Methods & Ethics
I have always been passionate about doing the right thing. When I first started my journey to become an animal behavior specialist and trainer, I was exposed to a variety of methods by a wide array of people. My time with the San Diego Humane Society quadrupled the amount of exposure to philosophies, methods, and techniques through my connections and the organization’s position in the community. What has always remained the same for me is that I am driven to do what is best for the animal. To me, that means using methods that are
- force, fear, and pain-free
- based in science
- in the animal’s best interest
To this end, I always choose to follow the behavior change framework Least Inhibitive, Functionally Effective (LIFE): A Modern Approach to Ethical Animal Training Methods from Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez, PhD. School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, The University of Adelaide (Australia).
Your pet decides what is inhibitive and effective, and I will follow their lead. My experience makes it possible to choose scientifically optimized behavior change techniques that maximize functionally effective results that also have a positive impact on welfare for participants under this approach. This same experience helps me understand why methods for behavior change based in aversiveness and intrusiveness can actually be quite dangerous.
These professional organizations representing those in the animal welfare and behavior field prioritize safe and humane techniques based in positive reinforcement as the best way to train and modify behavior:
- The Pet Professional Guild
- American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
- Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers
- San Francisco Humane Society and SPCA
- The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
- The Association of Pet Dog Trainers
- The International Society of Canine Practitioners
But what does LIFE really mean? Well, it means that we complete functional assessments to identify why an animal does a behavior, which improves our ability to create a training plan that achieves your goals while improving your pet’s overall welfare. Then we focus on teaching your pet the behaviors we do want and rewarding them so those behaviors happen more frequently and consistently using these methods –
Management & Enrichment: Arranging the environment so that your pet can and will choose the behaviors we like and will also be prevented from practicing (and being rewarded for) behaviors we want to avoid.
Giving Rewards (aka Positive Reinforcement): Your pet gets good things (food, toys, praise, opportunities) based on behaviors we want to see. This leads to an increase in those wanted behaviors!
Classical Conditioning and Desensitization: When working with fearful or aggressive behaviors in pets it is very important to explore the underlying emotions that motivate those behaviors such as fear, stress, anxiety, and/or discomfort. Through systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning techniques, we can change your pet’s underlying emotional response to the scary thing (aka what triggers the behavior). We show your pet that the scary thing predicts rewards while reinforcing appropriate behaviors. This process helps your pet change their emotional response from fearful or aggressive behaviors to a neutral or pleasant response to the scary thing.
We avoid the use of aversive equipment and techniques in our training plans with the understanding that these aversives will negatively impact the animal’s welfare and reduce the effectiveness of the training plan from all sides.
Dr. Ian Dunbar once said,
“To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need:
- A thorough understanding of canine behavior.
- A thorough understanding of learning theory.
- Impeccable timing.
And if you have those three things, you don’t need a shock collar.”
I find his words to be true for most tools and techniques that focus on using fear or force to train animals, and we won’t use them with your pet.
To help pet parents build epic relationships with their dogs through education and enrichment.
For every pet to have a home that provides them with the ability to thrive.
As a progressive, science-based small business we value being accessible and inclusive to our community. Zoom sessions have live closed-captioning and we continue to build our content, materials, and services with all communities in mind.