Animal Behavior & Training FAQs

Alana Stevenson answers your questions on her animal behavior and dog and cat training services.

I use nylon-fabric leashes, 6 ft, 5/8″ wide and fabric collars or front-clip harnesses. For little dogs, most harnesses are fine. For distance training outside or teaching your dog off-leash, I recommend long-leads. I recommend small cross-body or messenger bags, guide bags, or fanny packs to hold dog treats and other supplies such as cell phones, plastic bags, and keys (For myself, I use small cross-body bags from Baggallini and Eddie Bauer).
Please call for pricing.
As soon as possible, as long as your puppy is old enough to walk and play. If you are using positive, compassionate methods, you can start when they are very young.

For group classes, generally after their second DHPP vaccination and a wellness check with veterinary approval.

Pinch, choke, and shock collars are aversive. These collars inhibit behavior through discomfort. Teaching a dog proactively what you would like him or her to do is far more effective, as is using positive reinforcement.

Choke collars and severe yanking on leash can cause dogs to have tracheal damage and spinal injuries. The UK Association of Professional Dog Trainers’ pamphlet Why the UK APDT is against the Use of Choke Chains is good to read. Pinch, pronged, and spiked collars are painful and can cause bruising. Because dogs have fur, bruising goes unnoticed.

Shock collars, ‘e collars,’ or ‘electronic collars’, as with pinch and choke collars, can cause a lot of negative behavioral side effects. Pain and stress decrease the ability to learn. If I used an electric current to shock someone into learning math or to teach them how to cook, it wouldn’t be very pleasant or productive — especially for the individual who has to learn. Shocking a dog to sit, to come to you, or to stay is unnecessary.

The word “No” does not provide any instruction for your dog. It does not teach your dog what you would like him or her to do. It is reactive, not proactive. The word ‘No’ is meaningless unless it conveys disapproval in your voice. It may inhibit your dog’s behavior temporarily, but if your dog is not taught another way to behave, the unwanted behavior will continue or will occur in your absence.

“No” is a monotonous sound. Dogs tune into sounds that have inflection or intonation. “Ah ah,” “Eh,” or “Hey” all work to get your dog’s attention and are more effective. Read Harmful and Ineffective Training.

After grad school and 4.5 yrs of teaching high school biology and environmental science, I wanted a career change. In Jan 2003, less than a week after my shepherd died, I drove to Queens and interned/studied at the Animal Behavior Center in NY. I interned under a Russian trainer who was supposed to be ‘positive’ (but really was a dominance ‘cross-over’ trainer). However, I read Clinical Behavioral Medicine in Small Animals and was hooked! Please also see my Professional Background.
Private lessons offer you the convenience of training your dog in your home environment and provide you with one-on-one attention and instruction.

Group classes focus on teaching your dog during distractions and socializing your dog to people and other dogs.

For dog behavior consultations, especially in cases of reactivity or aggressive behaviors, hands-on follow up lessons are recommended so you can develop a skill set with your dog and enhance your technique and timing when implementing behavior modification. Lessons such as leash-handling isometrics, positioning techniques on leash, getting your dog’s attention, recall, and moving back from a doorway, for instance, are all important behaviors to teach your dog and for you to learn so you can be more effective and successful.

For cat behavior problems, one or two online-hour video consults may be needed for follow up.

Yes, in 2007 I wrote The Right Way the First Time (preferred title was ‘Teaching Your Dog Kindly and Humanely’). In 2011, that was re-published in English as Training Your Dog the Humane Way and in 2014, in Italian, Il Metodo Dolce Per Allevare Il Tuo Cane.

I do not use the clicker. When clients ask, I can teach them how to clicker train their dogs. Using the clicker can quicken the speed of learning for a dog when teaching that dog a complex task and can be good for teaching tricks.

There is a learning curve for people when they use a clicker. Often people tend to focus too much time on the clicker and have difficulty juggling treats, the clicker, and a leash simultaneously. People can use clickers incorrectly which cause a lot of anxiety and confusion for dogs.

The clicker positively marks a behavior, as can your voice, body-language, and good timing in delivering treats or other rewards to your dog. I teach clients how to enhance their training skills so they can positively mark and reward behaviors without using it.

No. You can improve behavior and change behavior. There is no guaruntee a behavior problem will be completely resolved or never reoccur again. There are too many factors and variables to behavior. Your behavior and body language, as well as the behavior and body language of other people and animals, influence and affect your dog’s and cat’s behavior.
I prefer gates and ex-pen panels (a type of indoor fencing). I do teach clients how to crate train properly.

The crate is a cage. It should be used only temporarily to manage behavior, with the end goal, that it is no longer needed or is a voluntary choice for the dog (the crate door is always open). Often dogs are crated for too long and crates are too small. Many dogs are crated when people are at work all day and then again in the evening when people sleep. This means there are many dogs who spend 14-18 hours a day confined in a cage. Over-crating can cause a lot of anxiety and behavioral problems. Gates and ex-pen panels allow more flexibility while training and can provide the dog with more freedom. The crate should be a voluntary choice for the dog and a positive, safe place.

No. I teach people how to resolve barking problems behaviorally by getting to the root of the problem. However, a citronella collar is more humane than using shock or sound aversion.
I use head halters or the Gentle Leader on occasion for aggressive dogs who may bite, as a management tool for people only.
No. I teach you how to teach your dog in your home and dog’s environment.
Yes. Older dogs can learn just as quickly, if not faster, than puppies. The difference is older dogs, like people, can develop behavior patterns or habits.
I’m a big fan of rescue.
I’m very relaxed with food. Dogs do well with real foods such as fruit, vegetables, meats, nuts, and whole grains rather than processed foods such as too many jerky treats, “pup-pepperoni” snacks, and milk bones. Do not feed your dog grapes, raisins, chocolate, onions, or macadamia nuts.

Puppies should be fed three full meals a day. Do not keep puppies hungry. Cats and kittens should be free-fed. Increased wet food and water consumption help to prevent urinary infections in cats.

I recommend foods that do not contain by-products, rendered animal protein, artificial colors, flavors, or digest. I avoid feeding dogs and cats food with lots of cheap fillers such as gelatin, glycerin, palm oil, corn gluten, and corn syrup. I avoid dog treats made in China. Oatmeal-based treats tend to be a healthy, good choice. Treats with molasses or that are fruit-juice sweetened are good too.

A simple rule ~ “Higher valued goodies for more challenging tasks.”

I split my time at the moment between Burlington, VT and Boston-Weymouth, MA. I provide in-home dog and cat behavior consultations and dog training for those locations and provide online and Skype animal behavior consults for people not in the area.
No, I have not been a member since 1991.
Yes, cats can learn and you can teach them–just not precisely in the same way as dogs.
Yes. I am completely vegetarian – no eggs or dairy products, although sometimes I have honey (I prefer sugar). I became totally vegetarian at 16 after reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and John Robbin’s Diet for a New America. I also avoid leather, wool, down, and animal products.
Yes, if you have Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp, and Paypal, we can have an online video consultation. I have had online animal behavior consults with clients nationally in locations such as Miami, Georgia, Idaho, California, and St. Louis, as well as in countries: Australia, Israel, New Zealand, England, Canada, and Morocco.