dog behaviorist

Everything You Need to Know About a Dog Behaviorist

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For dog owners, you would know too well that they can be a little rowdy sometimes. They might even have several behavioral problems that can drive you crazy. Your dogs might be tackling your guests or jumping at your table during meals. You can resolve these issues by hiring a skilled trainer. However, if the situation seems to be more severe, and you’re not sure what to do, then you might consider hiring a dog behaviorist instead.

Training a dog is an intricate subject as it is, but understanding the meaning of a dog’s behavior definitely requires loads of patience and some experience. The Furry Companion breaks down the details about dog behaviorists.

What Is a Dog Behaviorist?

A dog behaviorist is a professional who works with dog owners who have trouble managing, modifying, or preventing behavioral problems in dogs.

A dog behaviorist is a professionally-trained expert in the field of animal behavior and animal learning. They have a set of science-based tools, like behavior modification, and they aid in identifying the root cause of your dog’s behavioral problem. With this, they can build a customized treatment and training plan to show you how to implement it on your own successfully. A dog behaviorist will also make sure to follow-up in case you need further help, or you are still experiencing problems with your dog.

The field of animal behavior is less strict, which means that almost anyone has the freedom to call themselves a dog behaviorist. This is despite whatever training, background, or ability the person has. Therefore, it is essential to scout professionals with proper education and experience in the field. When looking for a dog behaviorist, you must make sure that he/she is certified in a respected organization.

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Moreover, the levels of expertise in this type of field are not the same. 

There are many ways for a person to become a dog behaviorist.

  1. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists – A dog behaviorist must have a Ph.D. in either behavioral or biological science from a university to qualify for this title. He/She must also have at least five years of professional experience. Lastly, they are also required to do a presentation at the Animal Behavior Society before applying.
  2. Veterinary Behaviorists – For this, a professional should complete the entire veterinary school curriculum before completing a specialization in behavior. Veterinary behaviorists must also accomplish several years of residency and other credentials. Out of all dog behaviorists, they are the only ones who can prescribe medications.
  3. Certified Dog Behavior Consultants – There is a specific certification body for professional dog behavior consultants. A dog behaviorist must have a demonstrated knowledge in dog behavior, evolution, and cognition through a set of intense exams and case studies. They should also have at least 500 hours of directly working with dogs before applying to be a dog behavior consultant. 

What Does a Dog Behaviorist Do?

A dog behaviorist will work closely with the dog owner to help them in managing and preventing problems concerning the dog’s behavior. There are many reasons why a dog might be misbehaving. They will work to understand why a dog does what it does and why the dog acts in a specific way. From this observation, they draw explanations to make sense of the dog’s behavior. Additionally, they also look closely into the dog’s environment to find supplemental reasons for why the dog might be acting out. 

Dogs who are undergoing emotional problems can lead to misbehavior in several ways. Aside from emotional reasons, another pet could also live together with your dog at home, which might make it feel uncomfortable. Your dog can also be suffering from a medical problem. You might also want to consider if you just adopted a dog that has lived a few months or years in another home. This change of environment might indicate that they have picked up these behavioral problems in their previous environment before coming to you.

Sometimes, it is just as simple that the dog breed you have is not appropriate to live in your home environment. Some dogs need more alone time with their owners, while others thrive on running around and playing all the time.

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Puppies that cannot socialize properly with humans tend to mature into unstable dogs. It is essential to get help early on if you feel like anyone other than you cannot approach your dog. Moreover, an excellent dog behaviorist will know the difference between dogs acting out because of boredom or from separation anxiety.

These are just some of the factors a dog behaviorist considers when working closely with dogs.

Should you need professional help, feel free to contact a dog behaviorist for your unusually rowdy dog. For a dog behaviorist, the first step is to do a complete evaluation of your dog. This evaluation will help them identify your dog’s problems. A dog behaviorist will come to the dog owner’s home to personally interact and observe the dog with the family.

Take note that a dog behaviorist doesn’t necessarily aim to train your dog. Instead, the interest lies in finding the root cause of the problem. After initial observation, they will collaborate with the owner so that they can discuss the proper changes regarding the dog’s environment. Dog behaviorists would also need to prescribe medication in some cases. For this, they will work together with your veterinarian. 

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Today, animal rescue shelters have several dogs who were put there because their owners are too frustrated to help them. Fortunately, many dog shelters work directly with a dog behaviorist to help them face their problem dogs. Working with a dog behaviorist increases the chances of abandoned dogs finding a new home. 

The Difference Between a Dog Behaviorist and a Dog Trainer

A dog trainer’s main job is to teach dogs how to perform tasks or actions. They are also responsible for teaching dogs what not to do. They teach your dog basic cues like how to sit, how to stay still, or how to stay down. Several trainers can address problems that involve basic obedience behaviors and even neutralize dangerous ones like leash aggression. Some dog trainers also dive deep into the behaviorist area of things.

