My title is ‘dog behaviourist’ and I often get asked do I train dogs?  and what is the difference between a dog trainer and a dog behaviourist?

Yes, I do personally have knowledge of how dogs learn in which I can then adapt this to training a dog to gain different behaviours to the undesirable ones which people come to me about. In my view though there are some marked differences between a professional dog trainer and a certified dog behaviourist.

To give an example, your dog may walk perfectly on the lead, sits nicely and stays but cannot be left alone without a full demolition happening in your home. You may have two very well trained obedient dogs but when left to their own devices they do not get along with each other. Your dog may love you and its family dog members but not like other people or other dogs.

I recently was contacted about a lack of recall from my clients dog, this would be considered a training issue but on further investigation the lack of recall was due to a strong element of the dog’s need to protect the family unit by seeing others off, keeping them away from the family, rather than simply running off and not wanting to come back.   Another case I was called to was regarding excitable ‘naughty’ behaviours, was this basic obedience? No, this case turned out to be due to high anxiety levels.  Therefore, some of the undesirable behaviours we may see in our dogs can be fuelled by underlying issues.

A trainer helps and instructs owners to train new behaviours to their dogs. There may be many different types of breeds and varying ages in the class. The objective is for the owners to learn with the instruction of the trainer to get their dog to sit, stay, come, settle, leave and walk nicely on the lead.  Some trainers run agility classes, fly ball, retrieving, service rescue, and scenting.  Trainers have a varied knowledge of the ways to gain the objective of the said command to be followed by the dog and should understand operant and reward-based positive training in full.

Now, onto the dog behaviourist. A behaviourist is often called in to issues regarding the state of mind of the dog rather than its training requirements.  The dog may be showing fearful, aggressive or obsessional behaviours. Clients come to myself with a variety of issues, aggression to other dogs or people, separation anxiety, inter dog family relationship issues, tail and shadow chasing, barking and excitable behaviours, poor attention span, car fears, prey drive behaviours and there are many more weird and wonderful things that pop up in my consultations with my clients.

To be able to address behavioural issues, a behaviourist has to have a stack of detailed information, right from the onset,  background history, health, present day to day regimes, diet, genetics and importantly what happens prior to and after the behaviour of concern. Without this information, it is harder to drill down to what, when and why these behaviours are happening. Without knowing why the dog is carrying out the behaviour it can become virtually impossible to secure the correct rehabilitation programme that will obtain long term success. With all the pieces of information, the jigsaw of success in applying the correct positive solutions will make all the difference to you and your dog’s life together.

Behaviourists have to have a wide knowledge of different breed traits, experience in many different dog behaviours and the situations in when they occur, knowledge of the history and origin of dogs, dog to dog relationships and operant learning, counter conditioning emotional responses and desensitizing.

Positive reward training has been a huge breakthrough in the dog world for training and behavioural issues. The dogs mind and how it thinks has in recent decades and is still being studied leading to huge advancements in its functionality.  We all know that the dog is the man’s best friend and they have helped us for centuries in our tasks but the sensory and mind power is far beyond anything we could have imagined in days gone by.

The sum it all up, yes the two professions are closely linked. Dog trainers have experience in training methods and how a dog relates to learning. Dog behaviourists have an in depth knowledge of the dogs mind and will use psychology to gain the desired behaviour and may bring in elements of training to help support the behavioural modification plan.

When deciding on a dog trainer or dog behaviourist it is important to look at what the issues are with your dog.  If your basic obedience in the training class is good but you are still having problems outside the classroom then a behaviourist can probably help you with what the core issues are and how to implement new regimes and solutions within the home and outside environment. You may have found that your dog may misbehave in a training class and you end up sitting out in the hall way to not disrupt the class. Again a behaviourist can possibly dig deeper to the root cause of this as it may be an anxiety issue or lack of impulse control and will be able to assist you on a psychology level with your dog.