Many pet owners are not aware that dog training is an unregulated industry. This means anyone can set themselves up as a dog trainer, whisperer, behaviour consultant etc. And anyone can set themselves up to certify dog trainers. This also goes for pet sitters, dog groomers, doggie daycares, boarding kennels - the pet industry is not regulated.
This means anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or animal behaviour expert, charge a fee and use methods which may inflict physical and emotional harm on your pet. Some methods may also increase harm to humans and other animals, resulting in trauma and increased aggression (resulting in serious injury, even fatalities).
Dog Trainer vs Behaviourist
Generally the term 'animal behaviourist' is used by people with university degrees in animal behaviour, but this is not restricted. Anyone can claim to be an expert in animal training and behaviour and various certifications may be meaningless. Note that not all veterinarians are animal behaviourists, despite working with animals.
Animals trainers train animals to behave in a certain way and respond to certain commands or cues, which could be a spoken word or a hand signal. A trainer for pet dogs may train basic house manners such as not jumping up and walking nicely on a leash. Or they do advanced training such as off-leash distance work and scent discrimination. Cats are more difficult to train than dogs. Trainers are like tutors. There is an art and a science to training.
Animal behaviourists are like psychologists and study the way animals behave and address problem behaviours such as anxiety, aggression, toileting issues, hyperactivity and destructive behaviours. A qualified animal behaviourist cannot prescribe medication unless they are also a trained veterinarian.
A veterinary behaviourist is both a veterinarian and behaviourist. They are equivalent to a psychiatrist and can diagnose and treat medical and behavioural issues. Some vet behaviourists are like some psychiatrists - very pushy with medications so beware.
Trainers and behaviourists may specialise in a single species such as just dogs or just cats. Many dog trainers work with behavioural issues but tertiary qualified behaviourists are relatively rare.
An effective and ethical trainer or behaviour consultant will work with the pet owner and not just the pet. They will keeping learning up-to-date modern, science based approaches promoting a trusting and respectful relationship with animals. Training can be calm and fun, with no shouting or pain. The same techniques can be used to train cats, birds and other animals.
Seek an Ethical Consultant
Interview a trainer or behaviour consultant. Do not assume that because they have a certification or they call themselves a behaviourist that they are experts you can trust with your pets. A tertiary qualified and experienced behaviourist, not just a trainer is appropriate for serious issues such as aggression. A vet check is appropriate too with behavioural problems, as there may be an underlying health issue.
Some trainers charge an hourly fee higher than qualified human psychologists. Take care not to be duped into paying excessive fees for someone who makes various claims and guarantees.
Ask the consultant what methologies they use. If they are cagey about it or use methods involving intimidation, rough handling, pain, fear, abuse then avoid them. Such methods can result in anxiety, fear, trauma and increased aggression (after seeming to suppress aggression at first).
Be wary of anyone who is very permissive with no boundaries. Being permissive and inconsistent can result in problem behaviours too such as anxiety and aggression as your pet will not respect you. Food may be used as a reward but should not be relied on and should be quickly phased out. Food can become ineffective if used as bribery.
An experienced and ethical trainer or behaviourist will be open with their methods and not make guarantees. They will not have a cookie-cutter approach as each pet is an individual. Franchise trainers tend to have cookie-cutter methods and charge high fees. One size does not fit all. An ethical and effective trainer will work with the pet in the owner's presence and will teach the owner how to have a respectful and healthy relationship with their pet. If you are uncomfortable about anything the consultant does, then you have a right to stop.
Having anyone work with your pet involves trust. As a pet parent, do not allow anyone to do anything that causes distress to your pet. An effective, ethical consultant will be a teacher and teach the owner easy and safe methods to continue teaching the pet in their absence. Avoid a consultant who treats people and animals in a disrespectful way ie resorts to intimidation, bullying, guilt tripping, fear etc.
Educate Youself as a Pet Parent
A lot can be done to prevent problem behaviours and as a pet parent, you can educate yourself how. You are your pet's primary trainer and teacher and it's best to start young to prevent problem behaviours. Socialisation at an early age is one strategy that significantly reduces problem behaviours such aggression. Puppy class is one form of socialisation but take care the class is structured so your puppy is not bullied.
Xanthe founded an award-winning pet sitting business in QLD, Australia in 2011. After selling the business, she returned to Taupo, New Zealand.
The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. Opinions expressed on this blog are based on Xanthe's research and personal experience and should not be taken as a substitute for legal, business, veterinarian or animal behaviourist or animal training advice from a qualified professional. Content is copyright. Please share a link if you like a post - do not copy sections. Pet Purpose only endorses cruelty-free, modern, science-based animal training methods and advocates for animal welfare.
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