Reward-Based Dog Training Isn’t Just for Sunny Days

Answering common questions about dog training methods.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Back when I had two dogs, Ghost and Bodger, I had a lot of questions about the information I saw about dogs and especially on how to train them. It just didn’t fit with the kind of pet owner I wanted to be, or with what I knew from my background in Psychology. Learning more about dogs and cats, and sharing that information with people, was my main motivation for starting Companion Animal Psychology. And here we are, seven-and-a-half-years later, and on my 500th post.

Some common themes in my inbox over the years tell us about changes in how we think about pets, and in dog training in particular.

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Questions about dog training methods The most common questions I get are about dog training methods. One set of questions is from people wanting links to share with others they hope to persuade to stop using electronic collars, leash jerks, or other aversive methods. I typically share se…

Animal Book Club November 2019

"This is an excellent book about comparative cognition, how minds and brains evolve, and how to think about the minds of animals."―Nicola S. Clayton, University of Cambridge.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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This month, the Animal Book Club is reading Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds by Louise Barrett.

From the cover,
"When a chimpanzee stockpiles rocks as weapons or when a frog sends out mating calls, we might easily assume these animals know their own motivations--that they use the same psychological mechanisms that we do. But as Beyond the Brain indicates, this is a dangerous assumption because animals have different evolutionary trajectories, ecological niches, and physical attributes. How do these differences influence animal thinking and behavior? Removing our human-centered spectacles, Louise Barrett investigates the mind and brain and offers an alternative approach for understanding animal and human cogn…

Dogs Don’t Have to be Afraid of Fireworks

Preventive exercises and training are good for dogs’ fear of fireworks, study shows.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Up to half of dogs are afraid of fireworks, but a survey of 1225 dog owners shows there is hope, both in terms of preventing such fears in the first place and helping dogs who are already afflicted. The research, by Dr. Stefanie Riemer (HundeUniBern) is published in PLoS One, and has important implications for dog owners and dog trainers.

Dr. Riemer told me in an email,
“From this study, perhaps the most important takeaway for dog owners is not to wait for problems to appear but to be proactive. Teaching dogs to associate loud noises with something positive appears to be highly effective in preventing a later development of firework fears. This is especially true for puppies, but it also has beneficial effects in adult dogs.  And maybe the other point is, if you have a dog affected by noise fears, I highly recommend to seek professional help to find the best strategy to help them to …

An Interview with Alexandra Horowitz about Our Dogs, Ourselves

“A fuller understanding of the needs of dogs is integral to good living with dogs,” says Alexandra Horowitz.

An interview with New York Times best-selling author, Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, about her wonderful new book, Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Singular Bond, the importance of dogs' sense of smell, the dignity of dogs, and what happens at the dog cognition lab. Our Dogs Ourselves was the animal book club’s choice for September 2019.

Our Dogs, Ourselves and other great animal books are available in my Amazon store: page contains affiliate links.

Zazie: You’re already written some wonderful books about dogs, including the New York Times bestseller Inside of a Dog. What made you decide to look at the relationship between people and their dogs for this book?

Alexandra: For myself, it was that, even though I’m studying exclusively dogs, I study owned dogs, dogs that live with a person. They come to my lab with people. They’re in my …

Companion Animal Psychology News October 2019

Ways to volunteer at an animal shelter, the importance of play for cats, some beautiful budgies, and more…

By Zazie Todd, PhD

My favourites this month “Studying great ape gestures has the potential to provide insight into the evolution of human language, but it is also fascinating in its own right, figuring out how another species communicates and what is meaningful to them.“ Reading the signs by Kirsty E Graham.

“A successful volunteer is someone who loves animals and appreciates the fact that no matter what they do, how small their role might seem, it has a huge impact on the pets here at the shelter,” Reading to cats, walking dogs: 5 ways to help at a shelter by Michelle A Monroe.

“We thought we would find that there has been an increase in people’s emotional investment in pets in recent times, but what we’ve actually found is that people in the early 19th century were also very emotionally invested in their animals.” A fascinating article on how the Victorians turned mere beasts in…

Training Classes and Dogs’ Fear of Loud Noises

Attendance at dog training classes is associated with reduced levels of canine anxiety in response to storms and fireworks, study shows.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Sensitivity to loud noises such as thunder, fireworks, and gunshots is a problem that affects up to 49% of pet dogs (Blackwell et al 2013). The signs of fear in response to a loud noise can include trembling and shaking, barking, hiding, and seeking out people. A new study from Japan finds that having attended dog training school is associated with fewer anxious behaviours in adult dogs in response to storms and fireworks.

The research by Takuma Kurachi (Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology) and Mami Irimajiri (Hill’s Pet Nutrition Japan) is published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. 307 dog owners attending parks or dog parks in Tokyo and Kanagawa completed a questionnaire about their dog’s anxious behaviours and their earlier attendance at puppy class and/or dog training class.

The results showed that 30.9% of dog…

Happy Thanksgiving

Monday is Thanksgiving in Canada.

I am thankful to have so many readers like you who are dedicated to good welfare for dogs and cats, and to helping people with their pets. I am grateful for your readership and all the messages of support and encouragement throughout the year, as well as the interesting questions and articles you send my way.
This year I am especially thankful to the veterinarians and vet techs for their dedication and care, and in particular to those who have helped my dog Bodger over the last few weeks. (He is grateful for this too).
Wishing you a joyous day full of great company, good health, and peace. Happy Thanksgiving!


Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Be…