Whether you’ve had your pet for a long time, or are just welcoming a new addition to the family, pet behavior training can be incredibly helpful. Most of the time, animals aren’t trying to annoy us, they’re just following their natural instinct.

Pet behavior training can help us and our pets understand each other better. Luckily there are dedicated pet behavior specialists that can help us out with this process. Professionals in the pet-behavior field include:

  • Trainers
  • Certified Professional Dog Trainers
  • Dog Behaviorists

Pet Behavior Problems

Problem behaviors in dogs — like excessive barking or jumping on guests — can come on suddenly or gradually. When they happen, it can be stressful for you and your dog.

If your dog is experiencing behavioral problems, sometimes working with a dog behaviorist can be a great solution. They can help you with puppy training, or help a new dog adjust to a new home. However, if your dog’s behavior problems stem from a medical condition, only a licensed veterinarian can diagnose and prescribe medication.

Sometimes a sudden change in your dog’s behavior could be a sign of an underlying medical problem. See a veterinarian to make sure your dog is healthy. If your veterinarian rules out medical issues, you’ll need to identify the cause of the changes to develop a behavior modification plan.

Types of Dog Behaviorists

Dog trainers and behaviorists have varying degrees of knowledge and experience, which may include formal and informal training. They can help pet owners with things like obedience, agility, search and rescue, and tracking. Because each dog behaviorist's experience and style of teaching varies so much, it’s important to find someone that gets along with you and your dog.

Here's more information about the difference between these professionals and how they can help.

Certified Professional Dog Trainers. Dog behaviorists who attend specialized schools can become certified after they meet certain requirements. Certified professional dog trainers have obtained professional certification by passing a standardized test given by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

As a part of the certification process, certified professional dog trainers are required to meet a certain number of hours in dog training and must provide professional reference letters. Throughout this training, they learn how to modify unwanted dog behaviors and how to share their knowledge with others.

Applied Animal Behaviorists. An applied animal behaviorist is someone who has obtained an advanced degree in the field. They are experts in the behavior of dogs, cats, and some other animals.

Some of these applied animal behaviorists go on to pursue careers as veterinarians and have completed a residency in animal behavior. People with this certification often have a wide knowledge base and are highly trained in the areas of:

  • Animal behavior 
  • Biology
  • Zoology
  • Psychology
  • Learning theory

Applied animal behaviorists can help you understand why your pet is acting the way they are and figure out how to change it for the better. They are experts in behavior modification and know what techniques to use to get the best possible outcome.

If an underlying medical condition is causing the unwanted pet behavior, applied animal behaviorists can help identify the underlying issue.

Veterinary Behaviorists. When individuals attend veterinary school, they will complete some courses in animal behavior, but extensive knowledge of animal behavior isn’t required. Some people, however, will go on to pursue more extensive education in this area. Veterinarians interested in pursuing more extensive education can complete a residency in animal behavior and pass a veterinary board exam. By doing this, they become diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

This special designation allows veterinarians to become experts in both the medical and physical causes of animal behavior. They can prescribe medications like antibiotics or thyroid supplements for physical symptoms and they can also prescribe medications like anti-anxiety or antidepressants for emotional concerns. In addition, they can also help guide you and your pet through behavior modification techniques. 

Dog Behaviorist: What They Don’t Do

Working with a dog behaviorist can sometimes be a great solution for behavioral problems. They can help you with puppy training, or help a new dog adjust to a new home. However, if your dog’s behavior problems stem from a medical condition, only a licensed veterinarian can diagnose and prescribe medication.

If your dog is experiencing physical pain or showing signs of physical distress, it’s important to see your veterinarian right away. Sometimes unwanted behavior is a sign that they are uncomfortable or sick, especially in older pets.

Because veterinarians are highly qualified in all aspects of animal behavior and have medical training, they are able to give a diagnosis that addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of your dog's health. By approaching them using this perspective, the veterinarian is able to provide the care your dog deserves.

Dog Training Options

When you’re considering what type of training is best for your dog, it’s important to find the right match. Knowing your dog's personality and traits can help you find the right methods for both you and your dog.

Some of the most common dog training options include:

Group class. Group classes are often offered at various dog training schools. When deciding which class is right for you and your dog, it can be helpful to sit in on a few different classes to observe before you make a commitment. Do the dogs in the class look happy? Is everyone enjoying themselves? Is the class being held in a safe and welcoming environment?

Although group classes don’t offer as much one-on-one attention, it can be a great way to socialize your dog and save some money. Group classes tend to cost less than private sessions.

Private Sessions. Private sessions can be particularly helpful if you’re looking to address a specific behavioral concern with your dog. For instance, if your dog jumps up on people too much, barks excessively, or is showing signs of aggression toward other people or animals, private sessions may be really helpful.

A good dog behaviorist will be able to more than just train your dog. They’ll be able to help you and your dog understand each other better and create a long-term plan for success.

Day training. Day training is a great alternative for busy people who don’t have the time to devote to training and correcting problematic dog behavior. During the day, a dog trainer teaches your dog and focuses on the specific obedience behaviors you want. The trainer can do this in your home, or you can drop your dog off at a training facility.

This can be a great way to give your dog personalized attention without having to make a big time commitment.

Board and Train. With the board and train option, you drop off your dog at a dog training facility for a few weeks where a dog behaviorist completes a long-term training program. This can take a lot of pressure off of you because all of the training is done for you and you don’t have to be there. But for this method to work well, the trainer needs to give you tips on how to keep up your pets new behavior once the training is over. Also, be aware that it can cost several thousand dollars to send your dog to a board and train.

How to Decide Which Professional to Choose

When you’re trying to decide which training option to choose and which professional to work with, there are a lot of important questions to keep in mind. Not all dog behaviorists are the same and not everyone will be a good fit for your dog and your family. 

A good dog behaviorist will be happy to answer your questions. Here are a few topics that are worth asking about:

  • What formal education and training do they have? 
  • Does the trainer have a specific certification or degree? 
  • How much time are they going to give your dog? 
  • Do they use fear-based or positive reward training? Gentle methods are generally more effective. 
  • Do they use humane training equipment? 
  • Does the dog trainer treat you and your dog with respect? 
  • What do the reviews/testimonials say about the trainer or behavior program? 

If you have a specific concern about your dog’s behavior, try to look for a dog behaviorist that specializes in that area. Although some specialists charge more than others for their services, sometimes you get more value from a professional with more specific know-how. 

What Happens After You’ve Chosen a Dog Behaviorist

Many pet behaviorists refer to dog training as family training. It’s about everyone working together to implement and reinforce what is learned.

After you’ve chosen your dog behaviorist, remember that it takes time for change to happen. It can help to be patient with the process and be open to trying new things. The work you put in with your pet will pay off over time.

If you suspect your pet has underlying medical problems that are causing the unwanted behavior, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your veterinarian. 

WebMD Medical Reference

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