Home Dog Psychology Expert Interview: What is Dog Psychology?

Expert Interview: What is Dog Psychology?

What is Dog Psychology

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers has declared January to be National Train Your Dog Month to highlight the importance of proper socialization and training. In my last column I shared some dog training tips from professional dog trainer Casey Newton.

This week I wanted to get a different opinion, so I sat down for a chat with well-known canine psychologist Val DeSantis to discuss the differences between training and dog psychology and his approach to proper dog training.

The thing one has to understand when talking about dog psychology is that it is about the why of dog behavior, not the what. Dog psychologists are dog trainers, but they aren't specifically worried about the actions of the dog. They work to understand why the dog is doing what he's doing or not doing what you want him to do.

Canine psychologists understand the mentality of the many different breeds of dogs and they work with your pet to evaluate the dog's behavior, and then create a customized training approach that will match your dog's specific way of learning.

Typically they work with dogs who have severe issues like fear or aggression, but they can also help with house training, leash pulling and everything in between.

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What is Dog Psychology?
(expert interview)

what is dog psychology
Photo: Val DeSantis

We know that no two dogs are alike, so why should they be trained the exact same way? There are so many different types of dog training and numerous different techniques. How do you know which one will work best for your dog?

You enlist the help of a dog psychologist!

Val says that all dogs can be trained, aside from a select few who suffer from physical problems which impact the dog's behavior. Training should begin the day that you bring a puppy home, however not all dog owners do that. And what about pet parents who adopt older dogs that already have behavior issues?

Not to worry! Val explained to me that dogs who have already developed behavior issues can be rehabilitated. Just like us, dogs respond to different approaches and learn in different ways. This is why Val works with many different proven training methods instead of focusing on just one.

So now, a bit about Val, since you're probably wondering what his qualifications are. As I've discussed in past columns, the rules and regulations for professional dog trainers are not very strict. Even though Val isn't required to hold any certifications in the state of Colorado, he has many.

He has been training dogs for nearly 30 years, and has worked with more than 1,000 dogs in that time. Val is a Certified Behavioral Consultant, Certified Master Trainer and is also certified by the American Kennel Club as a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. As any good dog trainer should, he is also certified in canine first aid by the American Red Cross.

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what is dog psychology
Photo: Michael

Val graduated from the only dog training school licensed by New York State, Anthony Jerone's School of Dog Training.

He is also a member of Schutzhund USA. If you're not familiar with the method of Schutzhund dog training, it focuses on evaluating and developing the traits in dogs that make them a more useful and happier companion for their owner.

Schutzhund is a German word that means “protection dog.” Schutzhund work is broken into three parts – tracking, obedience and protection work. It is designed to demonstrate a dog's utility and intelligence.

You can't really put a name on Val's method of training. In true canine psychology form, he uses many different forms of dog training and gets to know the animal before the training begins.

He explained that the method he uses differs because each dog has a varying threshold of stress. Some pets can be corrected much easier than others. For some you must assert your dominance and use a harsher correction, while other dogs may already submit to your dominance and simply require a bit of redirection.

All of this has to do with a dog's intelligence. Some breeds are just naturally more intelligent than others and dogs within the same breed can have varying intelligence levels. You need to understand this in order to train properly. Dogs with high intelligence will learn faster, while others may need more practice.

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Val explained to me that one common problem that he sees is that pet parents are not ready to assume the role of a leader with their dog. That doesn't mean that they can't have fun with their dog and they can't show their dog affection.

It means that when something is said, your dog needs to understand that you are the boss of the house. You're the pack leader.

Proper training will teach your dog that you are the leader in your house. You rank highest on the totem pole, and if your dog misbehaves he's ultimately going to have to answer to you.

That may be something as simple as tipping over the garbage can and having to answer to you. It may also mean that if he's aggressive and challenges another animal in your home he'll have to answer to you.

According to Val, if your dog respects you and sees you as a leader he's going to follow your rules.

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what is dog psychology
Photo: kellinahandbasket

Time to start training your dog

Of course, like any other dog trainer, Val recommends that pet parents begin training their puppy as soon as he is adopted. However, not every pet parent adopts puppies. What if you adopt an older dog that still needs some training?

It's never too late to start dog training. Don't throw in the towel just because you've got an older dog with behavior issues. Val has trained dogs as old as 12! It may take a little longer to train an older pooch, but if you stick with it you'll have a well-behaved companion in no time.

He says that the most important part of training is drive. You need to build drive whether you have a puppy or a senior dog. You need to show your dog that learning time is fun time. The more drive you build, the faster your dog will learn and the more enjoyable it will be for both of you.

If you're looking for a dog trainer, Val recommends asking A LOT of questions. Be sure to get information on what school the trainer went to and what certifications they hold.

You'll also want to find out about their experience in the field and get information on multiple references.

I want to take this time to say thank you to Val DeSantis for sharing his advice, knowledge and expert dog training tips with all of us. Don’t forget to check out Val’s website at K-9 Psychologist. Feel free to share your dog training tips in the comments below, and let us know what you think of the information shared in this interview.

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Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.