Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones

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More than ninety percent of dog owners consider their pets to be members of their family. But often, despite our best intentions, we are letting our dogs down by not giving them the guidance and direction they need. Unwanted behavior is the number-one reason dogs are relinquished to shelters and rescue groups.

The key to training dogs effectively is first to understand why our dogs do what they do. And no one can address this more ...

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Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones

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More than ninety percent of dog owners consider their pets to be members of their family. But often, despite our best intentions, we are letting our dogs down by not giving them the guidance and direction they need. Unwanted behavior is the number-one reason dogs are relinquished to shelters and rescue groups.

The key to training dogs effectively is first to understand why our dogs do what they do. And no one can address this more authoritatively than the diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behavior, whose work, the culmination of years of rigorous training, takes them deep into the minds of dogs in an effort to decode how they think, how they communicate, and how they learn.

In Decoding Your Dog, these experts analyze problem behaviors, decipher the latest studies, and correct common misconceptions and outmoded theories. The book includes:

• Effective, veterinary-approved positive training methods
• Expert advice on socialization, housetraining, diet, and exercise
• Remedies for behavior problems such as OCD and aggression

With Decoding Your Dog the experts’ experts deliver a must-have dog behavior guide that ultimately challenge the way we think about our dogs.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."—Groucho Marx. Fortunately, there is now an authoritative book to help humankind's best friends through all their behavior problems. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists has compiled a practical handbook on canine problems ranging from house training and separation anxiety to aggression and interactions with children and strangers. Decoding Your Dog also contains useful information on how to pick a dog and the care of puppies. A valuable resource for owners of dogs of any age.

Publishers Weekly
To help dog owners better understand their pets’ behavior, Horwitz and Ciribassi, with colleagues from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, address common canine conundrums and offer suggestions on how to prevent or treat them. Chapters focus on various subjects ranging from aggression, interacting with children, and separation anxiety to house-training. The authors examine the causes of various types of dog behavior, and how owners can address potential problems. There is some reiteration of common dog-training knowledge, but the real insights come from the group’s behavioral perspective, which allows them to explain owners’ common misinterpretations of their pets’ behavior. Unfortunately, the behavioral insights are few and far between, as the book leans more heavily on dog-training 101 and advice for new dog owners. Tips on how to pick a dog, housetraining, and early socialization of puppies are fine, but they dilute the book’s strength. The team does an admirable job of separating fact from fiction, but readers hoping to correct a particular bad behavior may find this guide a little thin on concrete advice. (Jan.)
Library Journal
★ 11/01/2013
Dog owners will find a wealth of information in this science-based book of insightful essays by experts on animal behavior. Topics include the best dog for your family; how dogs learn and the limits of their intelligence; house-training; tools of the trade such as safe collars, crates, and other useful paraphernalia; kids and dogs; dog-safe activities; aggression; separation anxiety; sound phobias (e.g., fear of thunder); compulsions (licking, chasing tails); and behavioral problems with older dogs. Carefully reading and correctly understanding the signals a dog displays to indicate unease, pain, fear, or distress can make the difference between a happy and well-behaved pet and a dog that is relinquished to a shelter, the authors explain. Although each essay is written by a different behaviorist, the style and tone are consistent throughout, and each piece contains a "What Did We Say?" summary of important points. VERDICT A fascinating and detailed exploration of the reasons behind common dog behaviors and of how to interpret dogs' communication signals in order to train them to be happy, healthy, obedient companions. The book will be appreciated by readers of Brian Hare's The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think, Ádám Miklósi's Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition, and titles by Victoria Stillwell.—Susan Riley, Mamaroneck P.L., NY
From the Publisher
"A fascinating and detailed exploration of the reasons behind common dog behaviors and of how to interpret dogs' communication signals in order to train them to be happy, healthy, obedient companions." —-Library Journal Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547738918
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 43,956
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) is a professional organization of veterinarians who have achieved board-certification in the specialty of veterinary behavior.

Karen White has been narrating and directing audiobooks for more than a dozen years and has well over one hundred books to her credit. Honored to be included among AudioFile's Best Voices 2010 and 2011, she is also an Audie Award finalist and has earned multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards for narration and direction.

