Owning a dog with behavior issues can be frustrating, exhausting, and scary. The good news is every dog is trainable and can once again become your perfect companion.
Before hiring an expert to help your dog, it’s important to identify what kind of help it needs. Does your dog need to learn obedience, or is it exhibiting reactive behavior?
If you’re looking to teach your dogs the basics such as sit, stay, and down, a dog trainer will be most helpful. But when it comes to treating bad or aggressive behavior, a dog behaviorist is your best option.
But what is a dog behaviorist? How do they differ from a dog trainer? Are they worth it?
We’ll answer all your questions and more, so just keep reading.
What Is a Dog Behaviorist?
So, what is a dog behaviorist?
Dog behaviorists, also known as Applied Animal Behaviorists, earn their title through formal education. Their training teaches them to understand an animal’s behavior, and they usually work with behavior problems and aggression.
First, they will evaluate your dog and its temperament. Many factors could cause bad behavior, and a behaviorist will identify the root of the problem.
They will then create a custom treatment plan, making sure to teach you how to carry it out successfully.
Your behaviorist will also spend a lot of time working with you to alter the way you interact with your pet and will check in on progress.
What Qualifies a Dog Behaviorist?
A person is not an official animal behaviorist until they are certified by the ABS (Animal Behavior Society). They may have certifications such as CCPDT (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist) or ACAAB (Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist).
Behaviorists will often have a Master’s Degree in biological or behavioral science. Some may even have a biological or behavioral science doctorate with additional field experience.
Beware of the “Behaviorists”
It’s important to note that dog behaviorists are unregulated, meaning anyone can call themselves a behaviorist. When looking for someone to help with your pet, you may want to verify their certifications.
There is no law that states you have to pass any test or do anything special to call yourself a dog trainer, which means that you may be contacting someone who does not have the experience, patience, or knowledge to help your dog.
You’ll probably want to verify that the behaviorist you’re speaking with is board certified and has the experience to back up their claims. The only exception to this could be if you have solid references for the dog behaviorist from one or more dog owners that have gotten good results from the behaviorist.
The reality is that a certification doesn’t necessarily make someone good at their job while getting the desired results within an acceptable and humane method does.
When looking for a dog behaviorist, you may want to talk to your veterinarian and ask them to refer you to someone.
Do Dog Behaviorists Work?
Are dog behaviorists worth it? The answer entirely depends on the kind of behavior you’re looking to correct.
Simple annoyances like jumping or pulling on the leash don’t necessarily require a behaviorist’s help.
But if your dog is exhibiting dangerous behavior, such as biting, possessiveness, and lunging, it is worth investing in a behaviorist for the safety of everyone involved.
Behaviorists have the educational background to identify the cause of your dog’s aggression and help you adjust its lifestyle and correct its behavior.
They are not there to train your dog; they are there to help your dog calm its behavior.
While they can be expensive, often more expensive than a dog trainer, it’s important to remember that your safety and pet are an investment.
Once the initial work has been put in and you’re living with a happy dog again, it’ll all be worth it!
Veterinary Behaviorists vs Dog Behaviorists
A veterinary behaviorist is a behaviorist with a veterinary degree.
This behaviorist can treat behavior with prescribed medication and has experience working with many complicated cases throughout their training program.
It can be difficult to know whether or not a regular behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist is right for you. Expect to pay more for a veterinary behaviorist than a regular dog behaviorist given their advanced training and expertise.
Ultimately, it all comes down to your dog’s kind of aggression.
If your dog’s aggression is caused by separation anxiety, OCD, or phobias, a veterinary behaviorist may be your best choice. A veterinary behaviorist could create a treatment plan that involves medication to help calm your pup if necessary.
If the aggression is serious or scary, such as lunging or biting, a dog behaviorist might be a better fit.
Dog Behaviorist versus Dog Trainer
Dog behaviorists are not dog trainers but there is sometimes an overlap. While trainers look to teach your dog obedience, behaviorists seek to modify abnormal behavior.
Trainers will help teach your dog manners, tricks, and actions. Some will even work with dogs with behavior problems, such as barking or counter surfing.
Some trainers are certified, and others are not. If they’re certified, they often earn it through the CCPDT (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers) or IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals).
Dog behaviorists are ideal for dogs with destructive or bad behavior. A behaviorist will be able to tell you where the problem began and help regulate that behavior.
They will not train your dog. Instead, they will create a plan that will need to be implemented by you.
Dogs that aren’t well socialized can become unstable and reactive over time. It’s important to keep an eye out for signs such as biting, lunging, or growling so that you can get help quickly.
Puppies need to be trained and socialized at a young age, or they can become unstable. Mother dogs often do much of this job for us but sometimes puppies are taken from their mother’s at too early an age for various reasons.
Getting in touch with a trainer as young as possible for puppies displaying problems can help prevent future mishaps or regression.
Best Kind of Trainer for Aggressive Dogs
There are many factors that could lead to bad behavior. Whether the cause is trauma, another pet, or fear, it may be best to look into a dog behaviorist if your dog suffers from aggression, reactivity, or social anxiety.
It’s often said that every dog is trainable; it’s just about finding the right kind of trainer for your situation. Aggression should be treated right away, and while basic training is helpful, aiding a reactive dog requires identifying the root cause of the aggression.
Many trainers are not equipped to handle reactivity unless they have a background in animal behavior. Getting in touch with an animal behaviorist is your best bet for easing serious issues.
While dog trainers may be able to help with low levels of reactivity, they should not be contacted to treat dangerous situations. Many trainers will not work with aggressive dogs.
And for good reason, group dog training often isn’t available for aggressive dogs.
If your dog is jumping up on people, barking at the mailman, or pulling on the leach, a dog trainer can help.
But if your dog is lunging, biting, growling, or threatening your safety, a dog behaviorist will know the best way to help your furry friend.