Taking the ‘Bite’ Out of the Family Dog

Families struggling with a feisty canine find help at Animal Learning Systems – a Grosse Pointe Farms-based dog training organization that uses biology to change behavior.

Does Fido have a little too much bite in his bark? It may be time to treat him to a bit of professional help.

Animal Learning Systems, a Grosse Pointe Farms-based animal behavior organization, which has clients in nine states across the U.S., takes the fads and folktales out of training your pooch and instead uses biology and psychology to analyze behavior and create a personalized training plan to make your pup top dog.

Jim Lessenberry, an animal behaviorist, father of one and pet parent to three dogs and a parrot, started Animal Learning Systems 32 years ago when he saw that his interest in psychology could help make families whole.

“How learning and motivation interact with biology and produce behavior was fascinating to me,” he explains. “Over time, I came to see that I could apply that knowledge to animals and, by doing that, help people.”

His business offers a variety of services, from companion dog training courses, to turn-key training programs, to behavioral assessments for challenging pets and treatment programs to address those maladaptive behaviors.

Behavioral breakthroughs

To cater to each dog’s individual needs, Animal Learning Systems offers services focused on two areas: training and behavior therapy. Dog training can be done on-site in a person’s home, in a group setting or as a turn-key training program, and all involves the entire family. Often, Lessenberry notes, dog owners have misconceptions about how a dog should act and how their dog is acting, and the owner needs to be educated to understand the animal and taught how to set rules and boundaries.

“My goal for our classes is that when you complete this basic training, you will keep your animal,” Lessenberry says. “They may not be the best trained animal in the world, but you’ll have enough basic control and enough understanding that you’ll enjoy him and keep him.” Turn-key training programs are another story, producing well-mannered dogs you’ll never need to put a leash on.

Other times, it’s a bit more complicated, and Lessenberry must take a look at the dog’s environment, history and genetics to pinpoint the causes of behavior problems.

“About 60 percent of the dogs that I see the first time are dangerously aggressive. About one-third have affective disorders (like) anxiety, fears, depression, phobias or attention issues and hyperactivity, which makes them ill-suited to be a household pet,” he says, noting that certain behaviors are not exclusive to certain breeds. “You have to look at the individual and the genetics and the experience of that individual to understand and predict behavior.”

From there, Lessenberry can either create a behavior plan for his senior trainer, Evan Towne, to implement or, in some cases, a plan including recommendations to the veterinarian to include medications. As Towne and other staff members work with and care for the dog, Lessenberry watches for improvement and successful outcomes.

“Everything we do is based on academic knowledge and experience. Whether we’re teaching the dog to sit or correcting behavior, it’s all based on academic models, building hypotheses, implementing the procedures, taking measures and testing that it’s going the way we want,” he says.

Getting started

Since all training is based on the needs of the dog, the length of treatment can vary from days to months on either an inpatient or outpatient basis. Costs also vary based on what the dog needs.

Any domestic dog with any type of behavioral issue is welcome at Animal Learning Systems, as are other types of companion animals. “If you love the animal and you want to put some time and energy into making this family-member have manners and have behavior that is acceptable to you and the community, we can help,” Lessenberry says.

To learn more about Animal Learning Systems, call 313-882-6180 or visit animallearningsystems.com.


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