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Dog Trainer vs. Dog Behaviorist

By: Maria Garcia

Dog Owner/ Self Taught Dog Trainer

This is the question of the decade. Who is a dog trainer? Who is a dog behaviorist? What does a dog behaviorist do exactly? Should I take my dog to a dog trainer or a dog behaviorist? These are the questions that fill my group’s discussion board from members of the dog community as well as from other dog owners.

Many people are confused, and many are searching for the answers.

Often people seem to draw a very blurry line as to what is the job of a dog trainer and what is the job of a dog behaviorist. For a few years now I have noticed that a trend is beginning to emerge where members of the dog health and wellness community are using dog trainers and dog behaviorists interchangeably.

Some may think that it is okay to do since sometimes their roles may cross into each other’s boundaries. Others believe that there is a distinction that must be made between the two in order to correctly identify them and to know exactly what is expected from their services.

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Though I am not an expert of either of the two I spend a great deal of time being around both professions and I wish to clarify and correctly distinguish the differences made between a dog trainer and a dog behaviorist.

What’s the difference?

First, a good place to begin would be to define the two.

Dog Trainer – A dog trainer is one who seeks to employ social, defensive, attacking, and specialized skills into a dog’s cognitive instincts. Dogs, as well as every other animal in the world, are very instinctual creatures. 

They do not think the same way humans think. Therefore, a dog trainers’ job is to do exactly that; to train. These set of skills are skills that not every dog will possess. This training sets the dogs apart from the others because the trained dog will know to respond and react differently to commands given by the trainer. 

The best way for me to explain this is by comparison. To ‘train’ a dog is to employ the dog with a unique set of skills that is not usual instincts of canines in order to bring a sense of value to that dog. A dog that can listen to commands and act upon them correctly will essentially be a more valuable dog to humans and dog owners. 

Dogs have dog trainers and people have teachers, or parents, instructors, or mentors that all teach us to develop a skill set that sets us apart from others. This is to make us more employable, likable, and valuable human beings. So, technically speaking we are human trainers ourselves.

Dog Behaviorist – A dog behaviorist is one who specializes in attempting to observe and/or manipulate the behavior of a dog. 

I like to think of a dog behaviorist as being similar to a child’s psychologist. The reason I compare the two is that a child’s psychologist seeks to study the brain of the child, find out what that child thinks, why that child thinks the way they do, and to discover what ticks the child off causing him/her to act out in an unpredictable manner. 

At a young age, children can sometimes be a bit abrasive, stubborn, and unwelcoming. Like some small pups. Have you ever told a child “no” in a grocery store? Did the child burst out into tears and go on a 30-minute temper tantrum down aisle 9 of Walmart? If you have ever seen this or have been a victim of this then you are no stranger to what I am talking about here. 

This is like what a dog behaviorist will deal with on a regular basis. A dog behaviorist will observe the creature, attempt to understand their thoughts and recurring behavioral traits, and work on getting that dog to act as a normal dog would. 

A dog behaviorist will assist in some type of training such as brain training games for the behaviorist to better understand the brain of the dog. Understanding how the creature thinks should be the first step of developing the dog into a trained creature.

Granting, I myself am not an official dog trainer or behaviorist I have used the program BrainTraining4Dogs in my home and recommend it to others if they wish to better understand dogs as well as to better understand themselves as a dog habit developer (training) while simultaneously implementing my dogs with skills that will set them apart from other dogs at the park.

Who should you choose?

If you own a dog that you simply want to teach them tricks or basic commands such as sitting, shaking hands, rollover, etc then you would most likely be receiving more useful help from considering the services of a dog trainer. A dog trainer is best suited for this simply because they possess the skillsets needed as well as years of experience working with dogs to train them.

If you have a puppy or dog that reacts to certain situations in irrational ways or a dog that sees every opportunity to rip something of importance or value apart from and acts on it then chances are you would need to seek the assistance of a dog behaviorist.

A dog behaviorist would also need to be considered if you have a dog that has a hard time dealing with aggression, a dog dealing with anxiety, biting, barking for no apparent reason a dog that refuses to eat, a dog that ignores you when called or any other psychological reasons uncommon of canines.

If you believe that the situation is much worse than any of the issues above, you may want to consider taking your animal to a veterinarian where it can be properly assessed, and an accurate diagnosis can be given as it regards the mental status of your dog.

I hope that I have been able to accurately and correctly distinguish between a dog trainer versus a dog behaviorist. I also hope that my examples and analogies made it a bit easier for readers to comprehend. This can be a confusing topic for all, and I understand why this confusion has occurred.

Hopefully, I would have made it easier for others in the dog health and wellness community to have conversations on the topic without confusing the two or using the words interchangeably.

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