Do I need a dog trainer or a behaviourist?

In the UK anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or a behaviourist. As a result there are hundreds of trainers and behaviourists to choose from, but which one is best for your dog?

What do Dog Trainers do?

A dog trainer can teach your dog new commands/cues such as sit, stay and recall. These are behaviours that dog owners commonly want their dog to be able to perform and many are covered during puppy classes and obedience classes. Some dog trainers are also qualified to help train your dog in specialised tasks such as agility or scentwork. Whether you have a new puppy, a rescue dog that needs to learn the basics or a dog that you want to teach a new skill, a qualified dog trainer can help you achieve your goals.

For more complex problems such as nervousness, aggression or separation anxiety a dog behaviourist is needed.

What do Dog behaviourists do?

Dog behaviourists should be qualified and have achieved courses accredited by recognised universities or other providers. They are often affiliated with organisations such as the APBC. It is important to check whether the behaviourist you are considering has the necessary qualifications and is not just using the title to charge a higher fee. A behaviourist has an understanding of canine ethology, psychology and neuroscience and can help you understand the emotional motivations behind your dogs behaviour and as such is likely to cost more than a dog trainer. A good behaviourist can help with behaviours such as aggression, nervousness and abnormal behaviours, if they have both the qualifications and experience to do so. They will usually offer to see your dog at your home initially, to make an assessment. There is little use taking your dog to an office/training centre to see a behaviourist if the problems you are having happen at home. The behaviourist needs to see your dog in his/her normal environment.

A behaviourist may also refer you to your vet if they suspect there is an underlying medical cause to your dogs behaviour such as pain related aggression.

NB; Some pet insurance policies cover the cost of a behaviourist.

How do I choose the best trainer/behaviourist?

Do not be afraid to ask questions when you contact a trainer/behaviourist for the first time. Ask about their qualifications and experience. Some behaviourists also offer dog training services and some dog trainers are also qualified behaviourists, if you are not sure what you need its always best to ask.

The next important question to ask is about the methods they use. Force free, positive training is important for all dogs to ensure good welfare and success in teaching a new behaviour or changing a problem behaviour. Avoid trainers that advocate the use of punishment such as shouting at/hitting your dog, lead checks, squirting water in the dogs face, using loud noises to ‘distract’ your dog etc.

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