Hierarchy of Dog Needs Chat on Positive Pet Advice. Linda Michaels, M.A., — Del Mar Dog Training

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Thanks to Lisa G. White for inviting me to chat about The Hierarchy of Dog Needs in her Facebook group, Positive Pet Advice (PPA) We’ve transcribed the chat below, and you may also find it on the PPA Facebook page here.

Introductory Biography:

Linda Michaels MA del mar dog trainer dog psychologist san diego dog trainingLisa: Linda Michaels, M. A., Experimental Psychology (Hons), Del Mar Dog Training, focuses on the psychological aspects of dog behavior that often mirror human psychological conditions, such as: fear, separation/attachment disorders and aggression as well as animal wellness. Her laboratory research experience in behavioral neurobiology examined the interface between behavior and the brain.

Linda’s unique combination of scientific training and hands-on experience with dogs and wolfdogs creates a bridge between the worlds of research, dog trainers and pet parents as demonstrated in her presentation at the Pet 2015 Professional Guild (PPG) inaugural summit: Understanding Research: Making the case for force-free training.

Linda was recently rated one of the top ten dog trainers in the United States, by Top Ten Magazine

Linda’s worked with some of the most difficult cases at the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA across five years, and is an outspoken animal welfare advocate opposing dominance-based dog training methods and aversive collar devices.

The development of the Hierarchy of Dog Needs ™ (HDN) — A wellness and force-free behavior modification guide — is one of Linda’s most significant contributions to animal welfare and training. The HDN closes the door on the perceived need and advisability of using punitive or aversive methods to train our pet dogs, offering a clear, easy-to-use force-free alternative to some of the most popular teaching paradigms now available.

The HDN is in use internationally by veterinary behaviorists, veterinarians, dog trainers (including working-dog trainers), groomers, shelters, rescues, animal welfare advocates, as well as pet parents, and will be available in Spanish soon (Dogalia).

linda-sparky-199x240As a speaker, certified veterinary assistant and the flagship SoCal Victoria Stilwell-licensed behavior consultant, Linda is published in the BARKS from the Guild (PPG) international trade magazine and has authored numerous articles and behavior columns. She appeared as a featured expert on Huffington Post Live, Wolf Dog Radio and PPG World Services. She is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Art for Barks charity, in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, and is the Behavior Advisor for the WolfEducationProject.org in Julian, CA.

Her Go Fund Fifi and Go Fund Fido program matches funds to provide behavioral help for rescues in the San Diego area. Linda is a certified, FAR Beyond — Fear, Aggression and Reactivity consultant.

Her private practice, Linda Michaels, M.A., Del Mar Dog Training, primarily serves clients from the La Jolla to Beverly Hills areas of Southern California.

You may contact Linda here: Del Mar Dog Traininghttp://www.dogpsychologistoncall.com/


Q: Lisa: It’s good to have you here to ask you about this exciting new protocol. So tell us…What is the Hierarchy of Dog Needs?

Maslow's HierarchyA: Linda Michaels: Hi Positive Pet Advice! Thank you so much for inviting me to chat. The Hierarchy of Dog Needs ™ (HDN) is a novel adaptation of the renowned psychologist, Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of (human) Needs™ that you may already be familiar with. Maslow’s school of thought was the “3rd Force” in the field of psychology, historically following psychoanalysis and behaviorism.

However, the Hierarchy of Dog Needs is a unique adaptation for dogs! It combines our dogs’ Biological, Social, Emotional, and Cognitive needs with non-aversive behavior modification techniques, presented together in a one-page graphic that is easy to understand and easy to use.

The HDN closes the door on the perceived need and advisability of using punitive or aversive methods to train our pet dogs, offering a clear, easy-to-use force-free alternative to some of the most popular teaching paradigms now available. Here it is:

Hierarchy of Dog Needs Linda Michaels Del Mar Dog Trainer dog psychologist dog training pyramid behavior

Once we feel comfortable and confident that our dogs’ foundational Needs are met, the Hierarchy describes the Behavior Modification methods that force-free trainers advocate.

The “Do No Harm” force-free block of dog training methods in The Hierarchy of Dog Needs are not listed in any particular order. They are bulleted to indicate that they may be used in any order or combination as needed.

