Dog behaviourists are qualified professionals who work closely with dog owners and veterinary surgeons to help manage, modify, and prevent canine behaviour problems. They are experts in the principles of animal behaviour and animal learning with a set of science-backed tools to resolve your dog’s behaviour problem.
A qualified behaviourist often has many years of practical experience under their belts and have been mentored by other qualified behaviourists to gain their hands-on experience in behaviour cases. They have an in-depth understanding of dog behaviour and how dogs learn which they explain to you so that you have a better understanding of your dog and usually write these up in their training plan. They help you to build your dog’s confidence so that the behaviour improves.
Dog trainers generally teach the dog to perform certain behaviours such as walking nicely on a loose lead or even specialising in a particular sport like agility or hoopers. The difference is trainers teach performance-based behaviours or positions whereas dog behaviour modification is changing the dog’s underlying emotions in relation to triggers.
Dog behaviourists are also able to conduct dog training sessions but dog trainers are often not able to work with dog behaviour problems. Here are some examples:
Loose lead walking
Introducing a dog or puppy to other animals in the house
Not jumping up
Aggression toward other dogs Aggression towards people Attention seeking behaviours Abnormal vocalisation Destructiveness
What’s the difference between the job of dog behaviourists and dog trainers?
Dog trainers usually help you to settle your puppy start your training journey and help them settle into their new home. Later on, as your dog grows up they help with dog obedience and can specialise in certain performance sports.
Canine behaviour issues are never a quick fix for pet owners and often need a specialist in animal behaviour to help smooth them out. When you can rule out it isn’t a training issue, addressing an unwanted behaviour usually requires longer-term support, with practical treatment plans in order to solve the behavioural problems. Once the behavioural issues have been resolved, dog owners are often referred to local pet dog trainers for ongoing support and training.
It is recommended you choose someone who uses science-based methods which are not aversive to the dog such as the use of shock collars, choke chains or spays. Look for someone who uses positive reinforcement or reward-based methods of training to solve problem behaviours. An animal behaviourist is usually able to work with several species such as dogs cats horses or birds.
What is the process once you have found an animal behaviour specialist?
Behaviourists usually start with an initial phone call to discuss your dog’s behaviour problems and to explain how they do their behaviour consultation. You would then be asked to get a veterinary referral which is a completely normal procedure and as pet professionals, this ensures that animal welfare is always put first and that the veterinary professionals give the dog a clean bill of health. Any underlying medical issues could have a significant effect on their behaviour if undiagnosed or not taken into account before behaviour training starts.
This always ensures the dog’s welfare and is also good practice. It is important for any dog behaviourist to work closely with the veterinary care team to support the dog and client through the training. A clinical issue could adversely affect the behaviour of the dog and any work on resolving the behaviour issue with underlying pain could be prolonging the dogs undiagnosed pain. Most qualified behaviourist fees will be covered by pet insurance but it depends on your policy and level of cover.
What is a clinical animal behaviourist?
Depending on the difficulty of your dog’s behaviour issue, you may be referred to a type of behaviourist called a clinical animal behaviourist, a veterinary behaviour specialist or an animal behaviourist that specialises in particular behaviour problems relevant to your dog. They usually see the most severe cases.
During the initial dog behaviour consultation, a clinical animal behaviourist may suggest prescription medication to support your dog while going through the training programme at the same time. These can be extremely helpful in restoring any chemical imbalance the dog may have at the time and in some cases speed up the training process. Medication is routinely prescribed and are usually extremely effective. Treatment would typically last around 6-18 months depending on the severity of the problem behaviour. Clinical animal behaviourists are also qualified to prescribe medication.
Other organizations you could approach for advice is the association of pet behaviour counsellors (APBC) who are overseen by the animal behaviour and training council (ABTC). These are reputable organisations who, if they are a full member, usually have levels of education such as a master’s degree or above in clinical animal behaviour, applied animal behaviour or forensic psychology.
A qualified behaviourist is a great person to have on board to help you train your dog. They will be able to reach out to their international network of fellow professionals if needed who are also affiliated to other international organisations around the world specialising in animal behaviour and training.
How much does a dog behaviourist cost?
Dog behaviourists usually charge pet owners more than dog trainers to treat behaviour problems as they are more qualified and specialists in their field. If you get offered a great deal, be sure to check their qualifications. This will ensure you treat behaviour problems ethically, efficiently and in the best interest of the dog. You will also need behavioural support throughout the process so make sure the person you will be working with has good people skills. Many unqualified behaviourist don’t have years of mentored practical skills or knowledge which could adversely affect your behavioural problems.
