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

There are many names and titles for those who train dogs. However, not all of them are equipped to deal with behavioral issues. The dog training industry is un-regulated which means anyone can call themselves a trainer or behaviorist. You don’t technically need any certifications to be a trainer. This is why it is important to ask your trainer for their qualifications.

Dog trainers train dogs to perform specific tasks, including obedience (sit, down, stay, etc), agility, hunting, etc. Some trainers will take on behavioral problems like reactivity, separation anxiety or aggression. However, the majority of behavioral problems cannot be solved with teaching obedience. A good trainer also will admit when something is out of their depth and refer out to a behaviorist. 

Behaviorists are trainers who took the next step in their education and have become certified in solving behavioral problems. They are basically phycologists for dogs. They focus on understanding the dog’s behavior and why it occurred while also delving into retraining the dog’s brain. They have the understanding of training the dogs’ emotional conditioned responses. They are qualified to go beyond simple training and handle any behavior modification needed for a dog. 

Then we have Veterinary Behaviorists. They are Veterinarians who specialize in behavior.  They can diagnose a behavior problem, prescribe any medications needed and come up with a behavior modification treatment plan. To become a Veterinary Behaviorist is a long and intense process. Not only do they complete the schooling to become a veterinarian (DVM), but they also must complete a 1-year internship, a 3-year residency in behavior, author a scientific paper, write peer-reviewed case studies, and pass a rigorous examination. They are the absolute best when it comes to behavior problems. There are very few veterinary behaviorists in the US, and they require a referral.  Therefore, they tend to be booked out several months and tend to see the patients who have refractory issues or who have any neurological issues. 

Any trainer who tells you they can fix a severe behavioral issue in a couple weeks is using harsh punishment. This will cause the dog to shut down emotionally and cause a bigger reaction down the road. It also makes you extremely reliant on using tools for the life of the dog. You aren’t changing the emotional response or retraining their brain. A relapse in behavior will happen, it’s just a matter of when. Punishment can also make a simple behavioral problem turn severe. 

How do you tell the difference between a trainer and a behaviorist?

Here are some of the credentials you should look out for. This is not the full list, but these are the most common you will see. Please ask your trainer for their qualifications and schools to determine if they are right for you. If you would like referrals to qualified trainers, please call or message us for our recommendations.

  • CCDT
  • PDT
  • FDM
  • CTC
  • CTDI (trick training)
  • CCFC (fitness coach) 
  • There are many, many certifications out there for trainers. So, always ask about their own training and how many years of experience they have. 

For a behaviorist certification, here are the qualifications to look for. 

  • DACVB (veterinary behaviorist) 
  • CSAT (separation anxiety only)
  • CDBC
  • CDBT
  • SARPRO (separation only)
  • CAAB
  • MAT (master aggression trainer)
  • PDT-G

Trainers and Behaviorists who are members of an organization are required to continue their education. They are always learning and using updated training methods. Here are the memberships to look for. 

  • PPG (Pet Profession Guild)
  • APDT (Association of Profession Dog Trainers)
  • IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals)
  • IAABC (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
  • AVBT (Association of Veterinary Behavior) 
  • LIMA (Least Intrusive and Minimally Aversive) 

Behavior problems are the number one reason dogs are given to the shelter, and in the top 3 reasons dogs are euthanized.  So why take the chance and have someone helping you train your dog who doesn’t have experience?  Not to mention living with an untrained dog is very stressful!  If your pup needs training or if you have any questions, please feel free to call or text us today!