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Do I need a dog behaviourist to help with my dog's reactivity, fear or aggression?

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Dog trainer, behaviour consultant, behaviourist. So many titles - but which is the right one for my dog?

dog trainers London Ontario

When it comes to addressing behavioral issues or training your furry friend, it's essential to understand the key differences between a behaviour consultant, behaviourist and a dog trainer. While all of these professionals work with dogs, their approaches, qualifications, and goals are distinct. Let's delve into these differences to help you make an informed decision about who to consult for your dog training needs.

The Behaviour Consultant: Understanding Canine Behaviour

A dog behaviour consultant is a professional who specializes in understanding and addressing behavioural issues in dogs. Certifications to look for are CDBC (Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant) or CBCC (Certified Behaviour Consultant - Canine). Others without these certifications may also refer to themselves as behaviour consultants if they often work with dogs exhibiting complex or severe behavior problems. Here are some key aspects of a dog behaviour consultant's role:

  1. Assessment: Behaviour consultants thoroughly assess a dog's behavior, taking into account the dog's history, environment, and any medical or emotional factors that may be contributing to the problem.

  2. Diagnosis: Behaviour consultants look for the root causes of behavioral issues, which can include fear, anxiety, aggression, or other underlying emotional factors. They use their knowledge of animal behaviour to pinpoint the source of the problem.

  3. Treatment Plans: Behaviour consultants create customized treatment plans tailored to the specific needs of the dog. These plans often involve behavior modification techniques, counterconditioning, desensitization, and other strategies to address the underlying causes of the behavior.

  4. Education: Behaviour consultants also educate dog owners about their pet's behavior and how to implement the recommended strategies effectively. This education is a crucial part of the process to ensure long-term success.

  5. Ongoing Support: Behaviour consultants typically provide ongoing support and follow-up to monitor progress and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

The Dog Trainer: Teaching Obedience and Skills

On the other hand, a dog trainer primarily focuses on teaching dogs obedience and specific skills. They may not have the same advanced academic qualifications as behaviorists, but they are skilled in dog training techniques. Here's what you can expect from a dog trainer:

  1. Basic Obedience: Dog trainers excel at teaching basic commands such as sit, stay, come, and leash walking. They help dogs learn good manners and improve their behavior through positive reinforcement training methods.

  2. Skill Development: Trainers can teach dogs specialized skills, including agility training, search and rescue training, and tricks. Their goal is to enhance a dog's abilities and provide mental stimulation.

  3. Socialization: Dog trainers often facilitate socialization sessions to help dogs interact with other dogs and people in a controlled and positive environment.

  4. Group Classes: Many dog trainers offer group classes where dogs can learn alongside other dogs and receive exposure to various situations.

  5. Problem-Solving: While trainers can address common behavioral issues, their primary focus is on training and improving a dog's performance in specific areas rather than diagnosing and treating deep-seated behavior problems.

The Behaviourist: Diagnostics and Advanced Education

Although many dog trainers may call themselves "behaviourists", the only people who technically fall into this category are:

  • Veterinary Behaviourists: veterinarians who have undergone additional schooling and taken an exam in order to treat behavioural issues in dogs, cats and/or other species. Veterinary Behaviourists are specialists in behaviour medications, connecting medical and behavioural issues and troubleshooting/diagnosing anxiety or compulsive disorders.

  • Certified Applied Animal Behaviourists/Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviourists: these professionals have a masters or PhD level education in animal behaviour and tend to take on more complex dog training/behaviour cases, but will approach cases in the same capacity as a behaviour consultant. These professionals do not have prescribing privileges.

Choosing the Right Professional

To decide whether a dog behaviourist, behaviour consultant or a dog trainer is the right choice for your dog, consider the nature of the issues you're facing:

  • If your dog has behavioural problems like aggression, fear, anxiety or reactivity, consulting a behaviour consultant is advisable as a first step.

  • If your dog has complex medical issues going on as well as behavioural challenges, a veterinary behaviourist should be your go-to. This is also the case for dogs with compulsive disorders, severe fear/anxiety or who are in need of a behaviour medication review.

  • For basic obedience training, manners, and skill development, a dog trainer may be more suitable.

  • In some cases, a combination of both professionals' expertise may be necessary to achieve the best results.

Tess Morgan is a certified dog trainer and behaviour consultant in London, Ontario. She specializes in reactive dog training, aggressive dog training, fearful dogs and separation anxiety. She also works with families with small children and dogs.

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