Dog owners are often faced with unruly pets, either as young puppies or adult dogs; however, not all problems stem from lack of training—in many cases the issues arise from conditions that result in a dog being fearful, aggressive, or generally destructive. These are not the consequences of lack of or bad training, but rather behavioral problems that have developed over time and if not addressed in time and in a proper fashion can make living with such a dog impossible. So what is a dog behaviorist, and how is their job different than that of a trainer?

Dog trainers are the quintessential coach or teacher, and are able to teach dogs an endless array of tricks, and necessary abilities, such as housebreaking, following commands, and adhering to proper behavior around a variety of people and animals. A dog trainer is a professional whose aim and capability is to train a to do things a certain way and follow direction from its owner. The training can be for a puppy or an adult dog. For example, if you need to teach your dog to heel, or sit (and stay) when told, and not move until given a command, then a professional dog trainer is what you will need (unless of course you are willing to do the training yourself). Unlike a dog trainer, a behaviorist does not necessarily deal with teaching behavior, tricks, and commands; a behaviorist’s job is to identify the reason for and implement the solution to behavioral problems such as aggressiveness and biting.

A dog behaviorist works to modify a dog’s behavior, rather than teaching the dog to do something new or do things a certain way. Behaviorists do not need to have formal training; however, they do need extensive experience with dogs (and other animals) in order to be able to identify and address behavioral problems.

It is important to note that there is a difference between a dog behaviorist (who deals exclusively with dogs) and an animal behaviorist. Animal behaviorists have received extensive education, and obtained graduate degrees in a field related to animals, and have received post-graduate certification in animal behavior. In most cases pet owners will not be able (or need) to seek the help of an animal behaviorist, as they are few of them and due to the scarcity, they command high prices. Professional animal behaviorists who have receive the above mentioned education will identify themselves in written form by the post-nominals “CAAB” (Certified Animal Behaviorist) or “AVSAB Certified” (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Certified).

In most cases, dog owners will seek out the help of dog behaviorists who are experienced dog trainers that also specialize in behavioral issues. Those especially dedicated may have certification through professional organizations such as the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, or the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. It should be noted that each such association has its own set of guidelines, requirements, and standards for membership and certification, so before selecting a behaviorist, it might be useful to learn about the organization through which they are certified in order to better understand their approach, and philosophy when it comes to dog behavior modification.

The job of the behaviorist is to root out the emotional basis for the physical manifestation that is to be addressed, and may even work with veterinarians in order to be able to deal with certain problem with medication.

If you feel that your dog may have, or is developing behavioral issues, it is advisable to seek out the opinion of your veterinarian in order to determine a course of action, which may include getting help from a dog behaviorist.