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Read an Excerpt


I’m a dog trainer and behavior consultant—not a veterinary behaviorist. Although good dog trainers spend a lot of time dealing with canine behavioral issues and need to stay abreast of what the scientific community is continually discovering about how our canine companions think, feel, and learn, there is a difference between trainers and behaviorists. Good trainers rely on the medical and behavioral expertise of the veterinary and scientific community so that we too can use hard science to unpeel layer after layer of that unique and wonderful animal we call “man’s best friend.” This task is never ending, and we are constantly learning new and more-effective ways to harness the power of scientific knowledge in our work with dog owners on the ground.
   Sadly, we live in an era when, as is the case with most generational shifts in thinking, there is a good deal of resistance when it comes to employing the concepts and ideologies that science is proving for us regarding our relationships with dogs. For decades, we relied on since-disproved theories of canine behavior to teach our dogs, and we ended up using misunderstood and misapplied concepts of domination and “alpha wolf” theory as the most natural and effective ways to control them. This put the emphasis on punishing dogs for misbehaving rather than teaching them what to do in different situations. But gradually we began to see the light: although dogs descended from wolves, dogs are not wolves, and they behave very differently. Dogs are not on a quest for world domination if left unchecked, and we don’t need to be their dominant “pack leaders.” Using harsh “teaching” techniques on dogs can, in fact, make many common behavioral issues much worse, or at least much more unpredictable—not to mention the fact that confrontational methods cause mistrust and compromise a dog’s ability to learn and can damage the human–dog relationship.
   Modern behavioral science has taught us that dominance and punishment are less effective and more dangerous than positive training philosophies, even for so-called red zone—or very aggressive—dogs, while conscience has told us that positive training also just feels more right. But in this debate over how best to build our relationships with dogs, proponents of the dominance- and punishment-based old-school training methods are not going quietly. There’s too much money, history, and (mostly) pride at stake for them to reverse course and cross over from the “dark side,” and that’s a tough combination to overcome.
   But fortunately for us (and dogs!), while you are free to not like what science tells you about a given topic, you can’t really argue with it if the scientific research has been done carefully and methodically. You can certainly try, but chances are you’ll be wrong.
   The debate about training methods is over, and positive, force-free, reward-based training has been validated as the most effective, long-lasting, and humane choice by an outstanding scientific behavioral community that is made up in part of the very people who have contributed to this book.
   As a dog trainer on TV and in private practice, I have dedicated my life to better understanding dogs, where they come from, how we got to where we are, and how best to give them the tools they need to succeed in our strange, domestic, human environment. Some of this is achieved by staying aware of common sense and our inner moral compass, but a lot of it also comes from understanding and assimilating what behavioral science tells us about our four-legged friends. Use the information you’ll find in this book, as countless other positive trainers like me have done in our careers working with dogs, and you’ll be building relationships the right way—relationships built on mutual trust, respect, and love instead of pain, fear, and intimidation.
        Victoria Stillwell—dog trainer, author, editor in chief of, and host of It’s Me or the Dog


The vision for this book arose from the collective desire of the ACVB to make available to dog owners scientifically correct information about dog behavior problems and to correct widespread misinformation about dog behavior. Each author of Decoding Your Dog is an ACVB member, expert at interpreting canine behavior.
   Not a “bricks and mortar” institution, the ACVB ( is an organization of veterinarians with advanced training and experience in the field of applied animal behavior. Recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association ( and founded in 1993, the ACVB certifies members, called “Diplomates,” after they complete a rigorous training program. Required credentials include a veterinary degree followed by many years of education and training. In addition to intensive study, candidates applying for membership must publish in a scientific journal, manage hundreds of clinical cases in the field of veterinary behavior, write suitable case reports, and pass a rigorous written examination. Thus, the authors have advanced training and extensive experience in treating the behavior problems of dogs.
   The editors of this book, Drs. Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi, are experts and leaders in the field of veterinary behavior, with decades of combined experience. In their respective specialty practices, they have helped thousands of clients resolve their dogs’ behavior problems. Dr. Horwitz, past president of the ACVB and 2012 Ceva Veterinarian of the Year, is author and editor of numerous books for veterinarians, focusing on how to treat pet behavior problems. Dr. Ciribassi, past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, is a popular speaker and author.
   Steve Dale, a well-known pet journalist, radio and TV personality, and pet advocate, has assisted the editors and contributors. Steve has long emphasized the critical role of the veterinarian in solving pet behavior problems and the importance of behavior in the human-animal bond.
   Behavior problems in our canine companions can erode the relationship we share. Even the closest ties, the deepest affection can be damaged. Behavior problems are common, reported by the majority of pet owners. And although some problems are minor, others have serious consequences. Without successful treatment, the result may be loss of the dog to a shelter or euthanasia. The goal of this book is to help you prevent or manage behavior problems so that you and your dog can live in harmony together.
   The authors will recommend first that if you note a change in your pet’s behavior, consult with your dog’s veterinarian, to be certain that a medical problem is not contributing to it. Your veterinarian may be able to help, or he or she may refer you to an ACVB Diplomate or other qualified behavioral professional, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. (See Recommended Resources at the end of this book.) The following pages will show you how to interpret your dog’s behavior and to work with your veterinarian or specialist to manage or prevent specific behavior problems. Solving canine behavior problems is a bit like solving a mystery. Veterinary behaviorists need to know who, when, where, why, and what, to best manage the problem. For example: Who is the dog with the problem? (In multidog households it might not be so obvious.) When does the problem occur? Where does the problem occur? Why does your dog exhibit the problem behavior? What is your goal?
   I think the authors would agree that, in a sense, this book was written by our patients—the dogs we have observed or treated for behavior problems, whose voices we have heard, whose signals we have witnessed. The dogs expressed themselves not in words but in flashes of the tail, flicks of the ear, hard stares at strangers. Most importantly, they have communicated to us through subtle signs of anxiety, fear, and conflict. The chapters in this book, written by ACVB members, interpret these signals.
   Decoding Your Dog will help you to best understand your dog, based on his or her behavior, and prevent or manage behavior problems that create conflict. If you live with a dog, this book will be an invaluable guide.

