Why I Recommend A Veterinary Behaviorist NOT a Dog Trainer
I get a lot of aggression questions.
I suppose that is because there are a lot of dogs that have aggression issues and sometimes we even create aggression in our dogs by over correcting them, beating them, or even just spoiling them (yes spoiling them can create just as big a monster).
But over the internet it is impossible for me to see the behavior and all the dynamics of what is going on in the dog’s environment. Even video doesn’t do the justice to training that I need.
Aggression requires usually hours of consultation, and history, and seeing the dog in his environment and/or when he is aggressive and usually demands numerous sessions.
Just getting an initial consult can take an hour or more.
And, only then can a behaviorist get an idea if it is even safe to see the behavior in question.
No one wants to put another person or animal at risk just to witness the behavior, if the dog is dangerous.
Whereas I am comfortable giving limited advice on some forms of aggression (dog aggression or possession aggression), it is often dangerous to give specific advice for a dog that I haven’t seen.
The advice I give one client and dog could get another client and dog bitten; because dogs, like humans are individuals and require individual programs and training especially when it pertains to aggression.
Dogs can be dangerous and dogs kill humans each year. Don’t believe me? Google it and you will be amazed at the sizes, ages and breeds and they are not always what you would think.
So when I am worried for a client over the internet (or even one in person when doing an in home consult) I recommend a veterinary behaviorist.
Why a Veterinary Behaviorist Over a Trainer?
Let’s tackle one at a time.
Why a Veterinary Behaviorist
Because, I can guarantee the valuable education that the veterinary behaviorist received.
You see a veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian.
Veterinary behaviorists are boar certified to treat BOTH medical and behavioral problems.
These individuals go to vet school alongside your veterinarian who sees your dog for all his regular medical care. It takes just as long to go to vet school as it does to go to human medical school, and it cost just as much for the individual; however it is not covered by health care so veterinarians make much less money than human doctors make.
To be a vet, it is certainly a labor of love.
After the veterinary behaviorist attends the basic years of veterinary school, they choose to go from there to specializing in animal behavior and learning how animals think and how to train and work with them in the best and most concise way possible. Because they are attending mainstream universities the education they receive is as up to date with studies and materials as possible.
A veterinary behaviorist is also more likely to understand the physical or medical problems that may be relating to behavioral problems or aggression.
Did you know that some dogs that have seizures manifest with aggressive behavior? A veterinary behaviorist is more likely to know the signs and the causes and test for this if need be.
A veterinary behaviorist also studies medications that may help some dogs with some behaviors and they learn about the interaction of training AND medication to help with a behavior modification program.
As with any medical science they continue their education and are well versed in new studies and theories that will help with aggressive dogs. The “What Works and What Doesn’t Work” ideals.
Your average veterinarian may not be well versed in the science of animal learning theories and how best to help a severely aggressive dog, but a veterinary behaviorist goes to school to help clients like this with their dogs.
They also sometimes provide legal consultations and due to their education provide media inquiries.
Why Not Just Use a Dog Trainer or Someone Who Calls Themselves a Behaviorist?
Simply put, because for most trainers you can’t prove their educational knowledge and experience because they didn't attend main stream universities. Even the biggest names in dog training and certification Karen Pryer, Michael Ellis, Tom Rose don't train out of universities or have prerequisites or anything similar to the test a veterinarian must take to be licensed.
That is not to say that all dog trainers can’t help a dog with aggression issues (I am not a veterinarian but I have had a very successful career helping aggressive dogs) but it is much tougher to find and much riskier. I recognize I am limiting myself by my lack of education in veterinary school, and yet I feel that it is safer for you and your dog when dealing with aggression.
For instance, I saw not long ago an advertised internet program that would certify you as a dog trainer after an hour. There is no way to ensure knowledge and training without hands on experience and basic knowledge of how animals learn.
Being a dog trainer isn’t as easy as it sounds, there is a lot of information to know and take in and it requires years of hands on work to get experience and it is imperative to continue your education.
Not everyone has the knowledge or patience to work with dogs AND their people.
To find a trainer who can help you after your visit to the veterinary behaviorist I recommend visiting The Association of Professional Dog Trainers their certified trainers must prove they have been training, pass an extensive test and sign an ethics clause.
Beware of Those that Call Themselves "Behaviorists"
Beware of those that call themselves "behaviorists", behavioral specialists, behavioral consultants, or even a veterinary behavior technician (this is like letting a vet tech do surgery on your dog) they are NOT the same without a veterinary degree!
How Can They Do That?
Because there is no law that says you have to do anything specific or pass any test to be a dog trainer or even call yourself a dog behaviorist.
So you could be talking to someone on the phone who has handled as few as 0-3 dogs but can still call themselves a dog trainer or even a behaviorist. There is no law that says that they can’t.
Even Those of Us Who Are Experienced
Even those of us who are experienced, you have no idea how we learned or the last time we updated our techniques. Just like any science the science of dogs and behavior and knowledge is always changing.
You want to know that the trainer that comes to your home (even with 40 years experience) isn’t stuck in the 70’s with their dog training knowledge and techniques.
And let me tell you, people know how to “fluff you” or lie to you on the phone. People will tell you what you want to hear and then you give them access to your dog and your family.
This is why I stick with board certified veterinary behaviorist. I can almost guarantee that their knowledge is ever changing and they are much less likely to put you and your family at risk by using outdated and dangerous techniques.
Isn’t It Expensive?
YES! Yes, it probably is expensive. But usually it is for a few initial visits and then you can go on to find a dog trainer you trust to help you with your behavior modification program.
Even the dogs that I have referred personally in my career; they see the specialist (get on medication if warranted) and then come back to seeing me to help them institute their program.
Dogs are an investment!
Your family is an investment!
If your dog bites someone you could lose everything you own, which is WAY more expensive than a visit with a board certified veterinary behaviorist.
If you are dealing with aggression do yourself a favor, call your vet or search online, or call your nearest vet school for a referral to a behaviorist or click here to find a Board Certified Vet associated with the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. I bet you won’t be disappointed.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.