Trainer or Behaviorist?

In an earlier post, I talked at length about the certifications to look for in a dog trainer or behaviorist.  If you took the time to read it, you might be wondering what’s the difference between them.  After all, they do the same thing, right?  Well, not really.  They represent two different disciplines that you might need in living with your dog.

So, you are sharing your home with a pretty intelligent non-human who has social and emotional needs, and communicates non-verbally.  And he is turning into a terrible roommate.  One of you needs help, but what kind of help?  As in all things, that depends.

First, keep in mind that anyone can put up a website, print some business cards and call himself a dog trainer or behaviorist – or dog whisperer, dog guru, dog spiritual healer, dog communicator, or any other title.  This is an unregulated industry, with its share of quacks and frauds.  In the first article in this series, What Do All Those Letters and Certifications Mean? I discussed the various organizations that certify and vet members of these professions.  In the next article, I’ll address what to look for in picking the right person to help you with your dog, but at this point, we’ll discuss what these professionals do.

What is a dog trainer?

Putting it simply, a trainer is someone who teaches you and your pet the skills needed to function well in your home and in society.  This includes manners, pet etiquette and behaviors that are needed to safety and a happy life.  These can range from basic skills such as sitting and lying down on command, coming when called, walking nicely on a leash, traffic safety, etc., to advanced skill levels such as protection training, sports and other activities.

Types of dog training.

The training can take many forms, ranging from multi-dog classes for teaching basic skills to owners and their pets, moderated play sessions for socialization (generally for puppies), advanced group classes, private sessions at owners’ homes, or board-and-train sessions in which the dog lives at the trainers’ location for a time.  In my next article I’ll go into these approaches in depth and discuss how to pick a trainer, but for the time being, it suffices to say that trainers have a number of tools at their disposal, and a number of different business philosophies and approaches.  One size does not fit all.

What is a canine behaviorist?

A behaviorist is someone who can address a problem behavior that your dog has developed.  A “problem behavior” being defined that something that the dog does too often, or not often enough.1   For example, if your dog has anxieties about certain situations – such as being left alone in the house, or your dog barks excessively at the neighbors, or is overly protective of his food bowl, these are problems that the behaviorist can help with reducing.

Behaviorist Methodology

Where a dog trainer uses repetition and encouragement to educate dogs and owners in how to perform certain actions; a behaviorist will work with the owners to observe what the dog does, determine what events or triggers cause it to happen, and develop an intervention to reduce or modify the problem behavior.  The key elements of this are to closely observe what happens before, during and after the behavior occurs; and develop an intervention based on behavioral science and professional ethics.

I hope this helped to clarify when you should seek a trainer or behaviorist.  We’ll get into the mechanics of training and behavior modification in a later article, along with what you should look for when searching for a reputable and effective professional to help you with your dog.

What to Look for in a Dog Trainer. What do all those letters and certifications mean?

You’ve taken your puppy home and are looking for a trainer. Or your adorable puppy has grown up and turned into a teenager.  Or the dog you’ve taken home from a shelter or rescue has developed anxieties and behavior problems.  So, you’ve begun a search for someone who can help you.  And you’ve found and entire internet full of trainers, and are overwhelmed with options.  What now?   What’s right for you and your dog?  This is a series of articles to help you pick the right trainer and training program.

First off:  Every article has an alphabet soup of certifications and qualifications.  What do they all mean, and how do you wade through all that?

Things to keep in mind:  In the United States, this is an unregulated field.  Every single person who advertises himself as a dog trainer can also certify other people as trainers, without any qualifications or standards and print out a fancy certificate.  This isn’t to say that the person who has gone through a course of training or internship under that program doesn’t know what he or she is doing and isn’t an excellent trainer.  But often it means exactly that.   As Victoria Stillwell says:

“Just as almost anyone can refer to themselves as a professional dog trainer, almost any entity can currently state that it ‘certifies’ its members or graduates to be a certain level of dog training  professional. While this classification can sometimes be as valuable as the paper used to designate the certification, the dog-owning public continues to place varying degrees of importance on the label of being ‘certified.’

 The truth is that the value of any dog trainer certification depends upon the criteria and assessment processes in place by the entity granting the certification to the trainer as well as the guiding principles and reputation of the certifying entity.1″

This is a list of the more commonly found reputable professional dog training and behavior consulting certifications.  Each of these certifications requires documented experience (ranging from hundreds of hours to years) in canine training and behavior, education and/or rigorous testing, and attestation of that person’s qualifications by professional peers.  Each of these organizations require their certificants to abide by a code of ethics, best practices and professional standards.  The individuals holding these certifications are also required to maintain their expertise through continual education in the field.  I encourage you to look at the links provided below to determine the best fit for you and your pet.

DACVB – Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.2

CAAB:  Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (granted by the Animal Behavior Society).3

ACAAB:  Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (Animal Behavior Society).

CPDT-KA:  Certified Pet Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.4

CPDT-KSA:  Certified Pet Dog Trainer – Knowledge and Skills Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

CBCC-KA:  Certified Behavior Consultant Canine – Knowledge Assessed (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

CDBC:  Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).5

IAABC-ADT:  Accredited Dog Trainer (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).

