Dog Behaviors Explained in Plain Talk by the Experts: Decoding Your Dog Review & Interview – Part One

It may have been scientifically proven that dogs feel the same emotions we do, but that doesn’t mean we speak their language. With Jasper proving to be such an unexpected challenge in our lives, my husband and I need extra, super-sized tools to deal with his fear aggression and separation anxiety. I  I first received Decoding Your Dog at a press dinner here in New York for Steve Dale, the nationally-syndicated pet journalist and author. Steve edited the book, from interviews with Drs. Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi, both board-certified veterinary animal behaviorists with the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.  This was BJ (before Jasper), however, I’m always interested in exploring animal behavior books. You never know where you’ll find useful information that can make all the difference in dealing with a problem. It’s a documented fact that unwanted behavior is the number one reason dogs are surrendered to or returned to shelters and rescue groups. And, there’s so much information out there from trainers and behaviorists, it’s hard to know who to trust and what to believe. Having dog behaviors explained through science-based research by leaders in the field, with the bonus of being in plain language I can understand, well, that was just what the doctor ordered. Once I started reading,  it didn’t take long to know I liked it.

Dr. Debra Horwitz  with Oscar

decoding your dog-John and Tyson

Decoding your dog-steve-dale-hazel-ethel

Because I know there are so many people who also have dogs suffering from separation anxiety or aggression issues, and how tough these are on the family, I thought as a compliment to my review, I would interview Dr. Debra Horwitz to give us even more insight into these and some other common issues. She shared so much great information, I’ve split my story up into three parts. Herewith, part one.

The book review

The information in Decoding Your Dog is presented in easily digestible bites.  I like that and I bet you will, too. Each chapter introduces its topic, then gives you the science behind it, in a Facts Not Fiction section. Is That Really True? addresses common misperceptions held about the issue and How Do We Begin, does just that – offering clear suggestions on how to start the process. The section in each chapter called Avoiding Pitfalls and Staying on Track is great, because most of us encounter setbacks when we’re attempting to train our dogs. Each chapter ends with a section called What Did We Say, a recap of the important takeaways. This template makes it easy to jump around, if need be, to hone in on a pressing issue. In an age where none of us has much, if any, spare time, this makes a lot of sense.

The topics addressed here aren’t novel, but neither are most of what we face with our dogs. I think solid information about how to read your dog’s body language is critical for dog owners, to protect them, to protect our and other’s children and to head off problems at the pass. There’s a table of canine body language in chapter one that is so useful, even this old dog learned a couple of new tricks! Did you know a stiff-wagging or still tail, held high, could mean the dog is agitated, excited or perhaps unfriendly?

Good advice on finding the right dog to fit your family,  lifestyle or an existing dog is addressed, as is how dogs learn, training, aggression, separation anxiety and seniors, among other topics. Each subject is explored pretty thoroughly but, again, the language is easy to absorb and the sub-headings make organizing the thoughts of each chapter easy.

For me, the focus was on Jasper’s aggression and separation anxiety issues. I found the book informative and, with regard to crate training, at odds with our trainer, which was interesting. What started as a plan to crate train Jasper (very challenging because of his fear of being confined), became a decision to abandon crate training entirely after reading the book. Once we understood that Jasper has separation anxiety issues, something we would not be able to “train” away, the advice was not to subject him to this level of stress. While this now poses a whole new set of challenges to our lifestyle, at least for a while, we are erring on the side of caution and in the process of seeking out a local animal behaviorist to work with Jasper, one-on-one.

I’d recommend this book highly. As America’s vet, Dr. Marty Becker, put it, “What makes your dog tick? Do you wish he could talk? You don’t have to! Decoding Your Dog is all you need to speak the language, thanks to a dream team of top veterinary behaviorists. This is one book every dog lover needs to have, for a better-behaved companion.”

Rating: 5 out of 5


  • written by board-certified experts in the field
  • science-based information, focusing on positive training techniques, socialization, house training and exercise
  • very informative
  • easy to digest bites of information
  • common issues and behavioral problems addressed
  • easy to follow template, so you can jump around
  • new breakthroughs in psychopharmacology and treatment for a range of issues

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