16 June 2018

The Train for Rewards Blog Party is Now Live!

The Train for Rewards Blog Party is now live with posts from many talented bloggers exploring the topic of reward-based training.

Check it out here.

Then share your favourite posts on social media.

And share a photo of your pet on social media with the hashtag #TrainforRewards.

Post for the 2018 Train for Rewards Blog Party hosted by Companion Animal Psychology

The blog party is hosted by Companion Animal Psychology. Thank  you to everyone who is taking part, whether by blogging or sharing your pet's photo on social media.

15 June 2018

The Train for Rewards Photo Post

Do you use rewards to train your dog or cat (or other pet)? Show you support reward-based training by posting a photo of your pet below.

By popular request, this post is part of the #Train4Rewards blog party hosted here at Companion Animal Psychology.

Add your pet’s photo, then share on social media with the hashtag #Train4Rewards.

The photo link-up is open until 8am Pacific time on Saturday 16th June, when the full list of Train for Rewards posts is available.

Add your pet's photo to the #Train4Rewards blog party

How to add the photo:

Click the link and follow the instructions. You will have up to 50 characters for your pet’s name.

If you make a mistake, you can delete the entry and start again.

Entries are moderated so at certain times of day there may be a delay before your pet’s photo appears.

You have to give your email address, but it will not be used except if needed to communicate about the photo link-up. You can read the privacy policy here.

You have to sign up separately if you want to subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology.

Thank you to everyone who is taking part!

Add your photo to the #Train4Rewards photo post to show you use reward-based training methods with your pet.

Not sure what reward-based training is? See seven reasons to use reward-based training methods and the ultimate dog training tip.

14 June 2018

The Best Dog Training Treats

What are the best treats to use when training your dog? From the right size and nutritional composition to what dogs love best, this is a user-friendly guide to the best dog training treats.

The best dog training treats. This little white dog is looking up, hopeful for a cookie
Photo: Rattanawan Thubthed / Shutterstock

Whether you’re new to training or a seasoned pro, using the right treats is an important part of dog training because you have to be able to motivate your dog.

Food is a commonly-used reward in dog training for a reason – it works.

We often use food in operant conditioning, when we’re training a dog to do a behaviour. This is positive reinforcement (for more on why food makes a great reward, see the ultimate dog training tip).

The best training treat in one situation is not always right for another dog in another training scenario. This article looks at what to consider and then lists my favourite dog training treats.

A guide to the best dog training treats. The poster features a cheeky Jack Russell Terrier. #Train4Rewards

Things to Consider When Choosing Dog Training Treats

There are several things to think about when choosing treats to use in training.

Your dog’s favourite foods 

It stands to reason that foods your dog likes a lot will be more motivating than those your dog is not so excited by. Every dog has their own individual preferences. For example, some dogs love pieces of carrot (my dog Bodger takes them away to munch on), but some dogs don’t particularly like carrot. (interestingly, some dogs like cheese less if a piece of carrot is given with it, even if they like carrot, something called suboptimal choice in dogs).

A recent study found that dogs run faster for a high quality training reward than for a low quality one (sausage vs kibble). However the quantity of the reward did not make a difference to the dog’s running speed (Riemer et al 2018). So it’s important to use reinforcement that is high quality from your dog’s perspective. Typically, that would not be kibble as your dog gets that at mealtimes anyway.

The training task

Some types of food reward are more suited to different kinds of training task. For example, suppose you are training basic obedience like sit, lie down, or stay, and you are working in your living room with few distractions. You will want to be training fast, both to keep your dog interested and to be efficient. That means you’ll be getting through a lot of treats.

When I studied at the Academy for Dog Trainers (“the Harvard of dog training”), I learned to aim for 8-12 repetitions a minute. This produces great results fast – but that’s a lot of treats. So you don’t want to be giving a great big slice of salami for each rep. My favourite for most obedience training is little pieces of cooked chicken.

But suppose you are training recall (teaching your dog to come when called). Recall is one of those things where you want to know you are going to get excellent results. And, at the same time, it’s something that is often difficult for the dog, in that there can be lots of distractions and other competing rewards, like dogs to play with, strangers to meet, and squirrels to chase. There are times when a great recall can save a dog’s life by getting them out of an unsafe situation. In other words, this is important stuff, and you never know when you might need it.

You could still use chicken, but you could also use something super yummy that your dog doesn’t get at other times, so they know they will always get a really special reward when they come when you call them.  My favourite reward for teaching recall is tripe stick, because dogs love it (I admit it is a bit stinky for me). Cheese is another favourite as most dogs really love cheese. Again, the stinkier the better.

