospel of science-based training. If you want to know what a dog is barking about, ask a dog. If you want to know why that dog is barking, ask a veterinary behaviorist.

It took some time, but the book I suggested has just been published. "Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behavior and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $27) was written by members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. It was edited by veterinary behaviorists Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi, and myself. There's never been an animal behavior book quite like this.

I write all the time about wonderful dog-training books, and while "Decoding Your Dog" includes training basics, the focus is on behavior, beginning with helping to explain how dogs think. From shaping puppy minds to dealing with senior dog issues, this book covers it all.

Sometimes, even common dog behavior issues bug us, such as jumping excitedly at the door to greet people, or barking at everyone walking down the street. That's not to mention a long list of abnormal behaviors covered in the book, from thunderstorm anxiety to compulsive behaviors, such as dogs who won't stop chasing their own tails.

As soon as we'd signed the book deal, I immediately phoned legendary behaviorist Dr. R.K. Anderson, who was overjoyed to know his colleagues would now be touching the general public in a far broader way than ever before.

Anderson was 90 when he passed away in October, 2012. He felt this book (which is dedicated to his memory) would allow veterinary behaviorists and their science-proven positive reinforcement methods to reach millions of pet owners -- with the ultimate outcome of saving lives. I believe he'll be proven right!

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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