Do You Need a Dog Behaviorist?

A certified dog behaviorist has a PhD in animal behavior or veterinary medicine and can be a valuable resource in working with difficult behavior problems such as aggression.

Finding a Dog Behaviorist

Because there is no one-size-fits-all certification process for dog trainers, anyone can call him or herself a dog behaviorist. Most times, these behaviorists are no more qualified than your average dog trainer or dog coach, but just call themselves by a different name.

If you feel that you just need guidance in training a few behavior problems, any of these trainers will work for you. Before deciding on one, however, peruse their website and learn about their education and experience. Check out the qualifications for their certification process to see if you feel this meets your needs. Ask about continuing education, as dog training is a rapidly changing field.

When you select a trainer to call, ask them about their specific expertise and experience level with the problems you're having. Ask about their methods and select one whose philosophy is similar to yours. There are many successful ways to train the same behavior problem, so don't let your trainer talk you into something with which you are uncomfortable.

Choosing to Use a Dog Behaviorist

Deciding if you need a trainer or behaviorist is a personal decision. However, you may need a trainer if you have tried several training methods and none of them seem to work. If your dog is out of control and you feel at your wit's end, hire a trainer. You may want to hire a trainer if this is your first dog and you aren't sure what to do.

More serious problems may warrant a dog behaviorist. A true dog behaviorist has a PhD in animal behavior, psychology or veterinary medicine. It's a recognized option in most veterinary schools now, so many of them work closely with veterinarians and trainers in the area.

Many trainers without PhDs are capable of handling serious behavior problems. If your dog has bitten someone or another dog, you probably need a trainer to learn to manage this situation. If serious injury is involved, you may want to start with a behaviorist, although many trainers can also handle these cases.

If your dog has severe anxiety or separation anxiety, a dog behaviorist can be the only option. If your dog causes damage to himself or never seems to calm down, he may need medication for a behavior program to be successful. In this case, only behaviorists or veterinarians can prescribe medication, and only behaviorists can do so in conjunction with developing a behavior modification plan.

You may also seek a dog behaviorist if your dog is displaying obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as chasing light, spinning in circles or self-mutilation, which can also require medication.

Though an experienced trainer can handle most behavior cases, severe behavior problems may require the medication and expertise provided by a dog behaviorist.