The best dog training treats. A wet Golden Retriever waits for its reward.
Photo: Lukassek / Shutterstock

This guide assumes that you are using the treats as positive reinforcement in operant conditioning. For counter conditioning (when you are trying to change your pet’s emotional response to a positive one) you want to make sure you are using good food (e.g. chicken, roast beef) and not being stingy.

Sometimes you might be using food as a management strategy. One example is when you’re trying to get a harness on a jumpy, bouncy, wriggly dog. You can use food to get the dog’s head through the harness, and then put a little pile of food on the floor to keep the dog occupied while you do up the belly straps. (Yes, you are still going to want to train the dog to keep still while you put the harness on, but with this management method you can at least still take them out for a walk while training is ongoing).

Another example might be when you’re using food to distract a dog from something nearby they might react to, like other dogs. If you keep them interested in food, they won’t notice or pay attention to the other dogs. This can be a useful management strategy for those times when you aren't training.

If you want to avoid interruptions in the treat supply while you reach into your bait bag, you might prefer to use a treat tube. There are several brands you can buy, such as Leanlix or Lickety Stix. Or you can make your own by putting a food paste (such as watered down pate cat food) in a squeeze tube or reusable food pouch. These are available from camping supply stores or baby supplies. Pick something that is easy to clean after use, and has an opening that is easy to fill.

If you want to make your own lickable treat, you could mix cream cheese with canned tuna or peanut butter. Add water to get the consistency you require. Freeze it if you want to make it last even longer.

The best dog training treats - part of the 2018 Train for Rewards blog party


Every dog has individual preferences, and some dogs will care more about variety than others. If you find your dog getting bored of one kind of reward, you can always try another. (Or if it turns out the dog is tired of training, give them a chance to rest and resume again on another day).

Your dog’s dietary requirements 

Some dogs need a special diet. Suspected or actual food allergies may mean certain ingredients have to be avoided. Some medical conditions also have implications for diet.

For example, dogs with kidney disease have special dietary requirements including that it is low in phosphorus.  If your dog has chronic kidney disease, you may also like this post from the Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings Veterinary Medical Centre on treats that are suitable for dogs with kidney disease. They also have a list of reduced sodium treats and diets for pets with heart disease.

If you have concerns about your dog’s diet or need advice on nutrition, see your vet.

If your dog has dietary restrictions, any treats you use in training should also meet those needs, so read labels carefully and take your vet’s advice. Many kibbles made to meet special dietary needs also have a corresponding canned food (and sometimes corresponding treats too) that can be used as a reward in training. It may also be possible to make your own using ingredients that you know are okay for your dog.

Some hard chews (like rawhide) may be a choking hazard, so supervise your pet when you give them.


When choosing ready-prepared dog training treats, read the ingredients to check you are happy with them. This article from the Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings Veterinary Medical Centre, Tufts University, has some advice on reading pet food labels.

Some treats contain sugar in one form or another. Dogs, unlike cats, can taste sweetness. It may be added to make the food tastier to dogs, but sugars are also used as humectants in some products. Humectants keep moisture in food and keep the texture nice.

A recent study of the ingredients lists and nutritional content of dog treats found that while they are low in glucose and fructose, levels of sucrose are variable (Morelli et al 2018). While some contained no sucrose, at the highest level one dog biscuit contained sucrose at a level of 35.9g per 1000 kcals, while one tender treat (made up mainly of meat and cereals) contained 51.7g sucrose per 1000kcals. (Note this is expressed as a ratio and the treats are not 1000kcals each!).

Morelli’s paper says that while there is a guideline from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association that treats should not make up more than 10% of a dog’s daily energy requirement, if the feeding instructions on packets were followed, many (but not all) treats would exceed this amount.

Another consideration is whether or not you wish to feed treats that are raw. Most freeze-dried treats are raw and thus have the same risks as other raw foods (Freeman et al 2013). Freeman’s paper says the risk of infection from raw meat-based food is of particular concern for humans or animals that are young, elderly, pregnant, lactating, ill, or have a compromised immune system.

Remember that dog training treats are part of your dog’s overall diet. This means you need to adjust the calories given in meals to ensure your dog does not become overweight or obese. Some recent studies suggest more than half of dogs are overweight or obese (German et al 2018).

If you need advice on feeding your pet, or you are concerned about your dog's weight, speak to your veterinarian.

Which are the best treats to use in training?

These are my favourite treats to use for dog training. They are tasty to motivate dogs and the right size for use in training.

