Erica Houck Young


Erica Houck Young is a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant in Monmouth County, New Jersey.  She works with clients both privately and in group settings for behavioral and obedience purposes.  She has also assisted classes at a local training outfit for the past year.  She has been training for both competition and companion animal purposes for over 10 years.  She was born and raised in small-town Minnesota, surrounded by both large and small animals.  She was successful in training and showing large animals and dogs during her high school and college careers in several facets.  She spent nearly 3 years working as a part, and then full, time veterinary technician for a veterinary clinic with 6 doctors on staff.  

In late 2007 she became part of the Monmouth County SPCA's adoption manager staff and quickly settled into a role that balanced between both the adoption and behavior departments.  She focused on training, rehabilitating, and rehoming dogs whose fear and mistrust of humans made them virtually unadoptable.  She dedicated herself to those particular hard dogs to adopt, fostering and training those animals most of the public would overlook in order to make them more attractive.  She also helped facilitate in the start of an enrichment program alongside Urban Dawgs that was specifically aimed at Pit Bull Dogs.  The program was designed to provide an outreach for shelter dogs who needed extra behavioral training and guidance that could not be achieved in the shelter environment.  
In 2008 Erica graduated with honors with her certification in training and behavior counseling from the prestigious San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, She worked and studied under the direct tutelage of some of the best in the business, including Jean Donaldson and Janis Bradley, while there.  The San Francisco SPCA's Academy for Dog Trainers has been hailed as the "Harvard" of dog training schools for its rigorously scientific and humane approach to behavior and training.

Erica remains active in rescue, volunteering her spare time to fostering and training for various all-breed and breed specific(Pit Bull) rescue organizations located along the East Coast.  She provides behavior and training support to both fosters and adopters.  She is also committed to continuing her education about dog behavior and training, as well as shelter enrichment.  She regularly attends seminars and workshops given by dog behavior experts such as Dr Ian Dunbar, Dr Karen Overall, and Jean Donaldson.  She strives to be at the forefront of the newest studies and techniques in positive, reward-based training for dogs.  She is also a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Erica lives in Middletown, NJ with her husband, Chris, 4 rescued cats, and their 4 rescued dogs: an Australian Cattle Dog, an American Pit Bull Terrier,  a Yellow Lab, and one Wonder-Mutt.

Blog posts by Erica Houck Young

Something to prove

Something that always gets me during a consult, or even before, is when the owner offers to have their dog demonstrate the reason you've been called in.  They want to take the dog for a walk and "find another dog" so I can see their dog's reaction to it.  They want to go get a bowl of food or a bone and give it to the dog so I can see how the dog behaves when they attempt to remove it.


Temperamental Temperament Testers

There seems to be a continuing issue with "temperament tests" at our local SPCAs and Animal Control facilities.  Being as heavily involved in rescue as I am, I see a lot of pigeon-holing and biased interpretations based on NORMAL dog behavior in abnormal conditions. 

Let's clear something up here - living in a shelter cage is NOT a normal housing situation for a dog.  Any dog living behind chain link fencing and on cement flooring is going to have some behavioral fallout just from the environment around him or her.  Imagine being subjected to deafening barks, overwhelming smells, and barriers to block sight and contact from other dogs and humans.  How would you act?  Like a "loon", as Ian Dunbar likes to say.  The mere stress of the situation would crush some of us, while social facilitation would cause the rest of us to bark and act crazy with frustration until we were hoarse and running in circles.


Taking A Training Class: Headstart

Congrats on signing up for a training class with your dog!! (and if you haven't - why not??)

Below is a list of tips I have compiled for a training class student.  I am sharing these to help make learning fun for both you and your dog - and class for teachers a little more sane.

1.  Bring a hungry dog.  If your class is at 6pm, skip dinner.  A good rule of thumb is to not feed your dog for at least 4 hours prior to class.  A hungry dog is a MOTIVATED dog, in most cases.  This is probably the most important tip of them all. 


Obey Thy Dog

Dogs growl.  It is part of being a dog.  Dogs growl to protect stuff, dogs growl to say "hey, that is enough of that" to other dogs, and dogs growl when they are having a good time sometimes.

Dogs growl for a reason.  Aggression is a very expensive behavior in the big scheme of things.  It takes a lot of energy and risk to react aggressively.  A growl is a down-payment on an investment in aggressive behavior.

If something happens that causes your dog to growl - STOP.  Do not push your dog any further.  Say "Thank you!!" and retreat.  Go sit at the kitchen table with a pad of paper and a pencil.  Write down what time of day this happened, where it happened, what the dog was doing, what YOU were doing, and what was involved(dog bed, particular type of bone/chew, toy).  Your dog was being polite when he told you, "Hey, I am not so sure about this.  You better back off."


Getting Over Yourself & On with Your Dog

My husband and I recently adopted a fourth(gasp) dog.  He is a yellow lab, presumably of full breed, that was found alone on someone's doorstep in rural North Carolina in the middle of the night.  Whether he escaped from a yard or was dumped, we'll never know.  He was around 6 weeks when found, now he is coming up on 10-11 weeks.  They grow up so fast..but I digress.  We have named him Dexter.  He is adorable (that's his picture on the left).  So adorable, in fact, that I cannot control myself sometimes with the amount of puppy squishing and nuzzling I feel compelled to do.  Dexter, however, feels there should be a set limit to the amount I am allowed to actually do, which brings me to my blog title topic (derived from a blog post by Drayton Michaels, CTC found here:


A Balancing Act

Lately, I have heard many people toss around the phrase “balanced trainer”.  Some of the people behind this phrase incorporate both reward-based and aversion-based methods to train dogs.  Many use reward-based training with puppies, but are heavy handed and forceful with adult dogs – as if the emotional needs of each are different even though they are both dogs.  I disagree with this definition of a ‘balanced trainer’.  You cannot have your cake and eat it too –there is no balance in choking an adult GSD during one session followed by using lure-reward training with a 12 week old beagle.  The entire picture of your philosophy is in question here. To say you are “balanced” after that is just an act of illusion. Either you are a positive, reward-based trainer or you aren’t. 



Antecedent Intervention


It is well established, I think, that dogs learn mostly via two ways: Association & Consequence.  In either of those two topics there are a myriad of variables that can potentially work for and against an owner. 

In the “Consequence” category we have a simple paradigm of how dogs pick up a cue.  One can put it in a simple way and say “dogs do flowcharts”.  The flowchart for a dog is as follows: 

Antecedent – Behavior – Consequence 

Now, what do all these things mean?  Antecedent refers to the catalyst, or stimulus, that causes a dog to react in a certain way.  Examples of antecedents are verbal commands, strangers, leashes, and doorbells.  The list is quite endless.  Behavior is just that – how your dog responds to the antecedent and the consequence is the result of said behavior, which either reinforces or punishes the behavior thus causing it to happen more or less.

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