Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training: Procedures and Protocols v. 3


 Click on the cover above to go to this book at

Steven Lindsay's Applied Dog Behaviour and Training is an extremely useful resource. It is in three volumes, and pricey. The third volume is the most relevant for tackling problems, because it is the one with solutions, but all three volumes are well worth reading. The first two set you up for understanding the third volume, and give you a wealth of information on how dogs learn, and what may cause behavioural problems.

Lindsay can be a little idiosyncratic, and sometimes takes a long time to explain something simple, but he is very thorough, and has dog-sense. He is American, but like Britain's late John Fisher, has a grounding in dog training as well as a passion for understanding dog behaviour.

Lindsay strongly links behavioural issues to training in a wider sense, including how owners may, without realising it, train their dogs to behave badly, as well as looking at other causes of why dogs do things we'd rather they didn't.

British professionals who specialise in dog behaviour problems are grouped in the APBC, or Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. You have to have an understanding of training in order to become a member of the APBC, so Lindsay, despite being American, fits easily into the British tradition. His pragmatic approach also fits with the British approach to tackling dog behaviour problems, for example, he stresses that the key issue for owners of multi-dog households is to prevent fights, rather than debate the finer points of theories relating to wolf packs. Lindsay is particularly good on ways to build up trust between owner and dog, and on training as a way to improve the dog's quality of life, the two goals forming the basis of what he calls a 'cynopraxic' approach.


American dog culture, from which Lindsay writes, is rich and varied. It is affected by economic factors, for example, owners of dogs with behavioural problems represent a potentially lucrative market for the pharmaceutical industry. Unfortunately, owners are often only too happy to have their dogs diagnosed with medical problems, rather than wonder whether they might have taught the dog to behave badly. There are also veterinary behaviourists who prescribe medication and behavioural modification, and who perceive training as unhelpful for dogs with behavioural problems. To quote Karen Overall, from 'Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals':

'Obedience training, puppy kindergarten and individual training all have their roles. They function best to help recognise early signs of possible behavioral problems rather than to prevent them' (Overall, 1997, Mosby, p101).

This is a very narrow view of training, and expresses contempt for trainers, many of whom not only prevent but also treat behavioural problems, and have a keen interest in dog behaviour. This contempt for trainers does help to explain why some skilled American trainers think that academic research on dog behaviour is a waste of time. But Karen Overall's view is not scientific, it is counterfactual, plain wrong. Some behavioural problems are primarily caused by medical conditions, such as brain tumours. Some dogs are untreatable, such as those that inflict unpredictable, severe bites, and represent too much of a danger to humans to be allowed to live. Most dogs with mild to moderate behavioural problems can, however, be helped by training in the wider sense, which involves looking at the whole of the relationship between owner and dog, and what they are learning from every interaction.

Just being in a university, or having a PhD doesn't turn everything you do or say into 'science'. Science is to do with a respect for truth, a systematic and disciplined study of phenomena, asking questions, checking ideas, and being prepared to accept you may be wrong. If some academic scientists design experiments badly on account of their lack of dog sense, that intuitive understanding that comes from long-term experience with dogs, such design problems point to a need for a dialogue between the more skilled and experienced trainers and those researchers who have the greatest passion for understanding dog behaviour, so that each can learn from the other. Lindsay's work shows what can be achieved when academic science meets dog sense.

Lindsay's analyses of recent research on dog behaviour are a joy to read, in particular his discussion of why 'dominance aggression' may be an unhelpful term. Trainers who disbelieve that academic science can be useful will find that Lindsay agrees with them, yes much research on dogs has been flawed. However he does point out where studies have been useful. There are very few people who combine being dog-savvy with a striving for academic excellence in the way that Lindsay does, and fewer still have his breadth of knowledge.

The most common problem faced by owners is aggression. There are three chapters on agression in vol 3, starting off with 'Neurobiology and the development of aggression'. Readers without a background in biology or vet medicine will find this chapter heavy going, but just read it, read it again, and then a third time, and each time it hangs together better. Lindsay's view is that 'most treatable aggression problems are best approached by training owners and dogs how to get on together more competently and affectionately, rather than targeting aggression with physical punishment, mechanical restraint, or pharmacological suppression' (p311). That of course is what most owners want, to be friends with their dogs. Lindsay isn't just dog savvy, he is people-savvy. He discusses common mistakes that people make, such as sending mixed messages and failing to provide leadership, and he stresses the need for persuasion and flexibility when training owners.