Cooked chicken

As mentioned above, little pieces of cooked chicken are my favourite treat for most dog training activities. I sometimes put chicken breasts in a tray, cover them with water, and bake in the oven until cooked through. The liquid becomes a nice chicken broth for my dog, and I chop the chicken breasts into little pieces about the size of a pea.

But I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m lazy or busy and so I buy ready-to-eat chicken pieces from the supermarket and cut it into bits for training. It’s important to read the label and check no onion or onion powder is in the ingredients, as onion is not safe for dogs to eat.

Tripe Stick

One of the things that is great about tripe stick is that it is stinky and dogs love it. Another thing I like is that you can easily tear it into smaller pieces.

Depending on the brand you get, some are 100% beef while others contain a mix of ingredients that make them softer and easier to tear. As always, read the ingredients to check they are right for you and your pet.

You can also buy little freeze-dried tripe treats.

Dried Sardines

Dogs seem to find these very tasty and they are easy to break in half if you want to make them smaller. Look out for minnows at the pet store.

Orijen freeze-dried tundra dog treats

These are great if you are looking for something that is completely natural, and another big favourite with my dog. They do sometimes leave flaky bits at the bottom of my bait bag, but I add it to kibble at mealtimes.


Something you no doubt already have in your home, little cubes of cheese can be a good training reward, especially for those occasions (like recall) when you want to use something really special. What type of cheese you use is up to you. Many dogs probably think the stronger the better!

Waggers Peanut Butter Tid Bits

These pork liver treats are a great size for training. My dog loves the peanut butter ones. This Canadian brand is based in Kelowna, BC.

Tricky Trainers, Liver Flavour

These are a small size for training and another favourite with my own dog.

Fruitables Skinny Minis

These are just 2 calories per treat and have a nice fruity smell. My favourite is the pumpkin and mango, but other flavours include rotisserie chicken, grilled bison, and apple bacon.

Tuna Fudge

See the recipe below! This is a great home-made dog training treat that does not crumble.

Hot Dogs

These are cheap, easy to cut into small pieces, and dogs love them. If you cook them in the microwave they will become dry and you can avoid the greasy feeling on your hands. Canned Vienna sausage is a good alternative too (again, you might prefer to microwave it first).

Make your own home-made dog training treats

Of course, it’s very easy to make your own home-made cookies. If you like to bake, you can experiment with the recipes below and come up with your own variations.

A nice idea from Eileen Anderson is to bake the cookie mixture in a silicone mould so that it comes out ready-cut into little pieces.  But you can also bake them on a flat tray and cut into pieces.

When using peanut butter, pick a brand that is all natural and does not contain added sugar. Read the label carefully to check there is no xylitol (an artificial sweetener). Some brands of peanut butter contain xylitol, which is poisonous to dogs. (Xylitol is also found in other food products such as chewing gum and candy, and some dental products, so always read labels and keep your pet safe).

Recipes for Home-Made Dog Training Treats

Tuna Fudge Recipe

170g (1 can) flaked tuna (including the liquid)
2 medium eggs
125g (1 cup) flour
A pinch of turmeric.

Mix all the ingredients together. Press onto a baking tray. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350F (175C).

Possible varations: Substitute another canned fish e.g. salmon, or even canned chicken or corned beef, for the tuna. Since the tuna includes liquid, if you’re using something without liquid, the equivalent amount is 120g of e.g. corned beef, and add 50ml of milk to make up the liquid quantity.

Other flavourings: Instead of the turmeric, substitute some chopped parsley, basil, rosemary, cilantro, oregano or peppermint.

Another variant is to add a small amount of grated cheese to the mixture.

Three Frozen Home-Made Dog Treat Recipes

You can adjust the size of these frozen dog treats according to the containers you freeze them in. Of course, frozen treats take longer to eat, so they are not so suitable for quick-fire training rounds, but they may be especially appreciated on a hot day.

Frozen Yoghurt and Tuna Treats

Mix 1 can flaked tuna with the equivalent amount of plain yoghurt. If desired, add a little bit of flaked parsley or basil. Spoon into ice cube trays and freeze.

Frozen Chicken Fruit Cubes

Mix 250g chicken stock (1 cup), I banana (mashed), 1 grated apple, and 75 grams (about half a cup) of whole blueberries. Put into ice cube trays and freeze.

Pumpkin Peanut Popsicles

One 796ml can of pumpkin (get 100% pumpkin, not the sweetened variety); 250g (1 cup) smooth peanut butter, a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon honey.

Mix all the ingredients, put into small silicone popsicle moulds and freeze.

What are your dog’s favourite treats in training? 

