Is there really a difference between a dog trainer and a dog behaviorist?
These days there are so many different titles for dog trainers, and it can be quite confusing. There’s dog trainer, professional dog trainer, certified dog trainer, dog behaviorist, dog behavior consultant, canine behavior evaluator, expert dog behavior trainer, behavior specialist, and the list goes on. For the purposes of this article, we’ll divide up the titles into two groups: dog trainers (titles including the word training) and dog behaviorists (titles including the word behavior).
So what’s the difference between a dog trainer and a dog behaviorist? Is there a difference?
Depends on who you ask. A little time spent on the Google machine will likely turn up various definitions for the terms. There is no organization to implement and enforce any universal standards for people who work with dogs in a training capacity; therefore, anyone is free to call themselves a dog trainer, a dog behaviorist, a dog coach, or even a dog wizard. These folks are also free to define these terms any way they like.
Some people take their title very seriously. I once observed a dog behavior consultant insist that he’s not a dog trainer. A stranger, who had been watching him work with a dog, asked him if he was a dog trainer. He replied, “no, I work with behavior.” The stranger said, “yes, that’s what I said – a dog trainer.” He continued to insist that he’s not a trainer, he’s a dog behavior consultant. The stranger was confused and a bit put off by his attitude. Frankly, so was I. What’s the harm in using a term people recognize? Would it have hurt to simply explain what kind of dog training you do?
I’ve witnessed the other end of the spectrum as well. There are people who worry that they’ll be associated with certain trainers or methods if they even mention behavior. I was once informed by a dog trainer who strictly adhered to a certain methodology that any dog trainer who dwells on the term “behavior” doesn’t use humane methods. (For the record, that’s absolute B.S.)
Finally, there is the less common, but still prevalent, assumption that formal education (a master’s degree, etc.) separates dog behaviorists from dog trainers. These folks believe behaviorists have spent time (and money) studying animal behavior in a formal educational setting, whereas trainers have an informal education. Just like there’s no governing body to define titles, there’s also no governing body to determine whether formal education better prepares someone to modify canine behavior. I’d be willing to bet that the opposite is true – do any research on highly successful dog behaviorists (trainers, behavior consultants, whatever) and you’ll find that the vast majority have no formal education on the subject. There is much to be learned from books, discussion and research; however, dog behavior – and more importantly, dog behavior modification – is something best learned through first hand observation and experience.
Personally, I believe a trainer or behaviorist’s skill set and results should mean far more than a title. If you’re concerned about the implications of a title, simply ask questions. Ask about their experience, their skills, the results they get, the philosophies they believe in, and the methods they use.
Have you been searching for a Philadelphia dog trainer, or a Philadelphia dog behaviorist? I have worked with many different behavior issues, from “minor” issues like jumping, housebreaking, and leash pulling, to “major” issues such as all forms of aggression, anxiety, and fearful behavior. I’ve helped many dogs change, and many families learn to communicate with their dogs. I can help you, too!
Change IS possible – believe it!