Dogs have been coexisting with humans for hundreds of years now. Often, humans seek the help of a professional to help them change certain aspects of their dog’s behavior. Deciding whether to consult a dog trainer or a dog behaviorist can be confusing if you don’t know the difference in their services. After speaking with top professionals in each field, the major difference between the two seems to lie in their individual goals for the dogs they work with.
For a Behaviorist, the goal is to assess each dog’s individual emotional problems and help to modify the behavior though reconditioning and positive reinforcement. Behaviorists encounter dogs that have already developed some type of negative behavior. They seek to identify and treat the root cause of the behavior; kind of like therapists for dogs.
Dog Trainers focus on different aspects of canine behavior. A trainer is more like a teacher or coach. They equip dogs with the tools they need to perform in a variety of situations, from basic obedience to agility and complex services with the military and law enforcement.
Sue Tanner is an AKC Certified Dog Trainer with over 25 years of experience. She specializes in agility training and is also certified as a STAR Puppy Instructor and K9 Good Citizen Trainer. Sue agrees that behaviorists and trainers have different goals for the dogs they work with, but the two professions often work hand in hand in order to help troubled dogs.
As a trainer, Sue works mostly with socially well adjusted dogs in need of behavioral education. She often recognizes emotional issues such as fear aggression in dogs, and never hesitates to refer to a behaviorist if the issue is beyond her comfort level. She says a red flag that a dog needs the care of a behaviorist is failure to respond to typical positive reinforcement techniques like treats or play.
Sue’s passion is agility training which she teaches at a luxury boarding, grooming and training center in Murrells Inlet, SC. A Dog’s Way Inn is an innovative facility offering its own dog park complete with pond. While certain breeds definitely excel at agility, Sue emphasizes that ANY dog can learn and enjoy this activity. There is a three legged dog who participates in agility at A Dog’s Way Inn. Agility dogs must possess basic obedience skills, as the training depends on strong focus and call back ability. Sue promotes agility as a fabulous source of exercise, confidence and bonding for dogs and their humans.
Brad Boggs, another local trainer in the Myrtle Beach, SC area has a far different background and specialty. He became a trainer with Off Leash K9 Training, LLC after twelve years in law enforcement. Brad believes that all canine behavior can be modified using a strong obedience foundation. He and the nearly one hundred trainers with Off Leash Training across the country handle cases of severe aggression, therapy training, advanced scent location training and protection training. Brad says that the cooperation of the owner in carrying on the training is vital to success; much like continued diet and exercise after sessions with a personal trainer is vital to weight loss.
Dog Behaviorist, Molly Stone holds the rare and prestigious International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) certification, as well as certification from the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals (AABP). She has worked as the SPCA of Wake County‘s Pet Behavior Specialist since 2002, using her behavioral training and background in Psychology to help shelter pets find and keep great homes.
Molly prepares dogs and cats to transition from shelter living to family life. The dogs maintain a feeding and walking routine that will mimic their day to day life in an average household. Molly assesses each pet for signs of behavioral issues that may require reconditioning. Adopters are encouraged to reach out to her at any time after adoption should unwanted behaviors arise in the new home.
Behaviorists are not licensed to prescribe drugs in NC, so Molly often works closely with veterinarians. Common problems behaviorists address include severe aggression with bite history, destructive behaviors and phobias. Determining the emotional root of the behavior is key to finding the right course of treatment. Unfortunately, these issues are more likely to arise in dogs who have spent significant time in shelters. Molly is working to prevent these issues when possible, and catch and address them early when not.
As an experienced behaviorist, Molly warns against choosing a new family dog based solely on aesthetics. Sometimes a perfect match may be made with the last dog an adopter would have thought to choose. Temperament, personality and lifestyle have much more to do with a successful adoption than size or looks. As for breed, Molly feels that dogs will be dogs. Any breed has the potential to become a loving pet or a holy terror.
This belief that dogs should be taken on a case by case basis led to the founding of the SPCA Pit Crew Program. The Pit Crew is a group of volunteers at the Wake County shelter working to decrease the number of Pit Bull type dogs that enter shelters, and increase the number that are successfully adopted. Weekly obedience classes, field trips and play dates help to strengthen the socialization skills of the dogs and improve the breed’s reputation with the public. Pitties in the program also attend a monthly glamour photo shoot to showcase their softer, goofier side to potential adopters!
Trainers and Behaviorists each serve vital functions in strengthening the human-canine bond. Whether a dog has suffered emotional damage and is in need of behavioral therapy, or a pup is chosen to undergo training as a service dog to a wounded veteran; both professions are helping to make this world a better place for dogs and people alike.