Keep in mind, though, that a good trainer knows the proper limits and should refer you to a dog behaviorist who is better equipped to deal with more severe issues. All in all, a dog trainer handles matters that can be irritating for a dog owner but are not really dangerous. 

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Dog behaviorists, on the other hand, focus on forming behaviors in dogs and usually work with dogs who display behavioral problems. These professionals can point out why and how your dog’s behavior might be abnormal. Furthermore, they can teach you how you can understand and manage your pet.

Behaviorists can deeply understand the normal behavior of dogs and often spend quite a lot of time in counseling pet owners about the way they interact with their dogs. So while they do not actually train dogs, they are often able to advise owners.

Does Your Dog Need a Dog Behaviorist?

Even if your dog is acting more aggressive than usual, it does not necessarily mean that you already need to hire a dog behaviorist. In fact, most trainers are already well-equipped in helping you with dog training or basic dog obedience. 

On the other hand, if your dog is struggling with increasingly serious concerns, it might be time to call in the big guns and consult a dog behaviorist.

It is recommended to speak to a certified dog behavior consultant before a veterinary or an applied animal behaviorist. The other types of dog behaviorists usually have a month-long waitlist. This long waiting time might not be feasible if you are dealing with an aggressive dog. 

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If you are confused about whether your dog needs to see a dog behaviorist, check the following signs:

  • Your dog is very aggressive
  • He/She can be reactive, and barks, lunges, or suddenly snaps while going on walks.
  • Your dog has multiple phobias. Dogs with phobias can benefit from medications prescribed by a veterinary behaviorist.
  • Your dog’s behavior isn’t improving with other help. If you find that your dog no longer listens to you, you should speak to a dog behaviorist

If your dog has serious behavioral concerns, seeing an obedience trainer or going to group classes isn’t going to help a dog with behavioral issues. 

Common Causes of Bad Behavior in Dogs

There are many reasons why dogs are either naturally aggressive or can suddenly become badly-behaved. If you find your dog in a similar situation, check out the possible reasons below:

Genetics

Some dogs have the genetic tendency to behave badly, like how humans can end up resembling their parents in terms of behavior. If both the dog’s parents are inherently calm, chances are, he is gentle too. Same goes if both the dog’s parents are quite aggressive. However, if even just one of the parents is badly-behaved, their offspring can exhibit the same energy when it matures. 

Poor Socialization

Like human babies, dogs also have a golden window of opportunity starting from 3 weeks to their 3rd month as newborns. It is within this time that they should form relationships easily with other animals and humans.

They are to learn that they should never fear or react negatively to some visuals, sounds, or experiences. They should also learn how to interact with body language at this point. Puppies who are appropriately socialized by their owners in this period have higher chances to be calm and well-behaved, mature dogs. Meanwhile, puppies that did not get proper socialization can grow up to be fearful and aggressive. 

Negative Experiences

Dogs remember negative encounters, even from a young age. Therefore some dogs act out in fear whenever their owners do certain innocent things. Several types of bad behavior come from anxiety and fear. If dog owners are careful enough not to expose them to negative events, bad behaviors are less likely to develop.

Treating Them Like Humans

Dog owners often mistake their dogs to have the ability to understand and rationalize their actions. The truth is that dogs will be dogs, and they do not have enough cognitive skills to understand how subtle our language can be. They also do not live by the same moral code as us. Dog owners must try to correct a dog’s bad behavior using methods for dogs, not for humans.

Dominance-Based Training

Trying to stop a dog’s bad behavior by physically terrorizing and intimidating them will only make things worse. Preventing bad behavior should involve listening to dog behaviorists who have the science to back up their understanding of a canine brain. Making them submit to your will, will not work at all.

Benefits From Dog Behaviorists

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Better Control

Enrolling your dog with dog behaviorists will help you better manage your pet as it deals with different situations or triggers throughout the day. Dog behaviorists will help keep them safe and make it easier for you to control behavior in and out of the house. They also teach your dog how to act around other people and other dogs in the proper manner. Better control will allow you to start bringing your dog to different places without fearing that they will act out.  

Their Lives Can Be Saved

A bad-mannered dog who frequently displays unpredictable behavior might put its life at risk. Dogs like this can bolt when scared or when angered. Such reactions might cause them to run in front of a moving car, run out of the house during a typhoon, or simply not listen to your commands. Dog behaviorists can ensure that your dog understands how to listen to you and, like with humans, how they can better manage their emotions.

Helps You Understand Your Dog

This can give you a chance to spend the needed quality time with your dog. By enrolling in a dog behaviorist session, you can learn about your dog’s body language as well as the unique ways your dog uses to communicate with you. Furthermore, dog behaviorists give your dog the tools it needs to succeed to master the art of listening to your commands fully.

