Following the progress of dogs with training and/or behaviour problems is a popular TV programme topic. However, these ‘snapshot’ stories do not demonstrate how important it is to find professional help nor explain the difference between training and behaviour problems. This article outlines how and where to find the correct help and advice.
What to do if your dog has a behavioural problem
If your dog begins to display inappropriate or anti-social behaviour, you may at first ignore the problem in the hope that it might go away. Being embarrassed or even upset when your dog behaves badly is the first step to acknowledging a problem. Emotions can run high if a dog jumps up at a child or worse growls at strangers, so it is important to accept that you have a problem with your dog. Once you have done so you can then take the first steps to seeking help.
Training versus behaviour problems
For some people this can be a very touchy subject and it shouldn’t be. Describing dog trainers as less skilled and less knowledgeable than dog behaviourists has happened in the past.
Detecting cancer, alerting owners to the onset of an epileptic seizure, guiding visually impaired owners and searching for missing persons are clever things that dogs do. These dogs have highly skilled trainers. Many pet dog trainers have completed practical courses and developed excellent observational abilities as well as perfect timing, enabling them to become proficient in teaching both dogs and owners. It is possible to overcome some training problems within a class setting although other problems may require one to one sessions before joining a class. Common training problems are:
- Not coming back when called
- Over excitement
- Lack of manners
- House training
- Jumping up
Identifying the motivation driving the behaviour is key: because the problem may be a symptom of an underlying emotional/behaviour problem and could require some in depth and long term help.
For example, barking could be fear related or a resource guarding issue and simply eradicating the barking will not resolve the underlying problem.
A dog behaviour specialist studies animal behaviour and psychology and is therefore well equipped to assess the emotions and motivation for the problem behaviour. They often work on veterinary referral.
Common behaviour problems are:
- Inappropriate elimination
- Noise phobias
- Separation related problems
Other behaviour problems often have some safety issues such as:
- Aggression to people/other dogs
- Resource guarding
- Livestock chasing
There is naturally an overlap between the two roles and there are many dog trainers and behaviour specialists who work together, providing a holistic approach to problem behaviour in dogs.
Finding the right help
Ask your veterinary practice if they can recommend anyone to help you. For a training problem there are often contact details on the practice noticeboard for local dog trainers. However, many veterinary practices have developed a relationship with a trainer and can endorse their methods. If your vet feels that the problem requires the advice from a dog behaviour specialist, then they will also have someone who they refer to.
Post on local social media groups for recommendations, you can then message those who respond and ask them directly about their experiences. It is well worth doing some background research. You need to know what type of methods people use. Not everyone in the dog training/behaviour field uses positive methods and you must make sure that you are happy with their approach.
Where the training/behaviour consultation will take place, how long each session will last, how much it will cost, and how many sessions are included in the fee are important things to ask. It is in both yours and your trainer/behaviour specialist’s interests to establish what is going to happen.
Qualifications and experience
This is a minefield! Very often dog trainers and dog behaviour specialists will state that they are members of an organisation. These organisations may have their own accredited training courses which allow successful students to become members. Others require more professional and academic qualifications for membership.
Membership of any organisation does not guarantee that an individual is reliable and suitable. However, most organisations have a code of practice which you should make yourself familiar with. If you are unhappy with the methods or service you receive you can complain.
Look on the Animal Behaviour Training Council (ABTC) website for different categories of animal behaviour specialists and dog trainers.
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) is an excellent place to start. Formal assessment of each member takes place and they run accredited courses.
For a dog behaviour specialist, members of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), the Canine Behaviour and Training Society (TCBTS) and the COAPE Association of Applied Pet Behaviourists and Trainers (CAPBT) are well qualified and have a wealth of experience.
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