If you want to find out which are your dog’s favourite treats, you might be happy to go by gut feeling of how happy your dog seems to get them. Or you might like to set up a preference test to find out.

One way to do so is to use a 2-bowl test, which is often used by scientists to evaluate dogs’ preferences. Essentially, a different food item is put in each of two bowls, and the dog is given a choice. The one the dog tends to go to first (and gets to eat) is assumed to be preferred.

If you want to try this at home, you will need to do many trials and keep track of your results. It may take your dog a little while to get the hang of this new game you are playing.

It is better to use a bowl or plate rather than your hand, as you may already have a history of tending to feed your dog treats from one hand rather than the other, or training them to nose touch one hand rather than the other. So your dog might already have a positive bias towards your left or right hand.

You will also need to swap the location of the treats so that over time, half the time one treat is in the left-hand bowl, and half the time it is on the right-hand bowl. Some dogs have a tendency to go towards the left or to the right, and maybe you will observe this in your dog.

Keep your own body language neutral, so that you are not inadvertently encouraging your dog to choose a particular bowl because of your body language or because you are looking at it.

If you try this with lots of different treat pairings, you can make a ‘pay scale’ for your dog!

This post is part of the 2018 Train for Rewards blog party. Check out the other posts!

What are your favourite treats to use in training?

Freeman, L. M., Chandler, M. L., Hamper, B. A., & Weeth, L. P. (2013). Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243(11), 1549-1558.

German, A. J., Woods, G. R., Holden, S. L., Brennan, L., & Burke, C. (2018). Small animal health: Dangerous trends in pet obesity. The Veterinary record, 182(1), 25.

Morelli, G., Fusi, E., Tenti, S., Serva, L., Marchesini, G., Diez, M., & Ricci, R. (2018). Study of ingredients and nutrient composition of commercially available treats for dogs. The Veterinary record, 182(12), 351-351.

Riemer, S., Ellis, S. L., Thompson, H., & Burman, O. H. (2018). Reinforcer effectiveness in dogs—The influence of quantity and quality. Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

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13 June 2018

The Train for Rewards Blog Party 2018

The 2018 Train for Rewards blog party celebrates reward-based training of dogs, cats, and other pets.  Join in the fun, find new bloggers to read, and share a photo of your pet on social media with the hashtag #Train4Rewards.

The blog party celebrates what we can do with reward-based dog training, encourages people to use rewards in training their pets, and inspires people to improve their technical skills and understanding of how reward-based animal training works.

Take Part in Train for Rewards

  • Read the blog posts, comment on them, and share your favourite posts with the hashtag #Train4Rewards
  • Share a photo of your pet dog, cat, rabbit, ferret, horse, etc... on social media with the hashtag #Train4Rewards
  • Afterwards, reward yourself for participating with a piece of cake, some chocolate, a glass of wine, a walk on the beach, or whatever makes you happy. 

The 2018 Train for Rewards blog party #Train4Rewards

06 June 2018

An Interview with Dr. Marty Becker

"..a recognition that they have emotions and we have an obligation to look at both their physical and emotional well-being."

An interview with Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free movement, here with a dog having a Fear Free visit to the veterinarian

An interview with Dr. Marty Becker about the Fear Free™ movement, Fear Free Happy Homes, and his new book, From Fearful to Fear Free: A Positive Program to Free Your Dog from Anxiety, Fears, and Phobias, co-authored by Dr. Lisa Radosta, Dr. Wailani Sung, Mikkel Becker, and edited by Kim Campbell Thornton.

Zazie: I am absolutely thrilled to speak to you. I love your book, which is the choice for May for the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club and everyone’s been very excited to read it. So I’m going to ask you in a moment why you decided to write this particular book, but I wanted to ask you first of all how did the Fear Free™ movement come about?

Dr. Becker: I’ll give you the unvarnished, stripped down version of stuff that’s authentic. I’m 64 years old, and I’ve traveled to now, we just got back from Cuba so then it’s 84 countries, 7 continents, flown 5 million miles on Delta – real miles, not credit card miles. I’m at the highest level of Hilton, called Diamond Honors, I’m at the highest level of Marriott and them folks there’s only 1 out of 10,000 honoured guest members that are at a level I’m at called the Master level. So I’m tired. It’s really interesting, my daughter Mikkel is a well-known trainer, she’s 33 years old in December. And her first year alive I never, never, saw her. I left before she was awake and I came home after she was in bed. And then I read a book and decided to do a life change thing and started taking 3 months a year off. So for 32 years I’ve taken 3 months a year off. Not sequentially, but cumulatively. And then what I would do the other 9 months, I would just work twice as hard as everybody else. So I’d work 18 months-worth of work in 9 months, so it’s like ‘hell this guy’s gonna kill himself’. But nobody knows I have time off. So here comes Fear Free™. And I’m thinking, that’s interrupted my 3 months a year off.

