Animal Behavior – Vital Knowledge For Pet Professionals

(Updated 2020)

What do dog walking, dog hotels, dog boarding, dog kennels, dog groomers, dog daycare, dog trainers, dog nutritionist, and all pet professionals need to know?

What is the singular most vital piece of knowledge and essential component of any pet business to keep dogs safe, healthy, and happy in any scenario?

The Most Important Area Of Expertise For Any Pet Care Business

Dog Behavior. And there’s extra credit for in-depth knowledge of ethology, cognitive ethology, nutrition, force-free dog training, behavioral ecology, evolution, physiology, neurobiology, sociology, learning theory, and animal husbandry.

I wrote about why most dog hotels, boarding, and daycares are not safe nor helpful for your puppy or older dog; however, this list extends to all pet care professional services including, but not limited to dog walkers, dog groomers, pet sitters, dog trainers and the like.

As being part of, and disassociating from, many different pet sitting and dog training organizations over the decades, it is astonishing how many are ignorant about dog behavior, LIMA (Least Invasive Minimally Aversive practices) and are relics, A.K.A. outdated and confused about fear-free positive reinforcement dog training. I covered some of this ignorance before in my article the foible of inclusivity in teaching.

It seems evident to me that the world revolves around behavior and communication for all animals to communicate and exist harmoniously and happy. So why is it that a detailed knowledge of a dog’s behavior is not the most important and common question when vetting and doing due diligence on a pet care provider?

Behavior is vital to understanding in order to communicate amongst people but even MORE essential with heterospecifics and nonhuman animals.

A dog’s primary way of communicating is through body language and nonverbal communication. We have a hard enough time reading our partner or child’s body language, nevertheless a dog’s!

A dog can’t verbally tell a parent that the groomer, walker, or dog boarding place scared them, or they got kicked, poked, yelled at, sprayed, intimidated, stressed, hit, or bullied (which happens more often than not). So we must take responsibility as the caretakers and advocates for our family and become educated on canine ethology to find pet services that meet our and our pet’s needs. If you haven’t already, read how to choose a dog trainer and pet professional in this unregulated industry.

Behavior Is The Foundation On Which All Pet Services Stem From

Without a thorough, in-depth canine behavior background (theoretical and practical), all dogs are in jeopardy.

Boston Terrier Body Language

Why Is Dog Behavior Vital To Understand?

In an elaboration of my colleague Patricia McConnell’s recent blog post about dog walkers, a logical extension is that it doesn’t matter whether we are speaking about a dog walker, dog boarding, dog kennel, dog daycare, dog grooming, dog boot camp, or even a veterinarian.

I would be remiss without including shelters, rescue agencies, animal control, or any business, for-profit or not for profit, that act as guardians for dogs in this list. The leading cause of death in companion animals is a dog or cat’s behavior.

Human parents and our children have a huge advantage. We rely on our children to communicate with us through the spoken word about what is going on at school, daycare, or in their lives.

Some daily questions we may ask our children about are, how was your day? What was your experience like? Why are you sad? Why are you happy? What happened today? How are you feeling? You seem stressed, want to talk? What is this rash from? Why are you hoarse? Why are you limping, sweating, bruised, scraped, etc?

The multitude of conversations and communications are endless. However, when we pick up our beloved best friend from a daycare facility, dog boarding, and training, a dog boarding place or after a pet sitter comes and goes, what can our dog or the pet professional tell us? Nothing, unless they are experts in animal behavior.

Without an in-depth knowledge of ethology and a great deal of honesty and trust, you might as well be wearing a blindfold and earmuffs. What goes left unsaid? Everything. All communications are lost in translation, and your dog suffers significantly because of it.

In addition, as Linda Case sums up, “40 percent of dog owners and 65 percent of non-owners were unable to correctly identify signs of fear and stress in an unfamiliar dog. Moreover, a substantial number of the non-owners (17 percent, or about one in six people) misclassified a fearful dog as a happy dog.”

All professional pet services require a stranger to spend time with your dog alone without the parents around. Considering that in many cases these professionals will spend more time with your pet than you do, it’s astonishing that more care and attention is not placed on the due diligence process of a dog professional’s experience, expertise, education, continuing education courses, methodologies of teaching, training, certifications, licensing, bonding, insurance, and testimonials from educated, verified sources.

Dog daycares, dog walkers, dog boarders, dog trainers, and all pet services have no regulation or barriers to entry. Many professionals are misguided and deluded into the incorrect belief that because they once “owned” a dog and love dogs that they can provide a healthy environment for a dog and earn some extra income. This is why we have seen an explosion in dog boarding, dog hotels, doggie daycares and dog “trainers” with sites such as Rover, DogVacay, Petsitter, Thumbtack, etc.

