October 3, 2013

Dog Trainers Vs. Dog Behaviorists: What’s the Difference?

Author: Gail Brasie

Why Your Dog Trainer Might Need To Send You To a Behaviorist.

Dog Training and EducationIf you have a dog, then no doubt you’ve heard of dog trainers. You may also have heard of Dog or Animal Behaviorists, and wonder what the fundamental difference is between them. 

In the broadest sense, the main difference between the two are approach, education and methods; Dog Behaviorists follow a psychological methodology called behaviorism, where measureable, observable behaviors are privileged over more subjective, emotional states. Dog Behaviorists tend to work one-on-one with pets and their parents to address very specific behavior issues.

Dog trainers come from widely varying experience, philosophy and methodology and address more general training needs. However, dog trainers can have a behaviorist background or methodology; but their training and job description are still different, and dog trainers who know their stuff will refrain from calling themselves behaviorists because of the confusion it can cause.

There is no official certification or governing body one needs to have or associate with in order to be a dog behaviorist or trainer; however, dog trainers can be certified by different colleges and associations, such as the Association of Pet Dog TrainersDog Behaviorists generally need a graduate degree in a related field such as Animal Science, Animal psychology or behavior, etc. and then are certified as an Animal Behaviorist—there are several certifications and certificate programs, with different granting bodies. The APDT website has a long list of these. Because of the advanced degree requirement and the specialization of the field, behaviorists tend to charge more, but are also generally in less demand than dog trainers. Dog trainers can also specialize, primarily through experience, in things such as dog aggression, training guide dogs or training for show dogs.  

With all the certifications and certificate programs available, and all the acronyms that can be thrown at you, evaluating a dog trainer’s stats can be murky territory. Get to know your dog trainer and learn a bit about the programs they’ve gone through, the hands-on experience they’ve had and their approach to teaching and if possible, talk to former clients of theirs. Also, tell them what you are looking to gain from working with them. A good trainer will be able to tell you if your needs are something they can help you with, or if you may need to look into working with another trainer or possibly a behaviorist.  

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