How Pet Professionals Can Use the Hierarchy of Dog Needs TM

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From the upcoming Hierarchy of Dog Needs Handbook by Linda Michaels, M.A. Psychology — Del Mar Dog Training

How to make the case for force free dog training linda michaels del mar dog trainer dog psychology positive reinforcement

Click to learn more and download the Hierarchy

Use The Hierarchy of Dog Needs to open doors to conversations with other pet professionals and with clients. The Hierarchy of Dog Needs encourages your clients to invest in a total program of care and training because it illustrates how comprehensive needs and force-free training methods are connected.

Working up the pyramid, The Hierarchy of Dog Needs can help the pet professional to identify unmet needs, undermet needs, behavior problems, as well as areas of interest to the client. Working down the list of methods on the left side of the pyramid, you can outline to the client how you will be addressing these issues. These methods may be used successfully in any order.

Assessing Dog and Client Needs and Developing a Training Plan using The Hierarchy of Dog Needs

The Hierarchy of Dog Needs can help to identify the primary, secondary and other problems affecting the dog and help guide the course of training. It can help you assess both dog and client needs and create a comprehensive training plan. The checklist at the bottom of the page helps to keep care and training on track for private or class client handouts. You can add your pet professional signature and logo in the left corner to clearly identify the service you provide.

By design, the Hierarchy encourages force-free professionals to refer to and support other force-free professionals for the well-being of the whole dog.

The Hierarchy of Dog Needs was designed for pet professionals such as: 

  1. Force-free dog trainers 
(Find examples below)
    – Manners dog trainers

    – Agility dog trainers
    – Service dog trainers
    – Working dog trainers
    – Therapy dog trainers
    – Canine Good Citizen® trainers and evaluators
  2.  Integrative, progressive and holistic veterinarians  (Find examples below)
  3. Rescues group directors and representatives (Find examples below)
    3b. Animal shelter management and employees (Find examples below)
  4. Responsible breeders (Find examples below)
  5. Pet industry speakers (Find examples below)
  6. Gentle groomers (Find examples below)
  7. Force-free-friendly media: TV, radio, authors, bloggers, social media chat rooms, podcasts (Find examples below)
  • Veterinary technicians and assistants
  • Foster pet parents
  • Dog daycare operators
  • Meetup organizers 

  • Pet supply store owners 

  • Pet food manufacturers and distributors

  • Dog walkers
  • Pet sitters
  • Pet photographers
  • Pet professional website designers
  • T-touch practitioners

  • Pet therapists
  • Pet chiropractic and acupressure specialists 
  • And more

Here are some ideas of how you can use The Hierarchy of Dog Needs:

  1. Examples for Private and Class Dog Training
  • Dog Trainers

    Dog Trainers

    Many clients want recommendations on Nutrition and Exercise.

  • A conversation on Emotional Needs and Trust often reveals fearful or aggressive behavior a qualified trainer may want to address.
  • When discussing Social Needs/Attachment I often discover a separation/attachment issue or disorder with pet parents, or with other family dogs.
  • The “Do No Harm” Management and Learning section can be a nice segue to discuss previous training, while laying a foundation for force-free training.
  • Outline a teaching manual for private or class training, or lectures/demonstrations (for training packets, not packets for sale.)
  • Create a poster of The Hierarchy of Dog Needs: Post The Hierarchy of Dog Needs on your classroom wall. You may have a print company create a poster for your classroom. 
  • The Hierarchy of Dog Needs can also be used as a hand-out or included in training packets by trainers for classes For example, trainers may include the information provided in the Gentle Grooming section (in the upcoming handbook) to help the client’s dog learn to tolerate and even enjoy grooming, and help in locating a gentle grooming professional. 
  • Develop a Lesson Guide Using The Hierarchy of Dog Needs:
  1. Upon arriving at the home or to your first class, hand the client a copy of the hierarchy and begin assessing needs and discussing methods, making notes on your master copy.
  2. Address needs and each topic that you feel competent and comfortable teaching.
  3. Then discuss the methods you’ll be using from the force-free training methods chart on the left side of the handout.
  4. Basic Manners can be taught in the Force-free training sections. For example, explanations of Positive Reinforcement using Capturing, Luring, and Shaping can be done in the context of teaching: name response, sit, down, and stay.
  5. Problem behavior can be addressed in the Differential Reinforcement, Counter-conditioning, and Desensitization methods sections.
  6. Refer back to The Hierarchy of Dog Needs as you progress through your lessons to reinforce these methods in your client’s mind. We want our clients to refer to force-free methods to solve problems that arise and stay on the force-free track when you’re not there to guide them.
  • Increase Your Bottom Line: Ask the client to review the Hierarchy infographic and to make notes about problem areas that are important to them, to help you uncover training topics that can be put on a “To Do” list for that client. Increase the number of sessions that may be required to adequately address the underlying and motivations for problem behavior and in the various contexts where it may be occurring.

    2. Examples for Veterinarians:



  • Veterinarians are encouraged to share the Hierarchy of Dog Needs with colleagues, patients, and trainers, and in speaking engagements. As the primary contact professionals, veterinarians are in a position to make the greatest impact on the physical as well as the psychological well-being of the pet dogs under their loving care.



3. Examples for Rescues and Shelters:

Rescues and Shelters

Rescues and Shelters

  • Adopted Dogs: A copy of the Hierarchy of Dog Needs infographic can go into the take-home packet with each newly adopted dog and puppy.
  • Kennels: Posting a laminated copy of the Hierarchy infographic on the gate to each and every kennel, to remind everyone who enters what to do and how to do it force-free can help make your shelter truly dog-friendly.
  • Staff and Foster Pet Parents: A copy of the Hierarchy of Dog Needs infographic can be inserted in the guidance packets for each foster parent and used to educate staff.

    4. Examples for Responsible Breeders:

  • Responsible Breeders

    Responsible Breeders

    Use the Hierarchy of Dog Needs to give your puppies the emotional and socialization foundation they need to transition successfully to their new home. Weeks 4 – 8 are critical for learning. Breeders have a lot of power to provide puppies with a big head start! Provide a copy of The Hierarchy of Dog Needs infographic in the educational and guidance packets of each new pet parent.


5. Examples for Speakers in All Pet Professions:

  • Pet Speakers

    Pet Speakers

    Lecture/Demonstration Guide: In classes, discussions, for example 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 for Veterinarians, Trainers, Groomers, et al.: The Hierarchy of Dog Needs may 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.

    6. Examples for Groomers:

Gentle Groomers

Gentle Groomers

  • Groomers can point to grooming as a Biological Need, in addition to grooming’s well-known cosmetic function. The can highlight the importance of proper and gentle grooming. Grooming is also a health issue (see , here). 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.

7. Examples for Pet Bloggers:

  • Pet Bloggers

    Pet Bloggers

    The topics in the Hierarchy make great blog material. Please send your Hierarchy of Dog Needs related blogs to and they may be included on my website or social media. Your photos using the Hierarchy of Dog Needs in any professional capacity are welcome, especially if they feature cute animals!


Sales for profit are prohibited without the express consent and only per arrangement with the author.

Read more about the Hierarchy of Dog Needs TM

Read about the Making the Case for Force-Free Dog Training DVD

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” M.A./Psychology a Top Ten Rated U.S. Dog Trainer — Del Mar Dog Training, may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email:  for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at  All rights reserved.


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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