What Actually Makes Someone Qualified To Take Care Of Your Dog?

Qualifications are the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and your pet professional. 

  • How does the pet professional communicate with, fully understand, and enrich your dog? How do they do this in a stress-free and fear-free way to ameliorate and pacify your dog when they are anxious, hyperactive, stressed or in an emergency or scary situation?
  • How will a professional set a dog up for success, or read a dog’s body language to make a dog’s life as enjoyable as possible?
  • How do pet professionals prevent and stop dog barking, puppy biting, dog fights, dog bites, aggression, bullying, annoyances?
  • What are the dog professionals’ protocols for handling emergency procedures such as, dropped leashes, rashes, injuries, and all of the variables and accidents that can happen while a dog is under someone’s care?
  • What makes a dog trainer, walker, sitter, boarding facility, or any professional qualified to take care of your dog and prevent emotional, physical, and mental stress and injury? Is it someone’s fancy website, a beautiful dog daycare facility or dog kennel, an inexpensive but kind dog walker, a pet sitter who is punctual, a journalist’s recommendation, a friendly neighbor who is out of work or a website who lists pet sitters or walkers? These glib, criteria may seem seductive, but they are at your dog’s expense.
  • Who is qualified to structure your dog’s enrichment, day, and interactions with other people, dogs, environments, animals, rest and play schedules, and all other exercises, training, education, and medical health aspects throughout the day?

Unfortunately, many businesses put profits before people/dogs/pets and are keenly aware that they are catering to the human psyche and not the dogs. After all, it is YOU who makes the decisions on where to spend your hard-earned money, not your dogs.

I would no sooner let my neighbor perform open-heart surgery on me with their qualifications being because they have a sibling, claim to love people, or enjoy watching Dr. Oz on television than I would let a doggie daycare, walker, trainer, hotel boarding facility, pet sitter or groomer take care of my pet without proper certification, background credential checks and making sure that they have a professional career for many years dedicated to the field of behavior, training and pet care.

 

black and white labs barking

How To Detect Stress Levels In Dogs

It’s not like most of us are lucky enough to have access to have happiness or stress detecting cortisol level machines or can take accurate scientific measurements of stress levels. Cortisol may be detected and measured via a dog’s blood or saliva

Instead, we rely on an animal’s behavior, sounds, smells, and our interpretation, and analysis of the context and the individual.

In applied behavior analysis, when performing a functional assessment in a behavior consultation, it’s a difficult task to figure out all of the variables and details of an animal’s behavior even in a one-on-one scenario. When you add in more dogs, people, and environments to the equation, the analysis becomes even more complex, nuanced, and complicated.

Why Behavior Is Vital To Understand

When children go to school, even at a young age, we rely on certified university/master/Ph.D. educated teachers who have dedicated their lives to communication, learning theory, teaching, and education. Teachers and universities are not fly-by-night companies or someone who decided to open up a shop and put a “teacher” or “university” sign on their door or website. The advantage our human children have over dog family members is that our human teachers are fully versed and understand child psychology, learning theory, communication, training, and have a formal education. This is not the case with most pet professionals.

Additionally, teachers and schools are regulated, licensed, insured, and reviewed by peers, boards, independent evaluation standards, institutions, and states. These educators are also routinely drug tested, evaluated, analyzed, and graded by independent bodies at institutions.

The many regulatory and supervisory roles help ensure the emotional, psychological, physical, and cognitive safety of our family. But what if our school, daycare, health care, and hospitals had no mandatory regulation, licensing, schooling or continuing education, and licensing body?

What if our child did not speak at all and relied on subtle body language to communicate? What if the school practiced corporal punishment? How safe would they be if the teachers in the school where we sent our child every day for hours could not speak or communicate with them?

This lack of communication and understanding is the state of affairs in most pet care businesses. In this environment, a dog feels disempowered, confused, and scared.

This is why we take an optimal, holistic approach and comprehensive care of a pet for all of our pet services.

Summary

Without an intimate knowledge of canine behavior and most up-to-date, scientific fear-free training, continuing education in ethology, behavioral ecology, psychology, cognitive ethology, dog training, evolution, physiology, neurobiology, sociology, learning theory and animal husbandry a professional can not understand or communicate with your pet.

We must learn to ask pet care providers the right questions about their independent certifications and not to accept vague, ambiguous, or abstract answers. Take note of any red flags and inconsistencies of the dog’s condition vs. what the pet care company states.

The dog and cat industry need trust, accountability, professionalism, education, licensing, and regulation. These may not be panaceas, but they have proven effective at helping the other industries that we rely on so much for our human family’s health, so why should it be any different for our dogs and other pet family members.

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