The Hierarchy of Dog Needs is a teaching tool and a guide for industry professionals, as well as for pet parents. Anyone and everyone who interacts with dogs, or any animal for that matter, can use it successfully. It’s scientifically… and practically sound.

The Hierarchy of Dog Needs speaks directly to the thirst in the force-free companion and working-dog training, scientific, veterinary, animal welfare, and rescue communities for a holistic and alternate new paradigm to the guides that include aversive methods that are currently in use. It’s available FREE.

A supplementary tool, an educational e-book, is being developed to accompany the guide right now, for those who may find it useful.

You can find a brief description and a download on the new Hierarchy of Dog Needs page. Or just Google Hierarchy of Dog Needs and you should be redirected to this page: Go to website: http://www.dogpsychologistoncall.com/hierarchy-of-dog-needs-tm/

Q: Lisa: What made you decide to create a new protocol?

no shock logo no prong logo no choke collar positie reinforcement dog training logoA: Linda Michaels: Wow, that’s a great question. Thank you for asking!

I started out on an academic research track, became a canine behavior modification consultant, and now have donned one additional hat – animals welfare advocate.

Because of the enormous popularity (advertising prowess) of so-called “training” collars designed to inflict pain — shock, prong and choke — and training methods (in an unregulated industry) that often cause psychological and/or physical pain and condition fear, I believed a viable alternate force-free plan for our beloved companion animals was needed.

The No Shock, No Prong, No Choke is also a FREE download on the HDN page.

My academic background in experimental psychology, research experience, compassion for animals and passion for moving our field forward, in the face of difficult obstacles, inspired me to believe that I could, and should create a guide embedded with an ethical code. I can and will defend it – that’s one reason why I felt compelled to create it.

Q: Lisa: How were the other protocols lacking?

Linda Michaels MA del mar dog trainer dog psychologist san diego dog training wolfdog A: Linda Michaels: I really need to be clear here: The Hierarchy is NOT a treatise on learning theory and the Skinnerian quadrants. It is a guide to animal wellness and “Do No Harm” force-free training.

Again…The HDN closes the door on the perceived need and advisability of using punitive or aversive methods to train our pet dogs. 

The currently used protocols often include methods that are simply not found in the Hierarchy of Dog Needs. Most of the other protocols include all of the quadrants, and
present them as methods a dog trainer or pet parent may want or need to use at some
point — I disagree.

Linda Michaels MA del mar dog trainer dog psychologist san diego dog training wolfdog wolfdog journeyI believe there is NO place for harsh treatment or training with dogs, or any animal for that matter (unless one’s life or safety is truly in immediate danger. Smart dog trainers don’t put themselves in that position, but it can happen): Harsh methods are NOT a treatment for Aggression. Harsh methods are commonly a CAUSE of aggression.

I no longer want to leave the door open for using aversive/punitive methods of training with our dogs.

Progressive zoos don’t use punishment! Here’s a link documenting that progressive zoos use only Management and Positive Reinforcement methods with large and potentially
dangerous animals!
Surely we can manage our dog’s behavior without resorting to
punitive methods.

Linda Michaels MA del mar dog trainer dog psychologist san diego dog training wolfdog I train wolfdogs, using strictly force-free methods. Here’s a photo of Journey, my “poster wolfdog” for promoting front-clip harnesses.

In my experience, the standard hierarchical models have too often been misused by more than a few trainers as an excuse to progress to punitive methods, when in reality the misapplication of the FF methods by the trainer is the problem — not the dog.

Training situations can be managed by using good protocols.

Here’s a Reliable Recall using Force-Free with Wolfdog Smokey!


Q: Lisa: Nice!!! How do you specifically apply the Hierarchy of Dog Needs model, to a client’s dogs?

A: Linda Michaels: It can be used in private training a number of different ways and in classes as well as for speaking engagements.

The HDN illustrates how all of the levels of needs and force-free training methods are connected and can help your client invest in a total program, and also encourages force-free professionals to refer to and support each other for the well-being of the Whole Dog.

Assessment: On the phone or in an email, I can refer to the hierarchy to guide me in identifying the problems we need to be addressed with a client. Starting from the bottom of the scaffold up, I ask about fear (separation anxiety, for example) and trust, then aggression and previous training. I can then explain, briefly, to the client how we will be addressing these issues by going down the list of methods we’ll be using on the left side of guide/diagram.

