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).
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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 simul