Helps in Developing a Stronger Bond

A strong bond between you and your dog is essential, and using positive training techniques is an excellent way to build trust. Dog behaviorists train dogs to have good manners which then makes them more relaxed, confident, manageable, and well-mannered. You also become a happier dog owner once you understand your dog.

Dog behaviorists will also explain to you that most dogs pay attention to how their owners act. Doing so will teach you how you can become a role model for your dog. The more time you spend with your dog, the better you can learn who your dog is and, in turn, your dog will know you as a fair model.

Better Quality of Life

With a dog behaviorist, you are enabling your dog to have access to essential things in its life, like mental stimulation, exercise, quality time with you, and building discipline. In your pet’s mind, it becomes his job to master commands as it will give satisfaction in the future. 

Top Dog Behaviorists for You

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The choice may be difficult for some, but we have rounded up some of the world-renowned dog behaviorists you can check out for yourself:

Leslie McDevitt

She is a close follower of Dr. Karen Overall, the pioneer veterinary behaviorist. Leslie began to develop a personal understanding of dog psychology because of personal enthusiasm. She even has a celebrity dog, Geordie, who works as a rescue dog. McDevitt is also the author of the book called “Control Unleashed.”

Ian Dunbar

Ian Dunbar is a successful author and is also a founding member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). His website also contains an updated catalog of qualified trainers and behaviorists in the entirety of USA. Dr. Dunbar also runs online dog behavior courses which dog owners can watch. Additionally, he also conducts seminars on rehabilitating aggressive dogs.

Karen Pryor

Karen Pryor is the pioneer of a technique called “force-free training” wherein the dog and the owner dances to a routine called the “canine freestyle.” Pryor’s method is known to be interesting, unique, and unconventional; but she also swears by its effectiveness. She also is the best selling author of “Don’t Shoot the Dog” which is known for its creativity and the stress-free training plus the bonding exercises it offers. 

Susan Garrett

Her book, “Shaping Success” is one of the most popular books for dog owners when it comes to understanding dog behaviors for beginners. Garrett’s work provides simple and straightforward information about complicated psychological ideas. In fact, it boasts a 91% rating on Amazon. You can also check out her lectures and programs available on her social media sites and DVDs; all are also available in stores worldwide. 

Kathy Sdao

Kathy Sdao is a certified dog behaviorist with several works on dog behavior. She is currently working on a dog training school in Washington and offers regular web seminars, tutorials, and video lectures about topics on dog behavior. Making up a considerable part of her subscriptions are dog enthusiasts who benefit from her free online courses. She covers the basics of canine learning theory, dog’s body language, and other learning resources every dog owner needs.

Jeff Silverman

He is the former Chairperson of the Board for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Silverman currently works in the Training Tracks Canine Learning Station, which is an elite training school for dogs located in Ohio. He is a specialist when it comes to rescued dogs’ aggression, anxiety, and trust issues. The Facebook page of Training Tracks also contains several tips and other links related to dog behavior. It is definitely a useful resource for every dog owner.

Nicholas Dodman

Dr. Nicholas Dodman is perhaps the most well-known in the list of celebrity dog behaviorists. Dodman is part of the popular series “Dogs 101” in Animal Planet. He provides an excellent resource for dog owners and offers classes on dog training, dog phobias, dog body languages, among others. Dr. Dodman is also a scholar on dog hyperthyroidism. Similarly, he is also credited with debunking the popular dominance theory.

Finding the Right Dog Behaviorist for You

When looking for a dog behaviorist, look for someone who is certified. This is especially crucial since anyone can just easily claim they are a dog behaviorist if you do not fact-check. Look for someone’s certification, as this will show you his/her professional and educational training. For starters, check out some of these tips:

  • Ask referrals from your veterinarian, local dog store, friends, or family. Also, try checking reputable websites to look for directories of professionals you can scroll through. 
  • Ask your current dog trainer for dog behaviorist recommendations. 
  • If you already have a potential dog behaviorist, ask them about the services they offer. It might also be helpful to ask how long have they been practicing, their certifications and organizations, or their equipment for training.
  • Make sure your potential dog behaviorist uses positive methods you are comfortable with letting your dog undergo.
  • Try to be present in every session.

There you have it, beginner’s information to understanding what a dog behaviorist is. Remember, dogs are our best friends. They are the most loyal and reliable creatures we could ever ask for. For this, it is our responsibility as dog owners to put their welfare as a priority. No matter how rowdy they get, our last option should be to give up on them. Instead, let’s treat them as we would our friends and family, and that is by offering support and seeking help. With help, they’ll be in their best condition in no time. Good luck!

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