Maya McLaughlin ISCP.Dip.Canine.Prac, MISAP,AMICAN

Always Choose a Trainer Who Loves What They Do


Dog Behaviourists, Dog Trainers

the difference between them

and how to know who you need to help your dog

Some dog owners may be confused about who can help them with their dog’s behaviour.

Although many dog trainers take an active interest in the causes of canine behaviour, there can be many differences between the approach of dog trainers and canine behaviourists.

Some dog owners may think that because they have taken their pet to dog training classes and because a dog has been trained to respond to certain cues, that the reason behind any ‘problem’ behaviour cannot be due to a lack of    training.

So without being equipped with the understanding which govern a particular canine behaviour, simply attending dog training classes is likely to have little or no impact in extinguishing behavioural response.

Primarily the work of a canine behaviourist is:

  • To locate the root cause of the issue by retrospective examination
  • To explore every possible reason for the behaviour
  • As far as possible, to examine a pertinent chain of events which have led to the established pattern of behaviour

General dog training tends to look ahead towards something we would like a dog to do (sit, stay, come) and work is directed specifically towards those goals. However when working with problem behaviours it is more often that not prevention we are looking to train in (don’t bite, don’t chase cars, don’t toilet in the house) and this being the case it is essential that triggers for the behaviour are uncovered so that the correct changes can implemented.

It would be fair to say that 90% of the time when managing canine behaviour it is necessary to train the owners. This does not always go down well. A small proportion of people can lose sight of what is important – the dog.

That being said, the majority of owners do not allow ego to get in the way and are happy to work with the behavioural recommendations as set down and in this way the training is not compromised. When this symbiosis occurs it is often found that very little training of the dog actually needs to be carried out.

Some canine behaviourists may also be dog trainers, and some dog trainers may also have skills in determining the causes of canine behaviour, but not all. These two roles are complete in themselves. Some behaviourists may refer owner and dog to a good trainer if they believe that the problem could be alleviated by training.

Training the dog generally can be beneficial, even if not specifically aimed at eliminating a particular problem. It can strengthen the bond between owner and dog, and get them working as a team. It can help give a dog something to do, alleviating boredom, and a dog that responds to basic commands is less likely to get into trouble (meeting other dogs appropriately, walking well on leash, good recall). If the dog is rewarded for what it learns, then it is extremely likely to continue to offer behaviour that is wanted.

In Conclusion

Every creature (including humans) are the product of three things:

  • Genetic composition
  • Environment
  • Experience

Behaviour is  an amalgam

influenced by the above foundational triad

Assessing a behavioural issue can be complicated. For example, the outwardly simple act of a dog biting could actually be caused by myriad factors, so prior to any action being taken all elements must be considered. Once it has been ascertained that a dog does not suffer from any medical condition which could impact on behaviour then behavioural work can commence.

Canine behavioural work is likely to include:

  • A detailed history of the dog, including (but not limited to) the behaviour itself
  • Acute observation of the dog in familiar environment when the behaviour usually occurs along with the person/people usually present
  • Body language/responses of the dog to various stimulus should be observed (inc. during exhibition of the behaviour should it arise)
  • Questioning of owner regarding response, dog’s routine, potential triggers (no matter how trivial)

Nb: it may be necessary to observe the dog more than once to arrive at an accurate diagnosis

Copyright © 2020

Maya McLaughlin