…a client might be referred instead to a behavior consultant or an applied animal behaviorist instead of a dog trainer. A veterinarian might recommend a trainer for some behaviors or even recommend a veterinary behaviorist for others. The guy at the dog park might suggest that someone seek out the assistance of a behavioralist, which is unfortunate because there is no such thing as a behavioralist in the dog world. That term is reserved for political science folk.
While I’m sure they are intelligent specialists, the behavioralist movement does not lend itself particularly well to dog training or behavior. Unless the behavioralist is also a certified dog professional, he or she might not have the expertise to help a dog behave!
It can be challenging and frustrating to figure out what professional is best suited for a particular behavior, especially considering that there is quite a bit of overlap among these specialists. This breakdown will help explain what each professional does and how to find a reliable one in your area.
What do behavior consultants and applied animal behaviorists do?
Behavior consultants and applied animal behaviorists have an interest in why animals do what they do, and more specifically, why a behavior goes awry. They are the psychological rehabilitators of the animal world. If a dog is having an acute emotional response to the mailman, aggresses at people, has a bite history, has moderate-severe separation anxiety, or seems to be having a difficult time emotionally with one (or more) parts of daily life, then one of these professionals might be the way to go.
What does the term “behaviorist” actually mean?
Is the guy down the street a behaviorist? If he’s putting prong collars on dogs and hasn’t taken a single class in animal behavior, chances are high that he isn’t a behaviorist. In our region we have several “professionals” who use choke chains, prong collars, alpha-roll dogs and ask for submission while calling themselves behaviorists. This is (in my opinion) unethical and incorrect terminology.
While there is no governing body as to who can use the term behaviorist, the general consensus among professionals is that this term is reserved for those with a doctorate in a related field (such as zoology or biology). These applied animal behaviorists have a PhD and are highly qualified to address behavior related issues. Because of their specialty, their expertise, and the fact that these professionals are few, the cost tends to be higher than for a behavior consultant or dog trainer. That being said, if the problem is significant, then this is perhaps the best bet for getting help. Consult with reputable sources, and just like everything else, do your homework before hiring a professional.
In addition to applied animal behaviorists, there are reputable behavior specialists working with challenging behaviors, who don’t have a doctorate degree, and are still highly qualified to assist with particularly challenging issues. These professionals, if they have the proper certifications and credentials, call themselves behavior consultants.