In Memorium: Sophia Yin, DVM, MS (1966 – 2014)

Sophia & Jonesy Jumping                                                    Dr. Sophia Yin and her dog, Jonesy

“I got into behavior because I wanted people to know they don’t have to use force to get their dog to do what they want. If people can understand why their dogs are really misbehaving . . . they can have a much better, more fulfilling relationship that’s actually fun. Your relationship with your dog should be fun. It should not be like you at work having to boss a bunch of people around because they’re not doing what you want. So I want everyone to experience the joy, the actual joy of having a dog.” – Sophia Yin, DVM, MS

You may not have known her name or been directly familiar with her work. But if anyone has ever guided you toward positive reinforcement, stress free and pain free training for your dog or cat’s obedience training or behavior issues, then Dr. Sophia Yin has touched your life.

After a lifetime desire of becoming a veterinarian, Dr. Yin earned her veterinary degree from UC Davis in 1993. After several years in practice, she saw that many more dogs were euthanized due to behavior issues than medical illness. This spurred her to return to UC Davis where she earned an MS degree in animal behavior in 2001. She then spent the next 13 years helping dogs, cats and their people. Her aim was to improve the lives and bonds between pets and the people who love them. She had a successful behavior consultation and obedience training business. She published several books including How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves and Perfect Puppy in 7 Days. She wrote a text book and a highly successful veterinary handbook called Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats: Techniques for Developing Patients who Love their Visits. This last book has become something of a bible in the veterinary community. Dr. Yin also enjoyed worldwide recognition as a sought after speaker and lecturer and did several guest appearances on Animal Planet shows focusing on dogs and cats.

Dr. Sophia Yin was a giant of the animal behavior field advocating force free, stress free training and handling. She helped thousands of dogs and cats in her personal career and millions more worldwide through her education directly to pet parents and to trainers like me who use her methods with our own clients. Her premature departure from this world leaves a gaping hole in the world of Animal Behavior and our entire community is mourning her untimely death. She leaves behind a wonderful legacy of highly effective, gentle training techniques that are used the world over. She has many wonderful educational video clips available for viewing free on her website: Dr. Yin also offers a series of excellent educational posters available for download free of charge. These posters are designed for both children and adults to understand and teach about the canine body language of fear and how children should and should NOT interact with dogs.

She was featured in a wonderful short film called Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance and Dogs, available for viewing on YouTube.

The description for this video says, “This 2012 documentary feature (produced by Anchorhold Films & Tower Hill Films) traces the history of the “alpha dog” concept from its origins in 1940’s wolf studies to its current popularity among ordinary dog owners and professional trainers.” It leads us through the early misconceptions on dominance in wolf packs and shares the journey through our current understanding and why using such outdated misconceptions are a tremendous disservice to our dogs and our relationship with them. While it was originally published in 2012, the makers have now dedicated this short film to Dr. Sophia Yin’s memory and legacy.

May these beautiful gifts be what we hold onto going forward.

Dr. Yin was also apparently struggling with some very difficult personal demons. On Monday, 9/29/2014, she took her own life. It appears that this was a complete shock to everyone around her. She was a wonderfully kind and generous woman who was quiet and a bit shy when speaking to you one-on-one, but vibrant with an infectious enthusiasm when in front of a group. I had the pleasure of meeting her and attending 3 of her seminars in the last few years. Nobody would have guessed that she was facing such a deep personal battle. Our entire community is in shock over the suddenness of her death. We are struggling to understand what could have been so devastating in her personal life that she felt suicide was her only option. She reached out to no one. She faced this battle entirely on her own and unfortunately she lost her battle with depression.

There are two ways that we can honor Dr. Sophia Yin and all that she gave to the world. The first is to treat all of our critters with kindness and gentleness. Respect them as individuals and set them up for success and fear-free experiences.

The second is to reach out to your loved ones. If you think someone you know is depressed or suicidal, be there for them. Do not tell them to “get over it” or “snap out of it.” Depression is an illness just like high cholesterol. Help them. Support them. Get them connected with professionals who can help them. If you personally are feeling lost and alone and are considering suicide as your only option, please wait one day before making any decisions. Don’t do it today. Instead, today, reach out to someone – a parent, sibling, spouse, friend, doctor . . . even an acquaintance. Tell someone you are hurting and see no way out. Give them a chance to help you. Suicide is not your only option and there are people who can help you through this if you only give them a chance.

If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

About Jody

I have a masters degree in Animals and Public Policy with a minor in Animal Behavior. I am a board certified Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (ACAAB) - one of fewer than 60 certified animal behaviorists in the world. I am also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and a Certified Fear Free Professional. For more than 14 years I have been helping families create more harmonious homes - one dog at a time. I train basic skills and manners to help dogs learn to live in our world. I also work with families with behavior issues from dog-dog reactivity to stranger-danger, from inappropriate jumping to resource guarding, and with a special affection for the timid/fearful pups amongst us. I work with families and their pets to overcome these behavior issues and help their dogs to be their best selves.
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