What is the difference between training and behavior problem solving

“Behavior modification exercises are NOT, repeat NOT, obedience exercises. At the very outset, clients should be disabused of the notion that this is fancy obedience.” Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, ACVB, ABS Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Psychiatry Department, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

In August 2006, the first Journal of Veterinary Behavior was published. This first publication included an article titled “Good trainers: How to identify one and why this is important to your practice of veterinary medicine.”

The article emphasized why it is important to choose the right dog trainer emphasizing characteristics, training methods, tools and how punishment should be addressed. Understanding the differences when making your choice for training and behavior problem solving creates a win-win situation for you and your pet.

I meet the minimum criteria suggested in the journal article but exceed the suggested qualifications because I am certified in dog behavior. IAABC members specialize in dog, cat, bird, and horse behavior and come from diverse professional backgrounds.

Additionally, the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants publishes a peer-reviewed journal “Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice” and articles are available at http://www.iknowledgenow.com .

Working as a certified dog behavior consultant and professional dog trainer requires performing two completely different functions. I focus on dogs’ behavioral health and welfare as it relates in a developing human-canine relationship. My responsibility as a behavior consultant is to assess behavior problems and provide plans for intervention; this does not mean training your dog.

A certified dog behavior consultant often coordinates their services with the veterinary community and/or your personal veterinarian. Being sure a behavior problem is not resulting from a medical cause, i.e. aggression associated with pain or house-training problem and a urinary tract infection (UTI) is first eliminated. We offer referrals to other specialists, including board certified veterinary behaviorist, nutritionists, and holistic practitioners if clients ask. We may use other dog services i.e. dog walkers, other dog trainers skilled in specific areas of ability that may be necessary to complete a behavior modification process. I might also offer scientific accepted literature so clients are better informed when seeking others advice.

As a behavior consultant, I need to be objective, non-biased and empathetic to each owners situation. This requires skill in taking histories; assess historical information from clients as well as direct observation. My responsibility includes providing strategies of intervention that may include management, risk assessment related to aggression cases, designing behavior modification protocols, proper use of training equipment if necessary and application of scientific theories used in treatment strategies.

Behavior problems are usually complex requiring critical evaluation by a skilled individual educated in learning theory, animal behavior, the biology and physiology of dogs and understanding of ethology. Owners often think training solves problem behaviors and/or they use abusive and/or ineffective punishment often delivered via hired and unskilled dog trainers, if this were not true we would not see the overwhelming numbers of relinquished pets due to behavior problems.

As a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, I teach foundation behavior i.e. orientate (attention) sit, down, stay, wait, here (come) and settle/relax and walking nicely on lead. I also educate owners concerning socialization; recommending how to do this with other dogs, and people. I emphasize incorporating interactive play that teaches cooperative skills providing reward. I teach owners to be proactive in developing their dog’s manners; this enables families to appreciate their dog more as a companion than isolation affecting the dog’s ongoing welfare.

Dogs are uniquely different from humans; this difference creates different challenges in training dogs and effectively solving problems. Understanding canine communication is an important element of knowledge for educating owners in preventing problems and conflicts between dogs and humans.

Owner relinquishment due to behavior problems is a growing trend and lack of training and resolving behavior problems are the leading cause cited by many research studies. This led me to conclude owners need more than training lessons often thought effective  through classes. Training classes are designed to teach you how to train your dog not problem prevention and/or how to solve behavior problems. What often occurs during these classes is an unskilled trainer will suggest private training to solve behavior problems outside the classroom. The problem is many of these trainers have not been qualified by appropriate and necessary training and/or a certification process enabling them to do this.

What happens is owners are often provided with temporary relief and/or relief is provided by using punishment devices i.e. e-stimulus (shock collars) devices all ineffective and at the cost of the relationship. These kinds of devices would not be necessary if trainers are skilled in learning theory, understand animal behavior, the cognitive abilities of dogs as well as being effective enough to communicate this to owners. Instead, many offer “boot camps” often ineffective solving relationship problems associated with the problem behavior defined by the owner.

The training methods I use during training and/or behavior modification include lure/reward, shaping, and targeting. I use tools such as clickers when appropriate for training and behavior modification. I recommend and exclude the same tools for training suggested by the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2006) 1, 47-52.

If you do anything at all for your pet, take the time to make sure the individual meets the right criteria and understands how to help resolve a behavior problem defined by you. What may be unacceptable for you may be acceptable for another, it is not a cure-all for all, problem solving is an individual case by case study and why it’s important you choose the right person. You need a behavior counselor in the beginning not a dog trainer!

Joyce Kesling, CDBC

Certified Dog Behavior Consultant

Dog Trainer, Dog Behavior Specialist


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