Do I Need a Dog Trainer or a Behaviourist?

October 30, 2022 | Reading Time: 6 minutes

You are having a problem with your dog’s behaviour and you can’t fix it. So you start to look for someone who can.

When you start asking around for recommendations, or researching online some people will say you need a dog trainer and some will say you need a behaviourist. Leaving you confused as to which one you need. 

It’s important to find the right support for you and your pooch. Getting it wrong at best may be ineffective and waste your money; at worst may make the problem even worse.

Even if you are only having a small struggle, it is better to act sooner rather than later. Many behavioural problems will only get worse over time without intervention.

Is this article we are going to answer:

What is a trainer?

What is a Behaviourist?

What should I look for in a trainer or behaviourist?

Which one do I need?

tl:dr

A Dog Trainer Is Your Coach.

A trainer is someone who works with you and your dog over a period of time, to teach you how to get your dog to do things, such as:

  • Walk nicely on a lead without pulling.
  • Come back when you call them.
  • Stop jumping up at people.
  • Obedience like sit, down and stay.

They will break training down into achievable steps and coach you through achieving success in the skill you want. 

You will receive help to understand how to communicate with your dog, so your dog reliably does as you ask.

Trainers work over multiple sessions.

A training session usually involves meeting with your trainer and practicing training exercises with your pup. They will give you feedback in real time to help you and your dog be more successful.

Often your first session will be in an environment where your dog is able to listen and focus on you. Quickly sessions progress to real life environments, such as: parks or locations where you are experiencing the problem.


Most dogs can behave and do the training exercises in your living room, but it can be harder to get your canine companion to cooperate out and about.


The success of training can often hinge on small changes in what you are doing.

A trainer will focus on areas of training such as timing, reward placement and mechanics (which is just a fancy word for what you do with your hands and body).

Pros of a trainer:

– Provides ongoing support and accountability.

– Will take your training into the real world and help you implement it.

– Teaches you to be a trainer for your dog. 

Cons of a trainer:

– Won’t be able to resolve your problem if it is behavioural.

– They don’t look at the whole picture including health, diet and lifestyle. 

– Rarely gives detailed reports or plans.

A Behaviourist is More Like a Detective.

It’s a behaviourists job to look over every aspect of your dog’s behaviour and life. This allows them to build up a picture and get to understand what’s going on that is causing the behavioural problem. 

This is needed for struggles such as:

  • Barking and aggression towards dogs and people.
  • Nervousness and anxiety.
  • Separation anxiety.
  • Resource guarding food, toys or people.

A behaviourist will start with your dog’s health. This will likely look like a vet visit to assess your dog for underlying health conditions and pain. 

If one of these things is responsible for your dog’s behaviour, no amount of training will make it go away so it’s the best place to start. 

Once your dog has a clean bill of health they will dive into assessing your dog and identifying the problem. 

They will look at areas of your dog’s lifestyle such as history, diet, routines, stress and sleep. 

Often, there needs to be lifestyle changes for your dog, accompanied by training, to resolve their behaviour.


Practice Makes Permanent

They won’t need to ‘see the behaviour in action’.

If you already have some videos showing the behaviour it can be helpful to share them. But a behaviourist won’t need you to recreate the behaviour for them to help. 

They will believe what you describe, and ask lots of questions to understand what’s going on.


This is because the more your dog practices a behaviour the stronger it becomes, and the more likely it is to happen more frequently or even escalate. 

Using all this information they will describe their view of what’s going on and help you understand your dog’s behaviour.


The behaviourist will then send you a write up of your appointment along with a behaviour modification plan. 

The write up will detail what you discussed during the appointment, and the behaviour modification plan will tell you what needs to be done to resolve the problem.

A behaviour plan can cover lots of different areas, such as:

Lifestyle Changes – Changing certain aspects of your dogs lifestyle can alleviate the behaviour problem.

Management – Preventing your dog doing the behaviour so it doesn’t get worse.

Medication – Some dogs will require medication to help them resolve their struggles, alongside training. 

Counter Conditioning – Changing your dogs emotional response towards something so its comfortable with it. 

Desensitising – Slowly getting your dog used to something.

Training – Teaching new behaviours that support the behaviour you do want from your dog.

‘If you always do what you did, you will always get what you got’

– Henry Ford

If you are unable to change anything or spend time implementing your plan you are unlikely to see results. 

Even the worlds best dog trainer or behaviourist won’t be able to help you if you aren’t open to listening to them and putting into practice what they show you. 

Pros of a behaviourst :

– A higher level of knowledge on behavioral problems.

– Can identify the root cause of the problem.

– Provide detailed plans
.

Cons of a behaviourist:

– Can leave you without ongoing support.

– Don’t always offer practical sessions.

– Costly to work with over multiple sessions
.

You’ve got a friend in me. 

One of the most important things you can look for in a trainer or a behaviourist is someone that is going to support you on your journey. 

Whether you are working on getting your dog to stop chasing squirrels or not lunge and bark at other dogs, there will be highs and lows, struggles and celebrations.


Having someone on your team that’s available to talk these through and help you overcome hiccups is invaluable. 

If you’re having a bad day, you need someone to listen.

‘The path of progress is seldom smooth’

– William Mckinley

Training a dog is not a linear process, it’s inevitable that there will be setbacks and the plan will need adjusting, or you might forget exactly how to do something.


Additionally, and hopefully, your dog will change!


When you begin training, your dog may be a novice at the exercises, as they improve they will need the training to adapt with them.


Having regular sessions so your dog can be assessed as you progress is essential to success.

The other benefit to ongoing support is someone to keep you on track. 

Just like you won’t lose weight if you don’t work out, your dog’s behaviour won’t improve if you don’t consistently do the training.


Having a personal trainer makes that easier!


Someone who’s going to check in with you and ask if you’ve done the homework, coach you to improve and progress.

Which came first: The chicken or the egg?

Is a lack of training causing your dog’s behaviour? Or is an underlying behaviour problem getting in the way of your training progressing?


This can be a tricky question to answer, but essentially:


It depends!


When you reach out to a dog trainer or a behaviourist they are going to have a short conversation with you and ask you some questions before taking a booking from you.


These questions will help them identify what’s going on and if they feel you need different support they will tell you and refer you on to the right service.


If they offer both services, they will put you on the most relevant programme. 


Half a dozen of one, half a dozen of the other. 


Unless you are having a very straightforward training issue, it’s likely having both behaviour and training support will be beneficial. 


A behaviourist to assess your dog and produce the plan to resolve the behaviour, and a trainer to help you implement it and support you along the way. 


The best of both worlds.

It is possible to find a person, or team, that has the expertise as both a behaviour expert and practical trainer.


They are likely to offer programmes that include an assessment and then ongoing sessions for as long as you will need the support to get the results you are looking for. 


Programmes are the best way to work with a professional as they offer all elements of what makes behaviour change successful.

Instead of giving you just part of the process and then leaving you wondering why it hasn’t worked. 

Ask questions such as:

– Do you do an assessment and provide a written plan?

– Will you come out and show me the training exercises?

– Are any of the sessions out and about in the real world?

– How often will we have contact? Will you be available if I need support? 

tl;dr

A trainer helps you teach skills to your dog, a behaviourist assesses and identifies the root cause of problems.


Often you need elements of both plus ongoing support to resolve behavioural problems.

Still not sure? 

Give us a call on 0292120013 and we can book in a free mini phone consultation to find out if you need a dog trainer or a behaviourist.

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