As a teaching tool: The Hierarchy of Dog Needs is outline for a teaching manual. Upon arriving at the home, I hand the client a copy and I can start teaching from my copy by addressing each topic in the guide to make sure we’re covering all the bases for the dog. For example, Basic Manners will come in the Reinforcement sections: teaching – Capturing, Luring, and Shaping and Differential Reinforcement with Name Response, Sit, Down, Recall and Leash-walking.

To uncover problems: In addition, asking the client to review the hierarchy and to make notes about problem areas that are important to them will often help trainers uncover training topics that can be put on the list of “Things To Do” with that client, increasing the number of sessions that may be required to adequately address the underlying and motivations for problem behavior and the various contexts where it may be occurring.

Hand-out: The Hierarchy of Dog Needs can also be used as a hand-out teaching tool by trainers for classes. Discussions on Trust and Choice and Social Needs can, along with force-free training methods, be a lecture and demonstration guide and also be posted on the wall for easy access to your class.

Speaker tool: The Hierarchy may also be used in speaker presentations as a guide to explaining either very specific issues referenced in the hierarchy itself, or the training methods, or both. For example: Groomers can point to grooming as being a biological need…in addition to grooming’s well-known cosmetic function. Grooming is a heath issue; proper hygiene, removal of fur nests that may serve as havens for bacteria, and proper nail clipping are necessary so that long nails do not impede the walking gait, or the support of structural functions of the spine. These are health issues. The HDN can highlight the importance of proper and gentle grooming. Grooming should be gentle in order to avoid creating anxiety, fear and possibly aggression.

Blogging material: The topics in the Hierarchy make great blog material. Please send me your HDN related blogs! LindaPositively@gmail.com for force-free posts to my pages.

Q: Lisa: What went into developing this new Hierarchy?

A: Linda Michaels: It was a labor of love – long in the idea and construction stage — until I figured out exactly what it was I wanted to share and how to do it in one page! LOTS of trial and error. LOL. Lots of revisions.

Science builds upon the work of others, so using my education and predilections, I found a way to combine both Needs and Training methods… and threw in my No Shock, No Prong, No Choke logo, just to be clear.

Before it went public, the esteemed Animal Behavior experts, Dr. Simon Gadbois and Dr. Marc Bekoff and I emailed a few times discussing some of the finer issues. I needed to feel sure I wasn’t making any significant science errors, and their thumb’s up was an acknowledgment that I was in the right track. Carmen LeBlanc, M.S., graciously took a peak, and liked it. This gave me the confidence to move forward with publication.

Q: Lisa: Why is P+ and R- absent from it?

A: Linda Michaels: Aha! +P and –R are absent because although these methods decrease frequency of behavior (the main effect), the side-effects (fear, generalization of response to stimulus in the treatment environment, etc.,) are of concern and generally unacceptable effects to force-free trainers.

Although, +P and –R are quadrants in Skinner’s model of behavior, Skinner himself said: “Aversive control is one of the most shameful of irrelevancies”(1965). Skinner believed that aversive control has no place in behavior modification programs.

+P is punitive by definition. –R requires the removal of an punitive/aversive stimulus that has been applied by a trainer… or one that is encountered naturally in the environment. Just because –R occurs in the natural environment, is not a justification for trainers to use it for behavior modification, in my opinion.

Q: Lisa: I don’t see Negative Punishment or Extinction mentioned either.

A: Linda Michaels: There is evidence showing that Extinction and Negative Punishment are often perceived as Aversive to dogs, so with a Force-free guide, I’ve opted to not include those either. An Extinction burst is by definition a response of frustration with repeated attempts and increasing intensity of response to receive the reward previously received as a consequence of performing the behavior.

The removal of rewards to decrease behavior, as in Negative Punishment, is unnecessary if we use the other methods intelligently, particularly Differential Reinforcement.

Barring neurological damage and biological factors such as hormonal fluctuations, in terms of behavior modification, wonderfully, there isn’t a behavior I can think of that cannot be effectively addressed with Management, Antecedent Modification, Differential Reinforcements of DRI (Incompatible) DRA (Alternate) DRO (Other – no undesired behavior in a predetermined amount of time) DRL (Lower frequency in a predetermined amount of time), Counter-conditioning and/or Desensitization.