Some people shudder at the idea of owners wanting to be friends with their dogs, arguing that one cannot be friends with a creature from another species, and that owners should be aim to be leaders, not friends. However, if you enjoy being with an individual, and there is mutual respect, there is friendship of a sort, even if you are from different species. Teaching dogs manners and coping skills is compatible with friendship. Allowing them to behave badly is unfriendly, and puts their lives at risk. Treating them like animated cuddly toys is disrespectful. Enjoying their ability to live in the here and now is part of the friendship.

There are some important messages on ethics in this book. Lindsay, for example, stresses that the reason for training is very important. He gives an example of dogs trained in war time to carry explosives to tanks. The explosives are then detonated, along with the dog. In discussions of methods, reasons for training are sometimes forgotten, yet considering the reasons is essential if one is to make judgements on whether or not a training programme is ethical. When the goals of training include being able to allow a dog greater freedom, giving the dog a better quality of life, this obviously benefits the dog. When a dog is being trained for an activity, to do a job the dog has been bred to to, the training is relatively easy, and the job is play for the dog, so the training benefits the dog. But if the dog hasn't been bred for that task, training is harder, and the dog doesn't see the job as play. That doesn't benefit the dog, so is ethically dubious, and
a waste of time.

Lindsay favours reward-based training. This is not the same as 'pure positive' methods. If you have swallowed the cultural myth that such a beast as 'pure positive' exists, think about this: using rewards means that sometimes you give them, other times you don't, because you don't want to reward bad behaviour. Witholding a reward to stop bad behaviour is 'negative punishment' in operant conditioning terms. Not getting something you want and expect, whether food or affection, can be very painful. If you have never heard of 'negative punishment', read Mary Burch's 'How Dogs Learn', which gives a very clear account of how operant conditioning is used in dog training. Then reflect that dogs learn in other ways too. For example, your dog often asks you 'what are we going to do?' and you tell him. Dogs very often want information. Sometimes they look at you and their glance says 'Is this what you want me to do?' Other times they like to give you information.
They bark to tell you stuff they think you don't know. When you have developed two-way communication with a dog, and you trust each other, there is a lot more going on than can be explained by operant conditioning alone.

A very useful concept used by Lindsay is the 'dead dog rule' For example, a treatment cannot be said to improve a situation where a dog has bitten, simply because that dog has stopped biting. A dead dog does not bite. For a treatment to have brought an improvement, there has to be increased co-operation, and an improvement in the dog's coping skills, under circumstances when the dog previously showed a tendency to bite. The dog has to do something a dead dog can't, to show that treatment is working.

Who is this book for? Any dog trainer can learn a lot from reading it, however experienced, in fact the more experienced the trainer, the more the book is likely to make sense. Understanding dog behaviour in depth is essential for any competent trainer.

Any vet dealing with dogs would also benefit. Vets are often seen as sources of wisdom about dog behaviour. Lindsay can help vets give sensible answers to owners, including recommendations that they see a competent professional to help them tackle their dogs' behavioural problems. Lindsay can also help vets understand what it's like to be a dog, and how to handle their canine clients better. I once read a review of Vol 3 in a UK vet journal. The author must have skimmed it, concluding that it was just a book on a training method called 'cynopraxic', without bothering to work out what Lindsay meant by the term. Alas vets are often feel they are too busy to keep up with reading, but Lindsay has a lot to offer them.

Lindsay's work is also fascinating for anyone with an interest in dog behaviour, whether or not they are studying the subject formally as part of an animal care or animal behaviour course. As Lindsay says, if you have a problem dog, find a competent professional to help you. His work is not intended to replace dedicated, skilled, dog-savvy trainers and behaviourists who inspire confidence in owners, and help owners to become more confident. Rather his work aims to strengthen their ability to do their job well, and to help owners achieve a better relationship with their dogs. Very highly recommended.

Review by Alison Lever


Thank you to Heather Houlahan, Janeen McMurtrie, and Margot Woods for many informative discussions of dog behaviour and training. All three are skilled professional trainers whose work includes tackling dog behaviour problems. They have different training approaches, but share a delight in mannerly dogs who can think for themselves. They also share an interest in learning about dogs from anyone who has something interesting to say. They show what can be done by enriching first-hand experience with insights from academic research.

See Dog Blogs for Heather Houlahan and Janeen McMurtrie's blogs.