I hear something similar to the following phrase on a weekly basis:
“He can do all of his basic manners and a bunch of tricks but he still lunges at people on the sidewalk.”
My response is usually: “There’s a big difference between training and behavior.” To this the client emphatically agrees! Knowing and learning skills doesn’t necessarily equate to specific changes in problem behaviors. Their dog is well-trained but isn’t well-behaved.
In the dog training community, “training” refers to teaching basic manners (ie: sit, down), tricks, and the like. Training is performed by dog trainers and services include group classes and private consultations. These services are great for puppies and dogs who are a little jumpy, a little mouthy, need house training, and overall just need some skills to better live in our human world. Training can be great for relationship-building too!
We then refer to “behavior” as the more complicated things our pets do. Things that fall into this category include leash and barrier reactivity, aggression, fear, separation anxiety, resource guarding, and fighting with other animals. For these issues, people should be seeing a behavior consultant or behaviorist (someone with a graduate-level degree in an animal behavior field). We’ll address the differences between trainers and behavior consultants in a future post, but for now know that there are several differences in both techniques and how they approach issues. The most common service is a private consultation to address the specific concern. In-person group classes are typically not appropriate for these issues.
What does this mean for you?
Understanding how the dog training community parcels out different issues allows you to pick the best person and service for your pet’s needs the first time. Here are some things to consider:
- Do you have a puppy who doesn’t have irregular issues? A well-run socialization class with a trainer is a great option!
- What do you want to get out of working with a professional? Are you looking for some fun things to teach your dog or are you having a very specific issue that needs to be addressed? Basic manners and tricks are great group class skills. Specific issues are best addressed in private consultations or specialty classes (like our Group Intensive Courses) to make sure you’re getting exactly what you’re looking for. Group curricula needs to be written with everyone in mind making it difficult to address very specific issues.
- How severe is the behavior? Is safety a concern for either the dog himself or for others? If safety is a concern then a behavior consultant should be involved.
- What type of issue do you want help with? Will the service expose the animal to what he’s having trouble with (ie: stranger danger and being in a group class with 10 other people)? Here’s where my advice might seem counterintuitive; don’t choose a service that throws your animal into the deep end of their issue. There are a myriad of reasons why: socialization ends before adulthood, learning skills when they’re scared is incredibly difficult, there are better behavior modification methods. If your dog is having issues with people or other dogs choose a private consultation with a skilled behavior consultant; your consultant will then be able to work with you on a plan to gradually expose your animal in a way that is more ethical, efficient, and effective.
- If you’re searching for a professional, ask yourself the above questions. Would you be better suited with a dog trainer or a behavior consultant? What service would be best for your animal?
- If you’re already working with a professional, take a step back and take a hard look at the progress your pet has made. Has it been a year and your pet hasn’t made much progress with what you’re currently doing? Perhaps it’s time for a different tactic.