Q: Lisa: But trainers and pet parents often say that punishment works. How would you address this argument?

A: Linda Michaels: HA! Yes, “punishment works” is commonly heard as a justification to use punishment. However, let’s start from the beginning. The term, “works” is not a scientific term.

When people say “punishment works” they mean that punishment by definition decreases the frequency of behavior. One could, theoretically, or in practice, hit the dog over the head with a hammer — or use a shock device, to decrease the frequency of undesirable behavior. However, again, the side-effects, seen and unseen are occurring, although these effects may or may not be observable.

Learning to read dog body language often reveals that indeed the dog is displaying distress and fear. In the case of aggression, it is well-documented that using punitive methods to thwart aggression, often backfires and CAUSES aggression.

Punishment doesn’t change what is driving the behavior, it simply suppresses the behavior, often making dogs who experience shock training for aggression virtual time-bombs.

Q: Lisa: Have you found much support for the Hierarchy of Dog Needs?

Dr. Katrina Ward, DVM, presenting The Hierarchy of Dog Needs to the Australian Veterinary Association's Tasmanian branch.

Dr. Katrina Ward, DVM, presenting The Hierarchy of Dog Needs to the Australian Veterinary Association’s Tasmanian branch.

A: Linda Michaels: Oh yes…and gratifyingly so. I was absolutely thrilled that Animal Behavior PhD’s, Dr. Marc Bekoff and Dr. Simon Gadbois, contributed quotes to the effort. It is being used in Europe to teach in a master’s program. Veterinary behaviorists and even working dog trainers have provided a generally overwhelmingly positive response.

Here’s Dr. Katrina Ward, veterinary behaviorist, (right) presenting the Hierarchy of Dog Needs to the Australian Veterinary Association’s Tasmanian branch. She sent me a photo of a Tasmanian Devil – but I digress LOL!

Here’s Dr. Joanna McLaughlan, veterinary behaviorist, (left) using the Hierarchy in the reference packages she gives to her patients. Here’s Dr. Joanna McLaughlan, veterinary behaviorist, using the Hierarchy in the reference packages she gives to her patients.

Here’s Dr. Joanna McLaughlan, veterinary behaviorists, patient reference package using the Hierarchy that she gives to her patients.

I unveiled the Hierarchy of Dog Needs myself at the first inaugural Pet Professional Guild Hierarchy of Dog Needs(PPG) summit, 2015, just two months ago. I spoke on Understanding Research: Making the
Case for Force-free Training.

You too can use the Hierarchy to help you make the case for force-free training! That is what I hope dog lovers everywhere might do! It’s clear and unambiguous and takes a clear, ethical stand on training devices and methods.

Q: Lisa: Can you explain in detail what the HDNs covers?

A: Linda Michaels: A lot! The guide is designed to be kind of self-explanatory. I’m trying to cover as many bases in as little space as possible! We’re shooting for all of a dog’s needs. And all of the force-free

training methods! Big order, I know.Linda Michaels MA del mar dog trainer dog psychologist san diego dog training hierarchy of dog needs

A HDN training booklet will be available on the website in a few weeks, elaborating on each aspect, fully referenced, and giving examples of using each training methods for the most common behavioral problems, such as housetraining, excessive barking, jumping, fear/aggression and more. My dream is that the HDN might speak to every dog, every care and training challenge, and to every pet parent.

Thanks to author Annie Phenix, we’re planning a Dogster.com article later this month (Jan 2016) and I look forward to Sharing the Hierarchy far and wide…it’s my hope that you may like and Share it too!

Here’s my contact information for anyone who might like to reach me:


Questions and Answers from the Chat Audience:

Lisa: Wow, now that was a lot of great information! Time to open the floor up to members to ask you questions now.

Q: DeLinda McKinney: How do you feel about the term “red zone” to describe a dog that’s over threshold – or a specific breed of dog?

A: Linda Michaels: GREAT question! DeLinda McKinney! I don’t care for the term per se, but I’ve come to use it because it conveys a dog that needs help in two easy words. Red Zone dogs need +R and Force-free more, if that’s even possible, than the average dog. It just appears to be common usage these days.