I was at a veterinary conference, and my whole life I’ve always sat at the back of the room. So if I could manipulate it in grade school I'd be at the back of the room. In college, where you had a choice, I was at the back of the room. In vet school, I was at the back of the room. And never one to ask a question. I never asked one single question in vet school. You know, those people at the front would ask questions all the time. And I was in the back of the room at a veterinary conference on Vancouver Island in Victoria, and a boarded veterinary behaviourist named Karen Overall gave this talk on fear, and how fear was the worst thing a social species could experience and how it caused permanent damage to the brain. So those of us that are veterinary professionals are causing repeat severe psychological damage to pets by what we were doing and not doing. That behaviour produces a physiological response, so behaviour is medicine. And that we are not only harming them emotionally, we’re harming them physically. And you know, before the best-seller was written about Leaning In, all of a sudden, you know I’m not distracted I’m leaning in, like “What the hell?! What?!!” And I realized, Wow. And then she was brilliant. She gave this description comparing what we were doing to the human health care system, those were her words. Not healthcare, healthcare system of the 50s and 60s, where the dependent beings in human health care are children. They are taken against their will for medical care, where they were man-handled, manipulated, threatened and abused. When she asked us to remember examples of that, oh hell, the old amygdala just did a download, like ‘oh god, I remember being held down to lance an abscess at the end of my finger, I remember being held down to get a shot in my butt, leaning over this doctor’s exam table, of antibiotics, and my Mom, when I started crying, jumping out of her chair holding her hand above her head and going “Shut up, Marty!”. Like, “Don’t embarrass the doctor!”, that’s all. I remember my sister getting her pony tail pulled to keep her mouth open at the dentist.

How do these people in the zoo world train a rhino to give you it’s hoof for a foot trim and we can’t get a 10 pound Pekingese or Chihuahua to give its foot for a nail trim?

And so then she toggles to the dependent beings in veterinary care, animals. They don’t seek healthcare on their own. And then, they are taken against their will where they are manhandled, manipulated, threatened and abused. And then I thought of my sister Cheryl. This was a really good dentist and that dentist did the whole area. I don’t know if you remember, I don’t know how old you are, but there was a little circular sink with some water going around the circle, and yet there was no dental assistant, you know they grind away and then they flush your mouth out and you spit, gargle and spit.  There’s a drill, and the smell of burnt enamel and the whirr of the fricken drill. Today if they had that smell of that stuff they put in your mouth, the smell is like cloves or something… But what happened is my sister is a physician and she didn’t seek dental services her whole life, she got freaked out. And my older brother got freaked out and was a very successful lawyer with poor dental health. So I thought well hell, this is why pets aren’t coming in. It just hit me like a thunderbolt. It’s not lack of money, it’s not the fact that they don’t have enough information, now that we’ve lost our monopoly and people don’t  have to come to us for information, products and services, it’s just much easier to go on the internet or go to a place that their pet enjoys going aka the pet store. So I thought okay, I love pets, I’m compassionate to pets, I sure as hell didn’t know I was causing repeat severe damage to pets. As for when, that was 2009.

Dr. Marty Becker and a dog, talking about the Fear Free initiative
Dr. Marty Becler

Zazie: Wow. I’m sitting here now having bad memories about dentists, so I think everyone will understand that.

Dr. Becker: And you know what too, I had other boarded veterinary behaviourists talk to me about this before. So some of them are upset at me, ‘why do you give Karen Overall credit, I talked to you about it before then.’ I go, you did, but it was one of those days, the way she communicated it I had an awakening. And before that I always just thought it was collateral damage. I saw them licking their lips and yawning and shivering and shaking and hiding. I mean that’s obvious there is distress. But I thought the quicker we get it done and out the better. And that’s just like collateral damage and I didn’t realize well hell, there’s a better way of doing this you know. And I also remember by the way, Zazie, when she went through the signs of fear, anxiety and stress, and I’m looking at shivering, shaking, trembling, whale eye, avoidance, in a C shape, furrowed brow, pinned ears, salivation, yawning, and then she got to shaking dry like they’re wet. And I thought, God I’ve seen that a lot, that’s weird, they’re not wet. Why would they shake dry when they’re not wet? And then the one that got me was dogs that would come in the exam room and lay down and close their eyes. I always thought those were calm. I thought that when they like it they’d be calm like that. I didn’t realize that they were collapsing in immobility. I’m sure you’re familiar with the defense cascade, and I didn’t realize that’s as bad as it got. So I’m thinking, ‘holy shit, the one I thought was the best was the worst’. What else don’t we know?!

