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'Decoding Your Dog': New behavior book challenges our understanding of dogs

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'Decoding Your Dog': The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones

Decoding Your Dog, a new book by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, expertly guides owners and guardians to a deeper understanding of dog behavior. Releasing on January 7, 2014, Decoding Your Dog is described by USA TODAY as the first book for the general public written by veterinary behaviorists. Nineteen contributing authors analyze problem behaviors, explain why dogs behave as they do, and provide science-based solutions.

According to the editors, unwanted behavior is the number one reason dogs are relinquished to shelters. Humans often misinterpret dogs’ physical expressions of fear, anxiety, and excitement, resulting in frustration and a breakdown of the human/animal bond.

Avoiding behavior problems, or having appropriate tools to deal with them, will save lives.” Steve Dale – Pet Journalist, Radio Host, 'Decoding Your Dog' Editor and Contributor

The book analyzes and dispels common misconceptions such as the dominance myth: aggressive behavior occurs because a dog wants to be pack leader. Rather, veterinary behaviorists have learned that most owner-directed dog aggression “actually stems from anxiety, not a desire to dominate.” Watching a dog’s body language and knowing how to read signals can enable humans to provide the guidance and direction to prevent unwanted behaviors.

Clear definitions of terms (aggression, submission, anxiety, fear, etc.) and detailed descriptions of canine body language give the reader crucial tools to interpret what a dog is communicating. While a yawn can mean a dog is tired, it can also be a very clear indication of escalating anxiety.

The authors of Decoding Your Dog know that dog owners and guardians can be baffled by contradictory advice from a vast range of trainers and “experts.” Clearing through the confusion with authority and experience, the book provides veterinary-approved positive training methods, advice on socialization, housetraining, diet and exercise, and engaging real-life stories.

In his article for USA TODAY, Decoding Your Dog editor Steve Dale provides some of the book’s nuggets of advice:

Q: Do dogs bite their owners or other familiar people because they are competing for alpha status?
A: This is untrue. Most often dogs bite for defensive reasons that are not related to a social hierarchy.

Q: Do dogs get on sofas, rush ahead on walks or jump on people to be dominant?
A: Again, no. Dogs favor couches for napping like we do, because they are soft, and because they smell like their favorite people. Dogs rush ahead on walks because they're eager to explore the world, those smells are exciting, and people are too darn slow. Dogs are happy to greet people and like to jump because it’s the only way to greet them face to face, and because they are beyond exuberant.

Q: Do dogs purposely urinate in the house or otherwise behave badly because of separation anxiety?
A: Like all behavioral problems, dogs with separation anxiety aren’t being spiteful. They're not intentionally punishing you for your departure; they are just attempting to cope with your separation. Like many behavior problems, an appropriate diagnosis is most important. Without veterinary input, people may assume the problem is separation anxiety, when the dog might be under-exercised and/or bored. Perhaps the dog is piddling in the house when you are away primarily due to an undiagnosed medical condition. Some dogs were never reliably taught to be home alone (despite what their owners believe). If this is a senior dog, has the dog “forgotten” house-training? Or does the dog actually suffer from separation anxiety? And suffer is the right word — these dogs are suffering. Often pharmacological intervention, combined with behavioral therapy, is most helpful and most humane.

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