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Introducing The Hierarchy of Dog Needs™: Wellness and Force-free Behavior Modification Guide
Created by Linda Michaels, M.A. Psychology
The Hierarchy of Dog Needs™ (HDN) is a unique model of wellness and behavior modification. The dog’s needs are listed hierarchically. However, the exclusively force-free behavior modification techniques may be safely and effectively used in any order or combination. You will notice in the HDN that neither positive punishment, negative reinforcement, negative punishment, nor extinction appear. They are purposefully absent. Pet parents, dog trainers, veterinarians, shelters, rescues, groomers, other organizations and pet-related professionals are encouraged to use this free guide. Use the Hierarchy of Dog Needs to open doors to conversations with other pet professionals and pet parents. Ask your veterinarian to provide the Hierarchy of Dog Needs to their clients. Just click on it to print, share, email, or save for later.
Translation courtesy of
Translation courtesy of
The Hierarchy of Dog Needs™ is a unique adaptation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of (human) Needs™. The Hierarchy of Dog Needs has been adapted to meet our dogs’ needs: We must meet our dogs’ biological needs, emotional needs and social needs first. Once we feel assured that these foundational needs have been met, the hierarchy describes the methods that force-free trainers use to modify behavior: management, antecedent modification, positive and differential reinforcement, counter-conditioning and desensitization. The No Shock, No Prong, No Choke logo proudly precludes the use of these devices for force-free trainers.
The HDN adopts the No Shock, No Prong, No Choke, No Dominance, No Fear, No Pain model of dog training and animal care. The HDN is not intended to be a treatise on Learning Theory. It is, rather, a practical framework of wellness and force-free behavior modification for dogs. If you’re still having difficulty with any behavior using these methods, please consult a force-free training expert.
Find out more!
- How you as a pet professional can use the Hierarchy of Dog Needs
- Transcript of the HDN chat on the Positive Pet Advice Facebook page.
- FACE Foundation’s blog post about Linda and the Hierarchy.
- ISCP’s webpage about the Hierarchy.
- OSCAR’s blog post about the Hierarchy.
- Canine Principle, Sally Smith blog about the Hierarchy.
- Transcript from the Facebook chat with DogSense
Our sincerest appreciation and gratitude to both Dr. Marc Bekoff and Dr. Simon Gadbois for contributing quotations for this project. We would also like to extend our thanks to Carmen LeBlanc, M.S. for her kind feedback, and to Jen Bergren for graphic design assistance.
If you are interested in using this graphic in a print publication, you must obtain permission at LindaPositively@gmail.com This publication may not be sold or used for commercial purposes in any form, by anyone but the creator/author, Linda Michaels.
Professionals Are Using the Hierarchy of Dog Needs!
The response to the Hierarchy of Dog Needs has been overwhelmingly positive. We applaud and thank the Veterinary Behaviorists for pioneering the use of the HDN in the veterinary professions. We encourage other veterinarians to lead pet parents and share with other pet-related professionals in the animal welfare and force-free movement in using the Hierarchy of Dog Needs.
We are so honored to be featured in Psychology Today in the Animal Emotion section by one of our most applauded heroes and friend to the animals, Dr. Marc Bekoff, Animal Behavior PhD. Nothing could more clearly shine a light on Force-free/Do No Harm wellness and training.
Dr. Lynn Honeckman, DVM, owns a behavior-only practice in Orlando, FL, and studies with Dr. Karen Overall, DVM, PhD, Editor of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. She presented the Hierarchy of Dog Needs to pre-vet club students at the University of Central FL and Lunch-and-Learn veterinary and emergency clinic talks. Dr. Honeckman is a member of Dr. Marty Becker’s Fear-Free advisory board, a committee chairperson for AVSAB position statements, and special council for and member of the PPG advocacy committee “Understanding the Hierarchy of Dog Needs is critical in treating every aspect of our patients. It is important to remember that veterinary care cannot be solely focused on physiological needs without taking the other aspects of emotional, social, training, and cognitive needs into consideration. We should approach every living being with the knowledge that above all we should do no harm.”
~ Dr. Lynn Honeckman
“The Hierarchy of Dog Needs helps fill unmet or under met dog needs,” says “America’s Veterinarian”, Dr. Marty Becker. Dr. Marty is “Taking the ‘pet’ out of petrified” SM with the newly launched FEAR-FREE SM veterinary clinic campaign, on the forefront of animal care. He supports force-free behavior modification.
The Royal Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Chief Inspector (retired), Jan Eachus, is including the Hierarchy of Dog Needs in animal abuse and neglect criminal cases he is investigating for prosecution. We are honored to be included in his witness statement resources list alongside the DEFRA Code of Practice for Dogs and the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 (Section 9). The code states, “Dogs feel pain and have similar pain thresholds to people.” Jan is currently a Metropolitan Police Canine Welfare Officer.