It’s the fact that pets have a broad range of emotions that we need to recognize. 

Then I went back and started talking to boarded behaviourists. Came back and talked to everybody I know. Literally, I called everybody. I was like, I have found the answer, holy shit we’ve gotta stop this. We’ve got an obligation and an opportunity, we’ve got to stop this. So I went back to Gary Landsberg, Debra Horwitz, Wayne Hunthausen, and went back to the boarded veterinary behaviourists. And I really think, and I communicate this all the time, Fear Free™ is not me, Fear Free™ is we. The bedrock of Fear Free™ are boarded veterinary behaviourists. And another layer of bedrock are our Certified Applied Animal Behaviourists. And another layer of bedrock are the other people like you. There’s people been talking about it for decades. I’m a populizer, I’m a gatherer of resources. I’m doggedly determined, that’s what I bring to it.

A cute little white dog in the grass, to illustrate an  interview with Dr. Marty Becker
Photo: Bad Monkey Photography

Zazie: That’s so important. And so now vets can train to become Fear Free certified™, and dog trainers, and practices as well. So what can dog trainers get from becoming Fear Free™ certified?

Dr. Becker: Well let’s go one step back. So Fear Free™, I came back and I ran around like I got my tail caught on a fan belt on a car. I was like, ‘we’ve gotta change this, and fast!’. But we didn’t launch until 2016. So we sat back, let’s figure this out. So we started … Everybody told me I was doing this the wrong way. I mean literally everybody. ‘You’re adding too many people to the Fear Free advisory group, why do you have so many people?’ Well what ended up happening, beyond boarded veterinary behaviourists, there are certified applied animal behaviourists. Beyond that, how do these people in the zoo world train a rhino to give you it’s hoof for a foot trim and we can’t get a 10 pound Pekingese or Chihuahua to give its foot for a nail trim? How do they get an elephant to have an odoscopic exam, and we do a pile of techs restraint to flush the ear out on a Lab? How do they get an Orangutan to willingly participate in its own healthcare for a cephalic blood draw, and we have a rodeo judo throw to hold this 10 pound cat down with 500 pounds of human? So we went to them. Then we went to animal cognition experts. And then we went to the Head of Ethology at MIT. And then we added some of these brilliant people like Patricia McConnell. And then we went to the training groups, you know Karen Pryor and Victoria Stilwell and Brian McMillan, and Marje Alonso and IAABC, and some people at APDT. And then we added the medical experts. So when Fear Free started, it was just going to be, okay, let’s reduce fear, anxiety and stress in dogs and cats. And then we thought, well if they have a great experience at the vet, what happens if they have a shitty life at home? So we’ve got to figure out the home. And then what about if the trainer doesn’t follow things to not only reduce fear, anxiety and stress but increase happy and calm and do enrichment? And then it went on to the next verticals we’re working on, we’re working on grooming, we’re working on dog walking, we’re working on boarding, we’re working on daycare. And we’re working on a shelter module.

We want people to not only look at reducing fear, anxiety and stress, but increasing happy and calm, and looking at enrichment.

So at the end of the year, you’ll be able to adopt a dog at a Fear Free shelter, which is complementary to all shelters. By the way Fear Free™ is also complementary to all veterinary nurses in school and all veterinary students in schools. So you can graduate as a veterinary nurse or veterinarian with all the levels of certification free. And then, you’ll adopt a pet at a Fear Free™ shelter, it’ll live in a Fear Free Happy Home, it will go to a Fear Free™ veterinarian who will refer to a Fear Free™ trainer, Fear Free™ boarding, Fear Free™ dog walking, Fear Free™ grooming. So it’s gone to ecosystem management really, where we take the pet’s emotional well-being and put it in bubble wrap. And then we have avian and exotics launches later in the year. Next year, there’s a group working on the equine modules for horses. And where this is eventually going, Zazie, is we will build and endow the Centre for the Study of Animal Well-being and Enrichment at Washington State University, probably a 75-100 million dollar gift inside ten years.

Zazie: That is so exciting.

Dr. Becker: And then we’ll look at emotional well-being in dairy cows, chickens, beasts of burden in third world countries… I just got back from Cuba you know, they’re whipping the shit out of the horses going down the road not realizing without emotional well-being you don’t have physical well-being.

