What is a Behaviourist?

There is a distinct difference between a dog behaviourist and a dog trainer, a behaviourist usually has highly specialized training and education in animal behaviour.  There are still dog trainers who will tell people “..there are no degrees in dog behaviour“, that is not a true statement, and is intended only to confuse clients and excuse their lack of training and education.

People who specialize in dog behaviour usually have post secondary education in Animal Behaviour in either (or both) of these two disciplines Ethology, Zoology.  Dog behaviour is not an opinion-based discipline, we use only science and the latest research in animal behaviour to help dogs with problems.

“Dog behaviour is a collection of behaviours influenced by genetic, social, situational and environmental causes.  It is important to understand the difference between a training problem and an actual behavioural problem.” ~ Ivan Stewart



What is a Dog Trainer?

A dog trainer is an individual who specializes in teaching of specific handling skills to dogs and puppies.  They provide an essential function, and are usually an owners first contact for expertise in teaching dogs – this includes things like sit, stay, recall, leash walking etc.

There are no credentials required for dog trainers.  In recent years, the Association of Pet Dog trainers (ADPT) has tried to provide training and certification to dog trainers in an attempt to standardize that industry and ensure that they are using only approved and scientifically substantiated training techniques that are force-free  and kind to the dog.  Some dog trainers are still using the wrong techniques like choke collars, martingale collars, pinch/prongs, harsh leash corrections, spray bottles, yelling, hitting etc. and talking about dominance and the mythology of the ‘alpha dog’.

There are a lot of dog trainers dabbling in dog behaviour and trying to sell an expertise to the client that they do not possess – be very wary of this.  While there are some dog trainers who have excellent knowledge of dog problems, it is usually not the case, particularly if they have no specific education or training in animal behaviour.  Most of the dogs we see in our practice have been to 3-4 dog trainers with no change in the behaviour and very often in worse state as a result.


Here are some FAQ’s About the Behaviour Process:


Why should I take my dog for a behavior consultation?
With mild or minor behavioral problems, clients are often able to correct the problem by means of reward-based training, as is outlined in the other handouts in this series. However, when problems are more serious, it is easy to make the problem worse rather than improving it.


A consultation with a properly trained behaviorist helps you obtain results faster and more effectively


With serious problems such as severe fears or phobias, or with aggressive behaviors that represent safety risks to humans, a consultation with your veterinarian or a referral to a knowledgeable and properly trained veterinary behaviorist helps you obtain results faster and more effectively.  In addition, should you require the further assistance of a trainer, both you and your trainer will have guidance on how you should proceed.


What will happen during the behavioral consultation?
I will ask you questions about the history of your dog’s problem, including when it began, how long it has been occurring, and what specific triggers cause or worsen the problem. You will also be asked how you have been trying to deal with the problem. Finally, the I will discuss the treatment strategy that is most appropriate for your circumstances.

The more detailed and objective your information is, the more likely that I can reach a diagnosis or tentative diagnosis of the problem, and formulate an appropriate treatment plan.


Who should be involved with the behavioral consultation?
It is ideal if all members of the family are present during the consultation. In this way, each member can tell the me what they have observed, and all of the family members can participate in the discussion. If you are working with a trainer, it might also be advisable to invite the trainer to the consultation, some trainers may use techniques that are consistent with what you want to accomplish and others may be counterproductive.  Once all the information is gathered, I can then discuss the treatment plan with everybody involved, and ensure that each family member understands how the dog will be treated.


What will you do with my dog?
It is important for the behaviorist to observe the dog, as well as determining what sort of relationship there is between the dog and each family member.


Animal behaviorists are trained to observe behavior and body language of animals, and can determine whether the animal’s reactions to a situation are typical and/or normal

I will observe the general demeanor of your dog, as well as its response to specific test situations. Other pets within the home may also have an impact on the expression of problem behaviors and, if they can safely be brought to the consultation, they may need to be included.


Never provoke the pet to get video footage; safety for family members and other animals must be the first priority

In most cases, video of the problem situation can be useful to help the me understand the dog and the actions within the home context. Never provoke the pet to get video footage; safety for family members and other animals must be the first priority.


What will be involved in the treatment?
In all cases, some sort of behavior modification program will be recommended. If you do not have good structure and control of your dog (obedience commands like sit/stay etc), we will usually need to start there: this allows us to quickly reestablish Prediction – Focus –  Trust.

Then you will be shown how to modify your pet’s behavior using desensitization, counterconditioning, response modification, shaping, or other appropriate means. In addition, various management techniques may be used to avoid the triggers for problem behaviors and to keep people and other animals safe. In some cases, drug therapy may be necessary.


Why can’t I just send my pet away for training?
You and your family are the key to modifying and managing the behavior and reactions of your dog. In many cases the environment plays a role in the development and maintenance of problem behaviors. Training in another environment may not have much effect on the behavior in your home. Having a trainer or another person teach the dog how to behave does little to ensure that you will have the necessary control over the pet once it returns to your home environment.


By going to a behaviorist, your family will all become part of the solution for helping your pet become a better member of the family

It is important not only to modify the pet’s behavior, but also to teach all the family members how to maintain this training properly, using a combination of positive and negative reinforcement. By going to a behaviorist, your family will all become part of the solution for helping your pet become a better member of the family.


How Long Does it take to Fix my Dog?
Please understand that working to change your dogs behaviour requires Patience – Commitment – Consistency.  We aren’t ‘dog whispering’ or performing brain surgery. The techniques you will be shown WILL create the change in the behavior you desire. However, this takes time, you can’t rush it  and each case has its own pace.

Each session we have is 60 minutes in length, and there will be approximately 2 weeks between sessions. During this time you will be required to do your homework, if you do not, this process will FAIL. If you become lazy, ambivalent or complacent about what it is we are doing and why, this process will FAIL.


If you have anymore questions:

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