Dog training is a huge global industry. In the United States, there are no certification standards and anyone can claim to be a dog trainer.1
Of course, there are many highly educated certified dog trainers out there, and dog psychologist and trailblazer Linda Michaels is one of them. In her new book Dog Training and Behavior Manual Do No Harm: Characterizing the Dog’s Hierarchy of Needs, Linda combines science with compassion and I’m sure any dog would greatly appreciate it if their humans studied it carefully.2
See what he had to say about how to use non-violent, practical solutions to solve common and complex behavior problems and honor what dogs need and want to do.
Marc Bekoff: Why did you write? Dog Training and Behavior Manual Do No Harm?
Linda Michaels: My academic training, practical experience, and personal ethics compel me to speak on behalf of our unconditionally beloved dogs because these attributes place me in a unique position of responsibility. In the dog training industry, the apparent normalization of inflicting psychological and physical pain is alarming. My frustration and dismay at the misinformation and widespread promotion of shock devices, prongs and choke collars and the use of punitive methods in the unregulated field of dog training inspired me to put my ideas into my book.
MB: How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?
LM: I have felt a deep love and connection with animals throughout my life. My passion led me to a humane society shelter to fulfill the thesis-study requirements for my master’s degree in experimental psychology. My experiences there underpin all the work I do today. While searching for solutions to the most difficult cases of trauma, I discovered how to use my research experience in behavior and neurobiology to help heal the emotions of dogs. I have established a very active do no harm public social media animal protection and education group that includes experienced pet professionals and parents.
MB: Who is your target audience?
LM: My book is written for dogs and the people who love them. It is intended for both academic and everyday use. I’ve dedicated it to our passionate and tirelessly dedicated nonviolent dog trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, groomers, and rescue and shelter workers—and to every pet parent who has struggled to understand their dog’s behavior. I cast a wide net because the need is so great.
MB: What are some of your most important messages?
LM: The book is a wellness, practical training and behavior modification guide that follows the moral code of “First, do no harm.” It is an alternative to traditional teaching models in dog training, recognizing that dog behavior problems often reflect human psychological conditions such as attachment disorders, fear and underlying drives for aggression.
The book is also a bridge between the worlds of research, dog training and pet parenting. The preponderance of evidence in the scientific literature demonstrates that the use of fear, intimidation, and pain worsens behavior and can provoke aggression. However, the dog training industry has strayed far from what science has painstakingly learned about behavior. Understanding that dogs of all ages have brain anatomy and function similar to that of a two- to three-year-old often helps pet professionals and parents treat their dogs with greater understanding and empathy.
By exploring the principle of ‘consent’, my book seeks to bring industry back to compassion through science. Meeting our dogs’ emotional needs builds trust—which is critical to creating a strong human-animal bond and secure attachment. A comprehensive separation anxiety treatment plan is included.
Additionally, the book is the working definition of Do No Harm dog training. The first 100 pages focus on the topics detailed in the updated Hierarchy of Canine Needs, complete with 18 pages of scientific references to support it. The book also analyzes nutrition—unraveling the mysteries of a biologically appropriate diet that promotes optimal health and well-being.
Includes roadmaps for finding the right dog to fit a family’s lifestyle, choosing the right dog trainer, choosing the right vet, and choosing the right groomer—giving pet parent and dog the best chance for success . Explores the importance of careful and proper socialization, as well as the provision of rich, species-appropriate enrichment.
Unfortunately, fear, trauma, and tonic immobility are often mistaken for “good behavior,” even by professionals. Learning to listen to our dogs’ communications with us through body language is essential to developing the relationship pet parents desire with their dogs and the relationship our dogs need with us. For advanced trainers, the book includes treatment plans for understanding what drives and reduces aggressive behavior using the gold standards in behavior modification.
In 2021, the American Veterinary Animal Behavior Society unequivocally stated that collars designed to induce pain and methods of dominance should never—without exception—be used to train dogs. One of my key messages is that there are no “red zone” dogs or dogs that need a heavy hand when seen by a competent trainer. My book provides the tools and treatment plans to become that trainer and pet parent.
MB: How does your book differ from others that deal with some of the same general topics??
LM: My book is unique in that it is dog-centric: it puts the needs of dogs first – ahead of the human need to control, micromanage and enforce compliance, obedience and submission. In understanding and meeting dogs’ needs, the dog’s behavior often becomes more compatible with our own desires because we ‘let go’ and ‘let dogs be dogs’, focusing on relationship, play and high quality achievement common life.
MB: You are optimistic that as people learn more about dog behavior—as they become literate dogs and learn who they really are—will they be treated with more respect and dignity?
LM: I am. Dogs are inherently fascinating. The more I study them, the more I am in awe of the unique gems we have in our heartbeats at our feet.
However, education is not enough. I believe we should all become activists for stronger animal welfare laws. In line with other industries that involve the care and treatment of sentient creatures, regulation of the dog training industry for professional competence and transparency in advertising requirements embodied in the Do No Harm Code of Conduct is critical.