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Houston Dog Trainers Use Science to Improve Behavior

By Allison Wilson

Undesired dog behavior can have a wide range of consequences for pets and their owners- from costly home repairs, to risks to humans, to injuries or death to other animals. Some behaviors can even result in civil and criminal liability or the loss of homeowners insurance. Modern dog training and behavior consultants offer a solution for many of these situations.

"Modern dog trainers and behavior consultants base their theories in science," says Michael Curran, Owner of Houston Dog Behavior. "Each trainer and behavior consultant is different, but many subscribe to the 'Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive' approach to training and behavior modification. Using this approach, my goal is to minimize the risk of unintended consequences and behavior fallout that can be associated with other forms of training. We want to build a cooperative and eager learner that wants to perform for us. Then, we are able to guide the dog owner to the appropriate techniques and help them understand concepts that may seem abstract and non-applicable when you are in the middle of a crisis."

Curran says he typically works with clients whose dogs are becoming or are already out of control, or clients who are taking a preventative proactive approach to raising their dog. For obvious reasons, preventing problems before they start is the easiest path to take. This allows the owner to be more aware of what is happening with their dog, which behaviors may become a problem and how to address those issues.

"There are many causes of dog aggression," Curran says. "The most common cause is fear-based aggression, which is reinforced when the thing scaring the dog moves away after they bark. We also encounter redirected frustration; resource guarding of food, toys, humans, beds, patches of grass, rooms, found objects and trash, etc.; and medical causes like seizures, hormonal imbalances, dementia and pain-triggered. Each dog and situation is different, so it is critical, especially when dealing with fear and aggression, to get a professional in to assess the situation, risks, outlook and next steps."

Curran and his staff at Houston Dog Behavior typically focus first on safety for family members, visitors to the home, the general public, other animals in the home, and the individual dog themselves at a physical and emotional level. They need to ensure the dog will not bite or attack anybody because even minor incidents risk the dog's life and home. They also work to ensure that the dog's emotional safety needs are met, otherwise the behavior will continue, potentially becoming more intense and frequent.

"Once we ensure safety, we look at management of the behavior," Curran says. "Our goal is to control the environment and situations where the dog may encounter triggers. We want to set the dog up for success, so they do not practice the behavior. The more you practice a behavior, the more likely that behavior will continue, becoming a pattern, habit or ritual. The less the dog practices a behavior, the less likely that behavior will continue. At that point we can start introducing alternative, more appropriate behaviors and rewarding those successes."

Once safety and management are addressed, the professional trainers focus on modification. Modification is often a long-term endeavor. The trainer works to understand underlying causes rather than the symptoms of the behavior. Modification exercises include relaxation methods and off switches, redirection; impulse control and frustration tolerance; teaching boundaries; relationship and trust building; and showing the dog that there can be positive consequences for appropriate behaviors.

These techniques seem to work well for Curran and his team, as his client testimonials include praise such as: "Michael literally saved my dog's life," and "Michael is great with dogs but even better with pet owners!"

For more information on Houston Dog Behavior's staff and services, call 832-299-4787. Or visit their website here.

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Allison Wilson is an award-winning writer and communications professional whose...

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