What is the difference between a dog trainer and a dog behaviourist?

By Jackie Murphy G. Dip AAB / A. Dip AAB (Canine) / MISAP (Beh) / MEST (QTLS)

What is the difference between a dog trainer and a dog behaviourist?  The first point here is to define the difference between a dog trainer and a canine/animal behaviourist. 

A dog trainer can:

  • Help with skills such as sit, down, recall, walking on a loose lead etc
  • Specialise in different dog sectors such as agility, flyball or scent work
  • Help an owner privately through 1-2-1 training or through classes or groups
  • A dog trainer is invaluable help for a new puppy and owner as they will give them the tools to help them steer through, not only the human world, but also the various stages of puppyhood and beyond
  • A dog trainer is rather like a child’s teacher as they may hold a teaching qualification and qualifications in dog training 

A dog or animal behaviourist can:

  • Help with addressing the dog’s behaviour which can include areas such as aggression (sometimes with a bite history), destructive chewing, separation anxiety, phobias etc 
  • Behaviours often have many factors such as emotional, hormonal, medical, etc and a complex history and assessment is required to get a complete and full understanding of the behaviour and its causes
  • A personalised programme based on the behaviourist analysis should be provided to the owner.  The programme will likely include several aspects of dog’s environment, health (working with veterinary surgeon), routines, situation, with maintenance strategies and changes to help the behaviour
  • The dog behaviourist may hold a degree or equivalent in applied animal behaviour (level 6)
  • A dog behaviourist is rather like a physiologist or counsellor who specialises in a particular area of the canine. 

You may also have a professional that is qualified in both dog behaviour and dog training and therefore has a broader range of knowledge and expertise in both training and behaviour. 

How to find the right person to help you:

  • Write down the problem areas that your dog is displaying.
  • Ask your veterinary surgeon for a full health check on your dog – explain the behaviours being displayed – often the dog will display behaviours before clinical signs are displayed. 
  • Research through possible professionals and read through their websites, articles, blog posts (what services do they offer).
  • Do they have reviews – have a search on google, social media, etc. 
  • Have a read through on their style of work and their personality.
  • Call them – most trainers and behaviourists will welcome owners to speak to them over the phone. 
  • Ask them questions – have they dealt with the behaviour before, have they trained this breed of dog, etc. 
  • Do not book straight away, go away and have a think about it.  Phone round different behaviourists or trainers and decide on whether you could you work with this behaviourist or trainer.
  • Compare styles of training, programmes offered for behaviour and costs (remember cheap or expensive is not always a consideration, it is what they are offering, how they work, can they help you, and more importantly would you be happy for them to work with your dog, etc). 
  • Costs will vary, it is the expertise, knowledge, their ability to help you and work with you, support you and your dog.  Some trainers will offer a training report so that you can follow through on the training exercises.  Behaviourists will send through a report outlining the programme to help with addressing the behaviour.

The main difference between a dog trainer and dog behaviour is:

Dog TrainerDog Behaviourist
Helps with basic skills and dog training.Addressing the dog’s behaviour.
Can work 1-2-1, but mainly dog classes or dog groups.Works on a 1-2-1 basis with dog and owner.
Have the experience in different training methods and different training sectors (such as flyball, agility, etc)Have the knowledge of the dog’s mind and applies psychology to understand the behaviour and help to address it.
Helps owners teach their dogs specific life skills to keep them safe – loose lead walking and recall when off lead.Help the owner understand why their dog is behaving in the way it is and also looks at the motivation of the dog (whether it is good or bad). 

Different types of training and behaviour issues to consider if you need a dog trainer or dog behaviourist:

The dog jumps up at visitors to greet them when they come into your home.The dog is growling and/or barking or trying to bite the visitor as they come into the home.
The dog jumps up at the kitchen work surfaces stealing food while the owner is trying to prepare the meal. The dog jumps up the kitchen work surfaces and steals the food, then as the owner tries to take the food they are growling, snapping and hard stares at the owner.  The owner cannot get the food back again.
Your dog (or puppy) is not fully toilet trained or they are chewing household items.The dog (or puppy) is toileting in the house, vocalising and destroying items when you leave the home or when you leave them in a room.
The dog pulls on the lead each time you take them for a walk. The dog pulls on the lead, but as they pass people and/or other dogs they are lunging and/or barking at them. 
The dog does not come back when called when it is allowed off lead in the park.The dog runs up to other dogs barking and jumping on them when off lead in the park.

Here in the UK, some years ago the government set up a study group known as Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) to investigate the possibility of regulating dog behaviourists and dog trainers.  Many societies and organisations have since arose since this first group and although they all differ there is a distinct belief that a recommendation that a behaviourist should be qualified up to a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in animal behaviour.  For dog trainers many now hold a teaching qualification and a qualification in understanding how the dog learns.  They work with both the dog and owner and in teaching the owner how to train the dog.

Above all it is important that whether you choose a dog trainer to help with life skills training or a behaviourist to help you with addressing your dog’s behaviour, that your dog’s welfare is always prioritised.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us here at Specialist Dog Training, we welcome the chance to join your journey to equip you and your dog / puppy with skills and techniques to get the desired results.

So, start your journey today with Specialist Dog Training, based in Kent with home visits available across Kent, South-East London, Essex, Sussex and Surrey.

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