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A trainer or behaviorist may help solve dog problems

  • Washington Post
  • Published Saturday, March 30, 2013, at 7:19 a.m.

Trainer or animal behaviorist?

When you decide to address your dog’s problems, you can choose an animal behaviorist or a trainer who specializes in behavior consultations.

The former might be better for more complex, severe problems associated with former abuse or neglect, or aggression, but the latter can help with problems like barking, resource guarding and separation anxiety. Trainers who have studied behaviorist techniques might have experience with tough cases of aggression, as well.

Many behaviorists and trainers have backgrounds in human as well as animal psychology. To become a certified applied animal behaviorist, a master’s or Ph.D. in behavioral science or a veterinary degree with a behavioral residency is a requirement. They are also required to publish in professional journals and pass qualifying exams.

A certified professional dog trainer (either knowledge assessed, or knowledge and skills assessed) has at least a high school diploma, has passed exams and has professional experience.

“I think that experience is very important, I think education is very important, I think certification is the icing on the cake,” said Yody Blass of Companion Animal Behavior, who is working toward certification from the National Association of Animal Behaviorists.

Most trainers’ and behaviorists’ rates depend on the severity and type of problem: $100 for a one-time behavior consult, up to $500 for multiple sessions to solve extensive problems.

Hiring a trainer or behaviorist might make you think of Cesar Millan, TV’s “Dog Whisperer,” but behaviorists and “positive trainers” take a different approach. Many experts now consider dominance training — which is inspired by wolf pack behavior — to be ineffective and often frightening to dogs, and based on outmoded research.

Before you hire a trainer or behaviorist, ask about his or her training methods. Many identify as “positive trainers” but have a loose definition of the term, so ask whether they use prong collars or leash corrections (when the owner pulls sharply on the dog’s leash), which are discouraged under reward-based positive training.

You should also ask about their prior experience dealing with your pet’s problem. The behaviorist’s or trainer’s resume and referrals should speak for themselves, so don’t be afraid to ask for references.

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