A good dog behaviourist usually doesn’t specialise within a species so should be able to work with a small dog or a large dog. Regardless of the dog’s size or breed, your behaviourist will be able to help and also advise on the interaction between different species within the house e.g. dogs & cats. They will also provide advice on ongoing support for you to suggest suitable dog trainers that perhaps have a keen interest in dog behaviour.
Should your animal behaviour issue be extremely severe, you may be referred by your veterinary professional to see a clinical animal behaviourists. Some veterinary surgeons are in fact veterinary behaviourists and specialise in animals or dogs with behaviour issues. They have gone through the required training in animal behaviour to become a qualified veterinary behaviourist so it is worth asking at your local vet practice if there is one working within their firm.
As a dog owner where do I ask for help and how do I find a qualified dog trainer or behaviourist?
Dog owners will often call the dog trainer they say at puppy training if they have a behaviour problem as they have usually formed a previous relationship with them at puppy training classes. The dog trainer will then assess the client’s needs and with a clearer understanding of the behaviour problem, they will advise if it is a training issue or a behavioural issue. They may refer you to a dog behaviourist or recommend you look at the association of pet behaviour counsellors or the animal behaviour training council websites. Your vet would also be a good person to speak to and could refer you to clinical animal behaviourists or someone specialised in applied animal behaviour.
If you are able to identify whether or not the issues you have with your dog are behavioural issues and not training issues, we would always recommend contacting your vet first to do a full vet check to ensure that animal welfare is put first. Once they have been checked by the vet you may be referred to a local dog behaviourist or animal behaviourist or even referred to the association of pet behaviour counsellors website. These are trusted dog behaviourists who are specialist dog trainers and experts in animal behaviour. They will be able to address all types of severe dog behaviour problems including aggression, fear, OCD, and separation anxiety for example. They have years of mentored experience to gain the practical skills needed and are part of recognised organisations within the UK. The association of pet behaviour councillors are overseen by the animal behaviour and training council.
Why don’t I just book a behaviourists without consulting my vet?
When treating a behaviour problem you must always take into consideration animal welfare and get your dog seen by a vet. They will check for any underlying medical issues which could have an effect on their behaviour. It is important to do this before you start training your dog. Animals are masters at hiding pain which they have always needed for survival so get the vet to give you the go-ahead before starting the training plan.
A good dog behaviourist will always ask for a referral from your vet anyway. After the vet check has been done, you and your behaviourist can now start to work on the dog’s behaviour problem. Each dog is different and so require a personalised training plan.
I don’t think my dog will get better and it’s a big commitment.
Having doubts is normal. Dog behaviourists are real experts in their fields and should you find yourself in a position where your dog’s behaviour problem is stressing you out, we would 100% advise you to contact your vet and an animal behaviourist as soon as possible. Most people find that with a little help from a professional and some guidance on training, your dog behaviour problems are easily resolvable. Dog behaviourists are like magicians sometimes and sort your animal behaviour issues so quickly, you wish you had contacted them sooner.
If you have a dog with a problem behaviour, don’t delay!
Frequently asked questions
What does a dog behaviourist do?
A dog behaviourist helps dog owners with issues related to unwanted behaviour. This usually means that there is an emotional response attached to the behaviour which is different to a training issue which would be teaching the dog to do something. A behaviourist will see cases related to fear, aggression, anxiety, hyperactivity, OCD behaviours, excessive barking.
When should I see a dog behaviourist?
If you are concerned about something your dog is doing, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional for help. In the first instance, you could contact your vet or a dog trainer who may then refer you to a dog behaviourist. Although you can teach an old dog new tricks, it is always better to address issues sooner rather than later. The more they practice the unwanted behaviour, the more prominent it is in their mind.
Are dog behaviourists any good?
Absolutely! They are experts in dog behaviour and are extremely helpful in resolving behaviour problems. Be sure to get a reputable behaviourist with the relevant qualifications and plenty of good reviews.
How do I find an APBC member?
The Association of Pet Behaviour Councillors is a great organisation to seek advice from. They have a list of local behaviourists on their website.
What is an animal behaviourist?
They are behaviourists who don’t only work with one particular species. They are able to identify, help manage and resolve behavioural issues with the application of a personalised behaviour modification program
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