Lisa Tenzin-Dolma, the founder of the ISCP (International School for Canine Practitioners), says, “Our students and graduates at the ISCP use the Hierarchy of Dog Needs as the basis for their assessments, their work with dogs, and their careers, and I highly recommend that all dog professionals and guardians download it and refer to it often.” The ISCP provides courses up to diploma level in canine psychology and behavior.
The Dog Lady, Jill Hyslop, was the chosen behaviourist at the Ireland Pet Expo where more than 50,000 people attended, and her booth and presentation featured the Hierarchy Of Dog Needs guide! This is truly an honor. Here’s a bit of what Jill is saying in the video,”They can feel a huge range of emotions, very similar to a 2-year-old child. I believe that you can get any dog to do any thing if you have a good trainer who uses force-free methods. To say anything different is to contradict the way the mammalian brain works and the top universities that have studied it. There is never a need for pain or fear when you’re training a dog.” Go Do No Harm Dog Team!
“I give the Hierarchy of Dog Needs to all my clients,” says Michelle Martiya, Gentle Grooming instructor. “Having such a clear picture of all of their dog’s needs really helps my clients to focus on areas that are lacking in their dogs care, and by addressing these needs, their dog’s behavior (and overall health) improves both in the home and during grooming. “Michelle’s unique Beast to Beauty, Inc. webinars and workshops provide critical continuing education for groomers. Michelle teaches low stress handling techniques, training, and behavior modification for dogs in the grooming salon.
FACE (Foundation for Animal Care and Education) said on their blog, “Once our dogs’ foundational needs (biological, social, emotional) are met, we can then use the Hierarchy of Dog Needs to address force-free behavior modification.” The FACE Foundation is a San Diego area nonprofit whose mission is to enhance and preserve the quality of life of animals by providing access to necessary medical care and education.
Jennifer Cattet Ph.D. from Medical Mutts says, “The Hierarchy of Dog Needs covers far more than the trainer’s choice of methods. It’s very well thought out.” Medical Mutts is a service dog training organization that helps dogs who have been abandoned and improves the lives of people faced with difficult challenges.
In his essay on Techniques for Bishop Burton College, Shay Kelly, used the Hierarchy of Dog Needs to support his work on conditioning. Kelly, a Foundation Science degree student in canine behavior and training, says, “Michaels’ adaptation of the hierarchy to represent canine needs, places safety and security in first and second place respectively in order of requirement. It may therefore be reasonably argued that the dog-human relationship will be adversely affected because of a lack of bonding between dog and human if the human is using positive punishment… “
National Crisis Response Canines member, Cynthia LeBouef Stone tells us that NCRS will be using the Hierarchy of Dog Needs in their training manual regarding Maslow’s Hierarchy of (human) Needs™. LeBouef explains, “The Hierarchy would be a reference to the canine portion of the team.” National Crisis Response Canines is a 501c3 nonprofit that provides safe, compassionate support to people affected by crisis and is one of only two organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide Crisis Response Canines to a disaster. They use a positive-only training environment.
Michael Nichols, certificant in Dog Emotion and Cognition from Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center, presented the Hierarchy of Dog Needs to the Whatcom Humane Society in Washington state. “I included the Hierarchy of Dog Needs in our discussion about dog emotions and cognition — and why it is impossible to know what dogs can learn without consideration of the base of the pyramid. A client wrote to me saying: “My favorite part was the pyramid mapping the Hierarchy of Dog Needs.” ~Michael Nichols
Guy Williams, Avon & Somerset Police U.K., is a force-free police dog trainer and police dog handling instructor. Guy spoke at the 2016 IMPACT Working Dog Conference and opened his presentation with the Hierarchy of Dog Needs. “Everything starts by nurturing the dog and this is counter-intuitive to many handlers. Getting dogs working with you is the secret and that requires being someone worth working with. Loki (photo) is proof of that! And once again that brings us to the Hierarchy.” ~ Guy Williams
SA Amigo magazine, a non-profit bilingual pet magazine located in San Antonio whose goal is to help educate the community on animal wellness and decreasing euthanasia rates, has featured the Hierarchy of Dog Needs in their Fall issue. SA Amigo is distributed at San Antonio’s Whole Foods. View the issue here.
Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. Joanna McLachlan, includes the Hierarchy of Dog Needs in the information packets she provides to her patients.
Peggy Moran, dog behavior consultant, speaker, and dog trainer, used the Hierarchy of Dog Needs in a repeat speaking engagement to Animal Behavior students at the prestigious University of Chicago. Her presentation was entitled: Lost in Translation: How Myth and Misperception Undermine the Human/Dog Relationship.
Jody Anderson, She Who Dances With Goats, uses the Hierarchy of Dog Needs to teach children in 4-H about caring for and training their animals force-free. “I am trying to make changes in the goat world. We want to show the children that there is a different way to train and treat their animals, that they can and should be trained with respect.” ~Jody Anderson
Petra Edwards, one of the first 20 trainers to earn the pet industry’s new gold standard force-free training certification, the Professional Canine Trainer-Accredited (PCT-A), is using the Hierarchy of Dog Needs in her behavioral consultations and seminars in Australia.