The Hierarchy of Dog Needs™: A Wellness and Force-free Behavior Modification Guide

Hierarchy Dogs1

Many of us first learned about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model of human motivation back in Psychology 101 class. Maslow proposed that human behavior is motivated by an ascending hierarchy of needs, from basic ones like food and shelter to more complex emotional and social needs like feeling a sense of accomplishment and having a network of friends.

Linda with a little friend.

Linda with a little friend.

What if the Hierarchy of Needs model could be adapted to canine psychology and used for dog training as well as other human-dog interactions like grooming, veterinary practice, animal sheltering, and working/service dogs? Well, good news dog lovers! FACE Foundation friend and supporter Linda Michaels, M.A. of Del Mar Dog Training here in San Diego County has done just that!

Linda with a big friend.

Linda with a big friend.

Linda has been rated as one of the top 10 dog trainers in the U.S. With a background in experimental psychology, and a special focus on the psychological aspects of dog behavior, Linda has used her extensive experience to develop the Hierarchy of Dog Needs wellness and force-free behavior modification approach:


As can be seen in the pyramid infographic (click on image above to enlarge), a dog’s needs progress like this:

  • Biological (food, water, sleep)
  • Emotional (security, love)
  • Social (bonding, play)
  • Cognitive (choice, novelty)

Added to this hierarchy of needs is a dog’s force-free training needs, what Linda calls “do no harm” management and learning. Once our dogs’ foundational needs (biological, social, emotional) are met, we can then use the HDN to address force-free behavior modification.


What’s “force-free?” Linda explains that there is never a justification for using harsh training methods based on pain, fear, or dominance. She also strongly opposes harsh training devices (like shock, prong, or choke collars) on your dog. Instead, the Hierarchy of Dog Needs philosophy can be used in conjunction with a variety of established force-free training methods, including:

  • Desensitization
  • Classical and counter-conditioning
  • Differential reinforcement
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Antecedent modification
  • Management

Hierarchy Dogs2

Interested in learning more about this unique and compassionate approach to dog training? There’s lots of great information about utilizing the Hierarchy of Dog Needs method on Linda’s website. Linda is currently working on The Hierarchy of Dog Needs Handbook, a step-by-step guide to the principles outlined in the infographic. Be sure to pick up a copy early next year!


19 thoughts on “The Hierarchy of Dog Needs™: A Wellness and Force-free Behavior Modification Guide

  1. Pingback: Comment choisir notre chien ? – La patte blanche

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