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  • Writer's pictureHelen Wilson

Dog Trainer or Dog Behaviourist - what's the difference?



Unless you've had previous experience of a dog trainer or dog behaviourist then researching what is best for your pooch can be an absolute minefield.


I’ve employed both to help me with Taz and I’ve found both to be excellent. However, me and Taz only started making real progress when I employed a dog behaviourist.


Dog Trainers


A trainer will teach you the skills you need to train your dog. They will teach you how to use rewards in order to show your dog exactly what you want them to do.


This could be anything from walking nicely on the lead, coming back to you when called, or not jumping up at visitors. These are known as ‘life skills’ and they teach your dog how to live in a human world. This sort of training should start as soon as you get your new pup.


A good trainer will know their own limitations and will recommend a dog behaviourist if they believe your dog will benefit from it.


Dog behaviourist


Often dogs that need a behaviourist have had some past trauma. The dogs are either anxious, frightened or frustrated.


A dog behaviourist will have a greater knowledge of dog emotions and psychology. They will identify the underlying causes of your dog’s behaviour and develop a tailor-made program to help them overcome their issues.


You need to see a behaviourist if your dog has:

  • Aggression towards people or other pets. This could be barking, lunging or biting.

  • Self-harm

  • Destructive behaviour

  • Separation anxiety – howling, barking, chewing furniture, pacing or showing any signs of stress when left alone.

  • Nervousness

  • Toileting issues

  • Noise phobias – fireworks, thunderstorms, etc.

  • Obsessive behaviour such as shadow chasing or chasing cars, bikes, etc.

  • Other fears or phobias


How to find a good behaviourist.


Your first point of call with any behaviour issue should be your vet. They will check for any medical issues causing pain or discomfort to your dog. They should also be able to recommend a local dog behaviourist.


It can be difficult to recognise pain in dogs. Some dogs are experts at hiding it from us – or we don’t know what to look for.


My behaviourist recognised that Taz looked uncomfortable when he walked. So, she referred me back to the vet. I was already aware that Taz had arthritis in his elbow joint, but I didn’t know the extent of it.


An x-ray showed that the arthritis in his elbow was worse than first thought and that he also had arthritis in his hips and knees. My poor little boy!


A change in his medication and some advice on managing his pain from the vet, and Taz was much calmer, more comfortable and able to concentrate better when training.


Do your research.


When researching a trainer of behaviourist, make sure you dig a little deeper when you find one you like the look of.


Check their social media pages and watch the videos. Do the dogs look happy and relaxed? Are they being rewarded for making the right choice, or are they being forced to make it?


Be wary of the videos that don’t show their training techniques. Are they just showing the before and after takes? What have they got to hide?


Qualifications


A good trainer and dog behaviourist will have up to date qualifications. Check their website for evidence of this. Don’t be afraid to contact them and ask for proof. If they’re honest and trustworthy they won’t mind sharing that information.

Dog behaviourists invest a large amount of time and money into getting the right qualifications and staying up to date with the most recent dog behaviour research and science.


People claiming to be able to train your dog out of their “bad behaviour” in a few “easy steps” are not likely to be what they claim to be. They may be unqualified and use inhumane techniques and equipment to punish your dog and force them to submit.


A good trainer and behaviourist know that training is a process and cannot happen in one session.


Your rescue dog has been through enough.


Don’t punish your dog for doing what comes naturally to them. Use kindness and understanding to show them how to cope in stressful situations.


Taz responded well to reward-based training. So much so that the word “training” got him as equally excited as the word “walk”.


Before finding a dog behaviourist, I almost shelled out a lot of money to one guy who said he could help Taz. I have since found out that he uses choke collars as a training aid.


Getting the right equipment


Another mistake I made was to get Taz a nose harness so that he couldn’t pull. At his heaviest Taz was 47kg and barrel chested, I'm 50kg after a heavy meal. So, you see my problem. If he pulled, I was going with him, whether I wanted to or not.


The harness worked, sort of. He still pulled but it wasn’t as bad, and I felt I had some control of him. But what I didn’t realise was that this particular nose harness was causing him pain. When he pulled, it tightened, and he became more reactive as a result. His behaviour was so bad I had to stop walking him.


The dog behaviourist recognised this immediately and advised me to invest in two pieces of equipment.

The first was the Dogmatic nose harness. This is more like a harness used for horses. The harnesses are properly fitted to your dog’s size, shape and breed. But most importantly it is comfortable, and it doesn’t tighten around the nose.

The second piece of equipment was a Y-shaped harness (see picture). The Y shape keeps the fabric away from the armpit area, so that there is no rubbing under the front legs. They should slip easily over the head and be adjustable so that you can tighten/loosen to get on and off. The harness should also fasten around the bottom of the rib cage.

Most independent pet stores will fit the harnesses properly. But, if like Taz, your pooch won't let strangers touch him, then there are plenty of sizing guides online.


Taz in his Y-shaped harness

I used the Dogmatic until Taz learned to stop pulling. Once I was confident that he wasn’t going to pull me over, I switched to just the harness.


He was comfortable in this equipment, it didn't restrict his movement and most importantly it didn’t cause him any pain.


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