Q: Feather Meredith: There are still so many “trainers” using aversive methods and truly believe they “work”. Do you think the key to changing this type of training is to educate the pet parents?

A; Linda Michaels: Education is ONE part of the puzzle in my opinion. We need to strengthen animal abuse laws and impose strict penalties. Plus our “industry” needs regulation, accountability, and transparency.

Q: Carole Tindall: Would you like to see the HDN included in say the PPG Guiding Principles?

A: Linda Michaels: Oh yes, yes, I would for sure!

Q: Regina Noxon: I love this guide. It does a great job breaking down the basics of what all creatures need. Can you explain what “Benevolent Leadership” means and why it was included?

A: Linda Michaels: I went back and forth on that. However, since many, if not most, pet parents will be training and socialization their dogs in a systematic fashion, kind leadership for domestic pets is something that needs to be addressed in my opinion.

Q: Regina Noxon: I think this the only bit i don’t like about the guide. I would love to see people be in a team or partnership vs leadership type relationship with pets. Trying to breakdown the “I am boss and you will do what i say NOW” idea with other dog owners is a challenge for me. smile emoticon The training principals behind what the guide represents *will* do this over time though. i am just impatient for this idea to dissolve Thank you again for this guide. I can’t wait to use it when talking to non doggy training friends that just got a puppy/kitty/horse.

A: Linda Michaels: Point taken. It IS a partnership. I do not disagree. However, if “trainers” are going to have ANY expectations of their dogs or structure socialization, there is a leadership aspect involved. Making lesson plans or developing class materials require our arranging the games! I love your concern…I’m concerned too about the type of “leadership” often displayed and the suffering of the dogs on that account smile emoticon We need a new language!

Q: DeLinda McKinney: So the HDN is targeted for all breeds – including those that are presented by owners as “aggressive by nature”? And do you believe there ARE breeds that are aggressive by nature?

A: Linda: HA! DeLinda McKinney! Genetics (by nature) is a factor in temperament and it’s heritable in some lines. However, we and pet parents cannot change that, so we need to focus on what we CAN do. Influencing breeders is ANOTHER of my goals and for us all. HDN applies to ALL breeds, regardless of temperament and to all animals. This is a basic foundational understanding in learning theory that is often a surprise when you see this principle illustrated!

Q: Feather Meredith: I am curious about the wolfdogs. Are they bred for a specific purpose? They are beautiful.

A: Linda Michaels: Feather Meredith! You have such good taste. They are AmaZZING. I try to stay out of the breeding discussions, but yes, I do know some reliable WD breeders who ultra-socialize and select for human-friendly temperament. Great question!

Q: Feather Meredith: I was just curious about them in general. Sorry, I know its off topic but I saw that you posted a video. Do you have more videos or stories about these guys?

A: Linda Michaels: YES! The Press page on my website has more WD materials and videos! These animals take my breath away and working with them taught me so much about training. We just can’t get enough wolfdogs.

Q: DeLinda McKinney: Is it okay for me to post the HDN on my force free page, including a link to your e-book when available?

A: Linda: YES!

Q: Yonna Stjärnskog: Thank you so much for sharing all this! I will spread this to all my friends in Sweden if it’s ok…

A: Linda Michaels: YES! I’m hoping for translations…and international distribution and education is an overarching goal. Please do!

Lisa: Unfortunately, we have to end this Chat Time Interview now. Thank you so very much Linda for taking the time to answer all of our questions and spread the word on this new Hierarchy!

Linda Michaels: Thank you for inviting me Positive Pet Advice. My pleasure.




Linda Michaels, M.A. Psychology, Del Mar Dog Training, serves clients in Del Mar and San Diego County from La Jolla to Carlsbad, plus Rancho Santa Fe, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. Linda Michaels was recently rated one of the top ten dog trainers in the United States, by Top Ten Magazine. Linda has a master’s degree in Experimental Psychology (Hons), and is the creator of the Hierarchy of Dog Needs™ (HDN). She focuses on the psychological aspects of dog behavior that often mirror human psychological conditions, such as: fear, separation/attachment disorders, and aggression toward humans and other dogs. She also teaches private, customized basic manners/obedience lessons for dogs of all ages and every breed.

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