So trainers are critical in this. I learned this from R.K. Anderson years ago. This is probably late 1980s. R.K. Anderson who's been called the grandfather of boarded veterinary behaviour. He’s the guy that developed the Gentle Leader. I don’t know if you’ve met R.K., what an icon. He said if you ask people if you have any behaviour problems in your dog they’ll say no. He said it’s like saying do you have any behaviour problems in your kids, or your grandkids, and you’d be ‘oh, no not really’. But if you say are there any behaviours you’d like to improve, then they’re like ‘oh God yes’. Barks too much, inappropriate elimination, leash aggression, blah blah blah. So for trainers I think every pet should start out, whether it’s a puppy or a kitten or a shelter pet, working with a trainer. Before what’s happened, let’s say they have noise phobias or leash aggression. First of all we’d never ask about it so we’d never know they had it. So they’re coming in for a wound, vaccinations, diarrhea, dental disease, ear that looks like a fire pit, epilepsy, we would never ask ‘Does your dog have noise phobias’, ‘Does it have separation anxiety’. We’d have never asked are there any pets at home that suffer from these things and could use improvement. And then we’d say the pet’s fighting back at the clinic, well you need to work with a trainer. Well, what’s a trainer? I mean anybody can call themselves a trainer, the public has zero idea, hell the profession has zero idea what APDT, CPDT, KPA, Victoria Stilwell, ABC, they have no idea. And so we thought we’ve got to work with a group of trainers, find 6 or 8 really good groups that train trainers, and then work with the trainers to integrate them within Fear Free™. We have zero desire to take people that love animals and they want to make a career and we’re going to train them to be a trainer. We don’t want to do that. We want to work with the ones that already do it well, integrate them, bridge into Fear Free™. So that they are, whether they’re going to the groomer, they’re going to Memorial Day, they’re walking down the street at night, it’s thunderstorm season, whatever it is, that they work hand-in-hand with the veterinarian and pet owner. Again this is ecosystem management.

Zazie: Brilliant. And so the book is very much aimed at ordinary dog owners and it covers every aspect of a dog’s life. Why did you decide to write the book?

Dr. Becker: Well first of all I would have rather had a root canal than write another book. I am so sick of books. And this sounds horrible from somebody that’s been blessed to sell over 8 million books and had three New York Times bestsellers and made a shitload of money over the years. I have books I’ve made a half a million dollars on. But books change. And so people didn’t want to read a book. They want to go online and read one tip. ‘I don’t want to read a book’. So when I wrote Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual and Your Cat: The Owner’s Manual, those are really good books but there’s also like a thousand other books that are really good on the subject. And you can find everything online.

A beautiful black Terrier.
Photo: Bad Monkey Photography

But when we got to looking, there really wasn’t anything designed for the pet owner that looked at emotional well-being and that. And I think we were smart, like I was like ‘oh God I don’t want to write another book’ because that’s hard, you know, it’s really hard. But I thought, okay, we’ve got to have it because there’s nothing out there to look at this stuff, so away we went. I have to say I’m pretty proud of the book. One of the only negative reviews on Amazon was somebody that didn’t like it chopped up as it is, you know they want it to read like a book where you read a novel. Well they might want to do it but 99 out of 100 don’t want to do that, they want little short bites with stories, illustrations, and I think we did that. I think we got what today’s reader wants with the information they need, in a way that that same information in the book is what you’re going to hear in the veterinary hospital and you’re going to hear from a trainer that’s Fear Free™ certified. So all on the same book, so to speak. And then the glory goes to the boarded veterinary behaviourists. I’m so tickled to be able to give people like Lisa Radosta, Wailani Sung, or individuals like you the limelight. These decades of education, training and experience you have, that you can manifest it on a wide audience.

Zazie: Thank you so much!

Dr. Becker: We have 260 people on the Fear Fear™ Advisory Group. Oh my god, they are brilliant. We’ve got the world’s probably number 1 medical expert, the best known veterinarian in the world Stephen Ettinger’s our chief medical officer. Gary Landsberg’s the board’s behaviourist, our head of research. Tony Buffington is the world expert in feline enrichment, our head of environmental environment. Robin Downing is our head of pain and clinical bioethics. That’s just the team. And then we have the head of integrated medicine at the Mayo Clinic. You think what the hell does that have to do with Fear Free™? Well they’re experts in patient-centred medicine and in integrated care which fits in perfectly with Fear Free™.

Zazie: Such an amazing team. And so, the book is a group effort, and it has all these lovely little bits like as you’ve just said you can basically open it and start reading little stories or tips anywhere. What was it like working as a group of people on the book?

