So, your puppy is growing up, or your rescued dog has been in your home for a while, and your best buddy is turning into a terrible roommate. Your dog is incessantly barking, or chewing everything in sight, or aggressively charging other dogs, or doing something else that is making you miserable. You’ve taken the first step and decided that you need help. Who do you turn to that can transform your problem pet back into the sweet companion that you brought home?
This is the difference between a dog trainer and a canine behaviorist. A behaviorist is a professional who addresses a problem behavior – namely something the dog does either too often or not often enough1 to the extent that it cannot be ignored. All you need to do is figure out who’s the right behaviorist to help you. How can you tell whether a behaviorist is reputable?
Like many pet-related professions, this is an unregulated business. Literally anyone can put up a website, print some business cards, and call himself a behaviorist. Let’s discuss how you can find one who’s actually put in the time and effort to learn this profession, abides by professional standards and ethics and knows what he’s doing.
First off, a good behaviorist will not:
- Start off by saying that he’s dealt with situations like this and knows exactly what to do.
- Immediately tell you what’s causing the dog’s behavior and how he’ll fix it.
- Guarantee results.
- Say that he’ll take the dog to his facility for treatment, and bring it back completely fixed.
- Advocate the use of aversive methods or punishments as a standard approach.
- Disparage other professionals or their methods.
On the other hand, a good behaviorist will:
- Tell you that he will have to determine exactly what triggers and reinforces the problem behavior by careful observation of the dog before, during and after that behavior occurs.
- Involve you in identifying the causes of the behavior and implementing a treatment.
- Be credentialled by the ABS, IAABC, CCPDT or other reputable body.
- Not guarantee results.
- Collect data on the effectiveness of the treatment being applied and change the behavior modification program, as needed, based on that data.
- Provide you with feedback and progress reports.
- Abide by the ethical practices of this profession.
See the difference? A knowledgeable and ethical behaviorist will implement a program of Applied Behavioral Analysis, which is a structured methodology for changing a problem behavior by modifying the events or conditions that happen before and after the behavior takes place. He might ask you make video recordings of your dog, keep a record of the behavioral incidents – in other words, take an active role in the treatment.
By maintaining a professional certification, your behaviorist is demonstrating that he is continuing his education and keeping knowledgeable of developments in this field, and abiding by stringent ethical standards. Most importantly, he will abide by the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) protocols for behavior modification. I’ll get into the details of what this means in my next post, but for our purposes today it means that he will be primarily concerned with your dog’s physical, mental and emotional welfare.
Next: What is LIMA?
- Chance, Paul. (2006). First Course in Applied Behavioral Analysis. Long Grove, IL., Waveland Press