Local expert keeps things on positive level when it comes to dialogue with dogs
By Diane Y. Welch
Linda Michaels has positioned herself as a leading authority on force-free, positive pet training. If you’ve ever wondered what your dog is thinking, pet psychologist Linda Michaels may be able to give you some clues. From her decades devoted to the care and understanding of canine companions, Michaels comes as close as it gets to reading doggy minds.
It is a skill derived from her degree in experimental psychology from San Diego State University, paired with thousands of hours of practical experience with dogs and years of volunteer work at the San Diego Humane Society, said Michaels.
That experience includes Michaels’ work in a behavioral neurobiology laboratory, conducting behavioral trials, and examining the interface between behavior and the brain.
By combining science with a hands-on approach, she has positioned herself as a leading authority on force-free, positive pet training.
Michaels serves clients from La Jolla to Beverly Hills through her private consulting practice, Linda Michaels MA, Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training.
“I consider myself a relationship healer,” she said. Her practice focuses on the psychological aspects of canine behavior, much like human psychology, which include fear, anxiety, aggression, hyperactivity and separation/attachment disorder. “I also teach pet parents how to communicate with their dogs in a language that dogs can understand.”
Michaels’ love for dogs started as a child growing up in Westchester, N.Y. The family’s first pet was a puppy that Michaels sneaked into the home and hid in the closet. She was soon discovered, but the dog was allowed to become part of the loving family.
This love and compassion for dogs has never waned, and most recently led Michaels to become the flagship Southern California Victoria Stilwell trainer. Stilwell, famed for her Animal Planet TV show about dogs, “It’s Me or the Dog,” in 2010 founded a global network of elite dog trainers.
“To join the network was very demanding,” said Michaels, as the standards were so high. “Victoria wanted people who were already successful in business and on the same mission to promote force-free training and to prove how much they love dogs.”
Michaels submitted several well-researched essays, along with two lengthy unedited videos that captured her in action with clients and their pets. One of the videos was of a behavoral consultation for a serious issue, a family who had a dog that was being aggressive against both a 2-year-old child and the father.
The mother assumed that her toddler loved the dog, who was tolerant of the child’s less-than-gentle treatment. “But I could see the anxiety building in the dog,” said Michaels. The issue ended up being a matter of management and education. It was resolved by being mindful of the developmental behavior of the child, along with using positive techniques to teach the dog rather than using dominant force.
“It’s is a big problem,” said Michaels of the trend whereby pet parents are being instructed to use punitive measures and devices like shock, prong and choke collars to train their dogs through dominance.
“This is not a good thing to do,” she stressed. “Treating a dog in that manner, who has canines (teeth) and very powerful jaws, can only incite aggressive behavior, and it changes the personality of the dog.”
Instead, force-free trainers teach through benevolent leadership and rewards. “We don’t correct, intimidate or use any dominance-based leash-walking devices. We redirect, not correct unwanted behavior,” Michaels explained.
This approach has brought Michaels to the attention of many organizations. Notably, she serves as behavioral consultant for the Wolf Education Project in Julian, is on the advisory board for the nonprofit Art For Barks, and is the founder and director of the Positive Pet Professionals of San Diego, a network of local force-free professionals.
She has also been invited to speak at the inaugural summit of the Pet Professional Guild in Tampa, Fla. in November. It is a meeting of the minds for trainers solely centered on positive tactics.
“We are finally having a sea change in the dog training industry,” commented Michaels, “but it is still an ongoing battle to get these punitive pet devices banned.”
For private, customized behavior consulting and basic manners dog training in the North County area, contact Del Mar Dog Trainer Linda Michaels at 858-259-9663, email at VSDogTrainer@gmail.com or visit: DogPsychologistOnCall.com
Originally published in the Rancho Santa Fe Review, Del Mar Times, Solana Beach Sun, and the Carmel Valley News.