When deciding to hire a dog professional to work on a specific challenge, it’s important to understand what kind to look for.
There are generally two types who provide hands-on help: dog trainers and dog behaviorists. There are also professionals like me, who work in both fields, but these are distinctly different activities and most specialize in one over the other.
To make the right choice, it’s important to understand what each kind of dog professional does.
Dog Trainers generally train dogs to learn new tricks. If you want your furry friend to learn to sit, lie down, stay in a place, shake a paw or roll over on command, a dog trainer is a good choice. Remember, your dogs know how to do all these things anyway. They do them naturally—when they feel like it. A trainer will simply work with your dog on doing the behaviors on command. Many trainers will know how to accomplish these basic things.
More advanced activities like tracking, agility, search and rescue, protection work and other specialized skills require a more specific skill set. The pool of trainers, who are able to do this effectively, is much smaller, than with general dog trainers.
Make sure your choice of trainer has experience in what you are looking for. Any honest trainer will always recommend someone more specialized when a request is outside of his/her domain.
I am a dog behaviorist. While I train dogs to learn new behaviors, I am way more interested in teaching dog owners how to restore the calm and balanced nature a dog naturally has and strives towards. This is an important difference for dog owners to know.
Dog trainers teach tricks. Dog behaviorists solve problems. Make sure to hire the right kind of dog professional for your goals, when seeking help.
The most common problems dog behaviorists deal with are dominance and aggression, separation anxiety, general fear behaviors, jumping up, pulling on the walk, nipping, pawing, excessive barking, digging, destruction and self-mutilation. This is something entirely different from teaching a sit or down command.
The first time you sat in a car, you didn’t know how to safely drive. You had to learn it. It’s similar to dogs. Unless someone taught you how to fulfill a dog’s needs and keep him well behaved, how could you know? It’s a learning process. The difference over learning how to drive a car and training a dog is that through this process, you form a strong bond with your dog that will last a lifetime.
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Ralf Weber is a certified dog trainer (IACP CDT, CDTA) and behaviorist. A professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and an AKC evaluator for Canine Good Citizen, Community Canine and Urban Canine certifications.