Dr. Becker: It was a great experience. First of all it’s my daughter Mikkel’s fifth book. And so she knows the process. This is my 25th book. For Dr. Radosta and Dr. Sung it’s their first book. One of the things we did is we worked with a writer, and that makes it easy. Because I don’t know if you’ve written a book, but knowing how to sequence a book is really a gift. And working with her, she’d say ‘give me a story on this’ or ‘tell me how you do this’ and then she’d just whip it up in the kitchen and it would come out just brilliant.

Zazie: Fantastic. And the book is absolutely full of stories but I wanted to ask if you have a favourite bit or favourite section at all?

Dr. Becker: I think my favourite thing would be… I graduated from veterinary school being taught that animals didn’t feel pain. So I graduated 1980, 40 years ago, literally told by professors in Neurology and in Clinical Medicine that pets didn’t feel pain, and if they did it was good because they would be inactive and not tear the stitches out or walk on the leg we just fixed. And I’m thinking, how in the hell could I have thought that when we dehorn and brand a cow and they literally bellow, just scream. That’s not pain? Or you step on your dog’s foot and they cry? I mean how dumb was that? I think it’s just the fact that pets have a broad range of emotions that we need to recognize. You know I fly a lot and you go through first class and we used to call it the Blackberry prayer, it wasn’t my term, but when people had Blackberries their heads were all bowed looking at their phones as they got on. And now it’s the iPhone, Galaxy 9 prayer. But if a baby walks through and is crying, everybody looks up. Everybody. And ‘ooohh, what’s wrong? Is it an upset stomach, dirty diaper, diarrhea, nap, hungry, oh she’ll fix it, don’t worry.’ Well pets are like that. That impending thunder storm, 4th of July, separation anxiety, leash aggression, dominance aggression, with the cat you get attacked on the way to the bathroom, whatever you’ve got. So a recognition that they have emotions and we have an obligation to look at both their physical and emotional well-being.

Zazie: Absolutely, thank you. And then I wanted to ask you quickly about your website Fear Free Happy Homes and what people can find there.

Dr. Becker: That’s probably the place I’d most like to promote because people are the ones that are going to spend most of the time with a pet. In the course of a year if you stripped out how long they were at the veterinarian, the training and the grooming and stuff, what are we, one per cent or less? One tenth of one per cent? So we want people to not only look at reducing fear, anxiety and stress, but increasing happy and calm, and looking at enrichment. Today’s zoos do a better job of enrichment than most homes. And we’ve got to get to where these pets are not mentally bored or tired, they have these athletic bodies, with the minds that can find supper, and we’ve got an obligation there again to let them express their genetic exuberance.

Zazie: It’s great that you’re looking at enrichment as well. And I have to say that’s one of the things I loved about the book, that you do cover everything it’s not just about going to the vet.

Thank you so much for your time!

About Marty Becker, DVM

Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” has spent his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. In recent years, his realization that it’s impossible to provide for pets’ physical well-being without equal focus on their emotional well-being led him to found the Fear Free™ initiative.

Because the anxiety and stress of veterinary visits was preventing pets from receiving the veterinary care they need and deserve, Dr. Becker brought together veterinary behaviorists and dozens of other experts and leaders in the field to develop an educational program to train veterinarians in easing the fear and anxiety of their patients and clients. This training and certification program launched in March of 2016.

Dr. Becker was the resident veterinary contributor on "Good Morning America" for 17 years and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the American Humane Association. He serves as an adjunct professor at his alma mater, the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine and practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length.

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03 June 2018

Companion Animal Psychology Book Club June 2018

"...an illuminating exploration of the fierce moral conundrums we face every day regarding the creatures with whom we share our world."

A pet rat on a book. This month's book is Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for June 2018 is Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals (P.S.) by Hal Herzog.

From the back cover,
"Does living with a pet really make people happier and healthier? What can we learn from biomedical research with mice? Who enjoys a better quality of life—–the chicken destined for your dinner plate or the rooster in a Saturday night cockfight? Why is it wrong to eat the family dog? 
Drawing on more than two decades of research into the emerging field of anthrozoology, the science of human–animal relations, Hal Herzog offers an illuminating exploration of the fierce moral conundrums we face every day regarding the creatures with whom we share our world. Alternately poignant, challenging, and laugh-out-loud funny—blending anthropology, behavioral economics, evolutionary psychology, and philosophy—this enlightening and provocative book will forever change the way we look at our relationships with other creatures and, ultimately, how we see ourselves."

Will you be reading too? Leave a comment to let me know what you think of the book!

You can follow the author, Hal Herzog, on Twitter. And you can see a list of previous book club choices here.

Companion Animal Psychology...

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