Barbara L. Sherman, MSc, PhD, DVM, DACVB
Past President, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments   xi
Foreword by Victoria Stillwell   xv
Preface by Barbara L. Sherman   xvii
Introduction by Steve Dale   xxi
1.   Can’t We Just Talk?   1
      Learning to “Speak Dog”   
      Jacqueline C. Neilson, DVM, DACVB
2.   Choosing Your New Best Friend   
      How to Find the Best Match for You and Your Puppy   
      Meghan Elaine Herron, DVM, DACVB
      Patrick Yves Melese, MA, DVM, DAVCB   
3.   Creating a Mensa Dog   38
      What Learning Really Is, and How Dogs Learn   
      Katherine Albro Houpt, VMD, PhD, DACVB   
4.   Housetraining 101   59
      Do It Here, Do It Now   
      Leslie Larson Cooper, DVM, DACVB   
5.   Tools of the Trade   83
      Humane and Safe Training Tools   
      Lori Gaskins, DVM, DACVB   
6.   School Days   107
      Practical Advice on Getting from a Puppy to a Dog    
      Gerrard Flannigan, MS, DVM, DACVB
      Ellen M. Lindell, VMD, DACVB   
7.   I Know They’re Normal Behaviors, but How
      Do I Fix Them?   127
      Common Problems That Can Drive
      Any Dog Owner to Howl   
      Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB
      Lore I. Haug, MS, DVM, DACVB   
8.   Lassie and Timmy: Kids and Dogs   150
      Creating a Family That Works   
      Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB   
9.   All Dogs Need a Job   177
      How to Keep Your Dog Happy and Mentally Healthy   
      Mary P. Klinck, DVM, DACVB   
10.   Aggression Unleashed: Do Dogs Mean to be Mean?   199
      If Aggression Leads to More Aggression, How Do You Respond?   
      Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB
      Stefanie Schwartz, MS, DVM, DAVCB   
11.   Loyalty Gone Overboard: Separation Anxiety   235
      The “Velcro Dog” Dilemma   
      E’Lise Christensen, DVM, DACVB
      Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB   
12.   I Know It’s Going to Rain, and I Hate the Fourth of July      263
      Dogs Who Are Phobic About Sound   
      Emily D. Levine, DVM, DACVB, MRCVS   
13.   Tail Chasing, Leg Licking—Can’t You Stop?   281
      Compulsive Behaviors   
      Melissa Bain, MS, DVM, DACVB
      Marsha Reich, DVM, DACVB   
14.   Dogs with an AARF Card: Growing Old with Grace   296
      Old Dogs Should Learn New Tricks   
      Gary Landsberg DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM (Behavior)
Conclusion   317
Appendix    319
Glossary    321
Recommended Resources   333
About the Editors   337
About the Authors   341
Members of the American College of 
Veterinary Behaviorists

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted March 11, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    This book was written by veterinary behaviorists, who understand

    This book was written by veterinary behaviorists, who understand both a dog's psychology and it's anatomy and natural behavior. These are the guys that dog trainers learn from. They are called "diplomates".

    This book is filled with good tips on dealing with specific issues, like how to introduce children to dogs, and how to teach them the proper way to interact with dogs. And how to deal with fear and aggression in dogs, and even otherwise mundane but highly difficult things like how to get your dog to allow you to brush its teeth. It includes example stories of purportedly real-life scenarios between owners and their dogs to help explain what went wrong between owner and dog, and what the owner could have done differently.

    The book talks about the trouble with people misreading a dog’s body language. For example, people often mistake “guilt” in dogs, thinking that when they do something and look “guilty”, it shows they know they did something wrong. However they actually are simply submitting and relaying “I surrender”, because they know that the circumstances that seem to make you angry exist, but not that they are to blame for those circumstances. Such as a dog that has an accident in the house. It knows you get angry when that mess is on the floor, but it doesn’t associate the fact that it caused that mess that is making you angry.

    Chock full of great information. This would be a great addition to the library of any dog lover!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 4, 2014

    Great help

    This book is a great help in figuring out the language of one's dog.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2014

    I will 'probably' really like this book, IF I ever get it!!

    I pre-ordered this book in November of 2013, and I have yet to receive it. 'Apparently' B&N shipped this item on January 7th, that's when they charged my credit card, but I have not received the book? B&N customer service is the worst. If you want books from this company, do not order them online!!

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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