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Sunday, March 13, 2011

You say tomato, I say tomahto: Animal behaviorists and dog trainers - is there a difference?

One topic that I frequently find myself troubled by is the training of canines.

As someone who works with dogs every day, I see all sorts of living arrangements, behaviors (some quite normal, some not-so-normal) and approaches (again, some good, some downright horrible) in finding a happy medium in co-existing with dogs.

I can see that the main problem with dogs today, isn't with dogs - it's with people... they're the root of the issue. It's always been the case, but now, it's amped up.

With today's way of living, which in my opinion is for some dogs nothing short of chaotic and counterproductive to the nature of dogs, it's no wonder that dogs can't settle down or walk on a leash when they do get to go out for a walk, behave, not chew things and forget what they've been taught.

We've asked a lot of canines. Too much. In fact, because of humans, dogs have had to be the fastest evolving and adapting species in the world.
flickr photo courtesy of markles55

Many times, people find that their dogs do indeed have behavioral issues that they don't feel comfortable trying to correct on their own, and with all of the problems that some dog owners are seeing, the need for outside help has increased. And, it's not surprising that there are as many choices for training your pooch as there are jellybeans in the proverbial jellybean jar.

We live in a fast-food society that thrives on instant gratification. People love a quick-fix. And they love watching troubled dogs transformed into sweet, obedient pooches right before their eyes on TV. I assure you, there is no shortcut to helping your dog understand reasonable expectations in behavior.

There are really great professionals out there who can help humans get the most out of their relationships with their dogs. And the there's the not-so-great ones, just like in any other field. And others, well, they just blur the line as far as what their qualifications are.

The difficult thing, I think for pet owners, is that they feel inept in the first place. So, when someone reaches out for help with their dog, I think it's fair to assume that they feel like they are dealing with very capable professionals who understand their own limits and the limits of the dog that they are working with.

I see many instances of training and behavior modification techniques employed by trainers that are dangerous, like the "alpha roll", or where dogs are treated harshly. These sort of things don't help progress the goal of good behavior, and in many cases put the human in danger of getting bitten. The American Veterinary Scoiety of Animal Behavior offers their position on dominance and dominance theory here.

Sadly, the field of dog training and dog behavior is not regulated by federal or state laws, so pet owners are on their own if they need to consult someone besides their veterinarian for help. For that reason, I think it's important for dog owners to do their homework, and put in an effort into checking out the qualifications of their trainer or behaviorist as they do a lot of other important things. Read more here for resources on selecting a trainer, and here to learn more about certification designations.

On a final note, there seems to be a very blurry line with regard to what a trainer is - and what a behaviorist is. With so many people out there jumping on the dog training bandwagon, it's hard to know who is who. Click here to read an article on the topic by

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Dexter Twp, MI. Follow her daily writing and pet adventures on Twitter or contact her via email.


  1. Thanks so much. It's an important topic, and having good information is crucial in getting on the right track.

    I appreciate your comment.


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