Why Sophia Chose the Behavior Field

Like most of her colleagues, she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. Sophia worked in kennels, veterinary hospitals, any animal experience she could. She majored in one of the most rigorous college science majors: biochemistry. In 1993, she achieved her dream and graduated from the University of California–Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Yin then started in private practice as a veterinarian.

Over time, she noticed more patients had behavior concerns than medical ones. Because of previous experience with her own dog, she made it a priority to discuss potentially serious behavioral issues and to counsel those who wanted help. The problems were too involved to address during a regular office visit with the basic dog training skills she knew, so Sophia returned to school to learn more about behavior.

A Well-Rounded Approach

To specialize in behavior, veterinarians can follow a two- to three-year clinical residency conducting behavior consults and clinical research. Instead they may instead pursue a Master’s Degree or Ph.D. by completing courses and performing research to fulfill requirements set by the Animal Behavior Society, and gain clinical experience.

Sophia’s chosen path combined animal behavior experiences with a Master’s in Animal Science at UC Davis under Dr. Edward Price. During that time, she researched barking in dogs, passed her behavior courses, conducted numerous animal behavior projects, participated in lectures, and was a teaching assistant in biochemistry.

Traditional force training versus leadership without force

in Dr. Sophia Yin’s own words:

We’ve all heard the old school advice relating dog behavior to wolf social behavior: Show your dog you are the boss, the alpha. Twenty years ago when I started training, that was the advice I gave because it was all I knew. Like everyone else, the choke chain, pinch collar and a well-timed correction formed the cornerstone of dog training for me. I thought that dominance was the root of all behavior problems. Combined with a strong ability to read aggressive dogs, a lack of fear of being bitten, and fervor for trying to master the techniques of whomever I could, these methods and ideologies served me well. They were the methods of the traditional dog trainer, now sometimes called a balanced dog trainer if rewards are sometimes used.

Because I am always searching for ways to improve, as knowledge of dog and wolf behavior trickled down from the research and field scientists, my knowledge of animal behavior expanded and consequently my philosophies changed.

In the past two decades, our understanding of dog behavior in relation to wolves, as well as our understanding of dominance and social hierarchies has advanced. Wolf biologists now rarely use the term alpha when referring to pack leaders in the wild. Careful observation has revealed that dominant wolves do not force subordinates onto their back (incorrectly termed an alpha roll). Rather subordinates offer the posture as a sign of deference (more appropriate term, submissive roll). In addition, ethologists agree that studies on the process of domestication and on canine communication are making it more and more clear that a dog is not a wolf.

Dominance is Not the Root of Bad Behavior

It is also now clear that dominance is generally not the cause of bad behavior and is evident once you know the definition of dominance. In animal behavior, dominance is defined as a relationship between individuals that is established by force, aggression and submission in order to gain priority access to resources. A dominance relationship is not established until one individual consistently submits. With this definition in mind, it is clear that most of the unruly behaviors we see in our pets are not due to a desire to gain higher rank. Consequently, dominance theory becomes irrelevant for most behavior problems in our pets.

Leadership Without Force

Studies on learning and behavior of the last 60+ years have shown us that animals (and humans) behave in undesirable ways because these behaviors have been reinforced. To change behavior, we have to remove the rewards for undesirable behavior and instead reward good behavior.

That simple approach, along with attention to timing, body language, and motivation, forms the basis for establishing a relationship of trust between the human and the pet. Training becomes a joy rather than a chore and the methods open up a whole new connection with your pet.

Low Stress Handling® Silver-Level Certification

Individual Certification at this level demonstrates to clients and employers the individual’s dedicated interest in Low Stress Handling®. Hospital Certification at this level demonstrates to clients and staff the hospital’s commitment to appropriately training staff in Low Stress Handling® methods.

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