KPA-CTP:  Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Program6

A more complete list of animal-related certifications, and the criteria for those certifications, can be found here:  www.whole-dog-journal.com/lifestyle/human-focus/professional-dog-training-titles/

When looking at advertisements for trainers or behaviorists, pay attention to the fine print.  Does the trainer provide a set of credentials?  If so, you can search that certifying organization’s web site to determine whether that trainer is in fact certified and in good standing.  Also, does the trainer say that he’s a member of an organization, such as the IAABC or APDT without providing further information?  If so, look further.  Membership in these organizations is a great thing:  It provides access to training, current research and other benefits.  But there are also various levels of membership, including the general public.

If a trainer lists course that he or she has taken, take a look that the courses and see if they are listed as providing Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for maintaining certification.  This will provide you with a basis of determining the value of that course of training.  Also,  if a trainer describes himself as having attended a formal training program such as those conducted by Victoria Stillwell7, Pat Miller8, Karen Pryor6 or the Animal Behavior College9, look to see if he has successfully completed that training and has been credentialed by it.

Next in this series:  Do I need a trainer or a behaviorist?

Upcoming:  What is an ethical dog trainer?  What to look for in a trainer/behaviorist, and what to avoid.

 

References

  1. What Is Certification? | Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior (vsdogtrainingacademy.com)
  2. American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (dacvb.org)
  3. Animal Behavior Society
  4. Certification for professional dog trainers and behavior consultants (ccpdt.org)
  5. International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (iaabc.org)
  6. Become A Professional Dog Trainer Courses – Certification Program (karenpryoracademy.com)
  7. HOME | Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior (vsdogtrainingacademy.com)
  8. Peaceable Paws Intern Academies – Peaceable Paws

Animal Behavior College | Where Animal Lovers Pursue Animal Careers

The Pandemic’s Impact on Pet Adoption

The pandemic has been affecting our lives for over a year.  With vaccines starting to become available, albeit slowly, there is hope that we may be able to get back to normal – or stabilize at a new normal – some time this summer.  Most US states and major cities implemented restrictions on public gatherings, social occasions, recreation and dining establishments, and other forms of reducing peoples’ exposure to the unique coronavirus, with the effect that we all felt isolated and closed off from our friends and loved ones.

This isolation, with all of us spending unaccustomed amounts of time at home, resulted in a rapid increase in the numbers of people seeking pets for companionship.  Shelters reported a boom in the adoption of all dogs, cats and smaller pets.  The shelters were quite literally emptied of adoptable animals as homebound people adopted pets and rescues were unable to have dogs transported from states with high-kill shelters1.  Shelters also reported that they had to establish waiting lists for potential adopters as their supply was, for once, outpaced by demand2.

In many localities, the increase in animal adoptions was somewhat off-site by an increase in pet surrenders, and families faced the impact that the pandemic had on their finances.   Unfortunately, this often occurred in areas where municipal shelters were under particular strain by the COVID-related loss of revenue in their cities and towns, along with the safety restrictions they were required to put in place.  Shelters helped to mitigate this by increasing the number of dogs and cats that were fostered out to homes that could care for them during the pandemic.3   With more people working from home, there are more opportunities for fostering dogs than more normal times.  However, the rate of pet surrenders is likely to increase as people face eviction or foreclosure as the pandemic continues into 2021.4

So, our shelters are heading into 2021 with a lot of uncertainty regarding their ability to serve their communities.

  • Without a relief bill passed by congress, we may be seeing an increase in evictions and loss of housing among pet owners.4
  • As the pandemic eventually eases, there’s a possibility that the fairly good probability that pets being fostered will be returned to shelters as our society opens up.5
  • As we return to work and our social lives become more normal, we might see an increase in pet surrenders and returns to shelters, as people realize that they do not have time for the dogs they adopted or bought during lockdowns. They may find that they simply no longer have the time required to care for and socialize a dog, or that behaviors such as separation anxiety come to the fore when their pandemic pets are left alone while the owners are working away from home.6

The big take-away from all this is that our animal shelters and rescues are heading into a very risky situation.  There are numerous factors in play that could result in a glut of animals being turned in to shelters, either a result of increased financial and housing hardships or as a result of people returning to normal work environments and having less time for adopted and fostered pets.

 

  1. Pet Adoptions are Outpacing Available Animals During Pandemic, CBS Boston. Retrieved from Pet Adoptions Are Outpacing Available Animals During Pandemic – CBS Boston (cbslocal.com)
  2. Looking to adopt a pet? The wait lists are growing as more people look for quarantine companions, The Denver Post, retrieved from Pet adoptions surge during pandemic with waiting lists surpassing supply (denverpost.com)
  3. A. animal shelters brace for influx of pets as people face financial hardships from coronavirus. Los Angeles Times, retrieved from Coronavirus economic woes could overwhelm animal shelters – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
  4. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (2020, December 9) ASPCA Estimates 19.2 Million Pets Living in Households at Risk of Eviction or Foreclosure Due to COVID-19 Crisis. Retrieved from ASPCA Estimates 19.2 Million Pets Living in Households at Risk of Eviction or Foreclosure Due to COVID-19 Crisis | ASPCA
  5. Pandemic Leads to Surge in Animal Adoptions, Fostering. Associated Press.  Retrieved from Pandemic leads to surge in animal adoptions, fostering (apnews.com)
  6. As People Return to Work, Those Who Adopted a Dog During the Pandemic Could be in for a Rude Surprise.   Retrieved from As people return to work, those who adopted a dog during the pandemic could be in for a rude surprise (aaha.org)