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Yorktown, VA
(757) 775-7987
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Frequently Asked Questions

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About Clever Critters


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About Pet Behavior


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What are your consultants' qualifications?

Sydney Warner has certifications in dog training and canine behavior science. Additionally, she has trained under an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist in canine and feline behavior, and modern training methods. You can read more about our consultants' qualifications on the About page.

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Where do you offer services?

Clever Critters does not currently have a facility. We offer all of our services either in your home or on-site. We observe and treat problem behavior where it is happening. Examples of on-site work include working with you and your pet while on a walk, at the dog park or at the veterinarian's office. You can read more on the Services page.

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What types of behavior problems can Clever Critters treat?

Clever Critters consultants can treat a variety of behavior problems for dogs, cats and other pets including aggression, fearfulness, inappropriate elimination, hyperactivity and more. In addition, we can help you with basic to advanced manners and skills training, and help you and your pet engage in sports like agility and noseworks. You can read more on the Services page.

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What are your fees?

Clever Critters offers a variety of service packages for you to choose from. Details on the Services page.

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What training methods do you use?

Our behavior experts use up-to-date, science-based training methods that support the human animal bond. What does that mean? It means that we are regularly reading the scientific literature in animal behavior and training to discover new information and techniques that will get better training results. It means that we are regularly adding to our training tool box to reflect this new information and provide better service to you and your pet. And it means that the methods we choose to use will be ones that are effective, improve communication and understanding between you and your pet, and increase loving interactions.

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Are you an "all positive reinforcement" trainer?

We use classical conditioning and all four quadrants of operant conditioning. What are the four quadrants? Take a look at these wonderful illustrations by Lili Chin of doggiedrawings.net before continuing.
(1) The Four Quadrants of Operant Conditioning. (2) The ABC of Operant Conditioning. (3) The Four Categories of Operant Conditioning

In psychology, "reinforcement" is defined as anything that increases the frequency or intensity of a behavior. "Positive reinforcement" is when you add something to the animal's environment that increases the frequency or intensity of a behavior. Administering some reward to your pet when she does something you want her to do is an excellent way to see that behavior more often! We use positive reinforcement frequently because it is highly effective. We make all reinforcement and punishment choices very carefully, based on the individual animal and circumstances in each case.

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Do you use punishment?

The definition of punishment in psychology is anything that reduces the frequency or intensity of a behavior. If you stop playing with a biting puppy resulting in the puppy decreasing his biting over time, you have used punishment effectively. This is an example of "negative punishment." "Negative" refers to taking something from the puppy's environment in response to a behavior and "punishment" describes the result (play biting is reduced in frequency and/or intensity). If you hit a puppy on the nose every time he bites you in play resulting in the puppy decreasing his biting over time, you have also used punishment effectively. HOWEVER, there are often unintended side effects to this type of punishment. This is an an example of "positive punishment." "Positive" refers to adding something to the puppy's environment in response to a behavior and "punishment" describes the result (play biting is reduced in frequency and/or intensity). Some unintended side effects we have seen in many cases include: puppy becomes hand shy of the punisher or of people in general, puppy avoids playing with the punisher but continues to play bite with other people, puppy decreases play biting but changes to defensive biting because of the expectation of being hit.

Here are some more thoughts on punishment from Psychology Today, Is Punishment an Effective Way to Chance the Behavior of Dogs, and The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Use of Punishment in Behavior Modification of Animals

We choose punishment and reinforcement very carefully, based on the individual animal and circumstances in each case.

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How do I choose a quality trainer for my pet?

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has published an article about choosing a dog trainer that is an excellent guide for this important decision. The advice can be applied to other pets as well. How to Choose a Trainer (AVSAB).

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How can I avoid supporting puppy mills when I purchase a new dog?

Pets Advisor has an excellent guide to avoid puppy mills called Puppy Mill Red Flags.

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Where can I find quality pet behavior information on the internet?


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What is your position on the hot topic of "dominance-based" dog training?

The professionals at Clever Critters use science-based and up-to-date information as a guide for dog training. The current literature does not find a "dominance-hierarchy" approach to dog training to be effective. Also, the definition of "dominance" in the animal behavior literature is quite different from how pet professionals (who are not behaviorists) or pet parents might define dominance. We have found that most of what our clients have heard about dominance is incorrect, steeped in myths and misconceptions. When we are working with a dog who has difficulty in social situations with other dogs or people, we focus on the individual dog, his behavioral history, his experiences, his environment and what we can observe to determine appropriate treatment. We do not try to fit his behavior into a dominance model.


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