This is a question that comes up a lot with people seeking help for dog behavioral problems. Do I need a trainer or do I need a behaviorist?
What is behavior? Everything your dog does is behavior. It is generally the unwanted behavior that dog owners are concerned with. Jumping, barking, growling, pulling, anxiety, aggression…. things like that. Identifying behavior is pretty simple. Yup, you have behavior! Now the question becomes, how to change it?
There are three major components to changing behavior in dogs. Those three components are like a Triad. They interface with one another.
The first component is Managment. How can we set up the environment to actually prevent the dog from practicing the behavior in the first place? The second is Training or teaching the dog an alternate behavior that makes the undesirable behavior irrelevant. And the third is Counter-Conditioning which changes the emotion that exits behind the unwanted behavior.
This is a good place to really pay attention to a trainer’s certifications. The certifications will tell you what type of training that particular person has and whether they are qualified to actually change or modify existing behavior.
My certifications qualify me to evaluate dog behavior, identify it and most importantly, create a training plan to change the behavior. Everything a dog does is behavior. If that behavior is something undesirable it is a no brainer to identify it. But changing it is another matter. How do you replace the unwanted behavior with behavior that you do want? How do you make the undesirable behavior irrelevant to the dog so it no longer has a purpose? This is where education and experience come in. This is what I do.
So, the answer to the question at the top of this page is that you need both.
FYI. The term “Behaviorist”properly refers to some one with a Phd in Behavioral Science. For trainers like myself who are trained in Behavior Modification for a particular species, our proper designation would be a “Behavior Consultant”.