Table of Contents
- What is a Dog Behaviourist?
- Medications used to treat Dog Behaviour Problems
- What does a Vet Behaviourist Do?
- How to become a Dog Behaviour Specialist
- What is the difference between a Dog Trainer and a Dog Behaviourist?
- Explaining Dog Behavior: Some things that can influence a dog’s behaviour change, include:
- Dog – Human Relationship and Training Methods
- Positive Reinforcement Based Dog Training Explained
- Stress and it’s influence on Dog Behaviour and Wellness
- What happens to a dog’s behaviour when it isn’t trained?
- Conclusion – A Dog’s Behaviour is either growing or decaying
What is a Dog Behaviourist?
The best Dog Behaviourists are professionals that have a deep understanding of dog psychology and animal behaviour. They can be presented with behaviour problems such as separation anxiety, aggression, dog-dog reactivity, barking, vocalising, hyperactivity etc and understand why those behaviours are occurring. By asking a series of questions about the dog’s lifestyle, health, behaviour and past experiences, they can then formulate a behaviour modification plan to transform your dog’s behaviour problems.
Many dog behaviour problems stem from anxiety and when dogs are in a state of freight of flight, effective learning cannot take place. Sometimes a dog will require anti-anxiety medication to help them move through a training or behaviour challenge. Only Veterinary Behaviourists and Vets can prescribe these medications.
Medications used to treat Dog Behaviour Problems
- Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) – increase the level of serotonin (mood stabiliser) in the brain. Can reduce a dog’s anxiety, improving training and behaviour outcomes.
- Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA’s) – increase the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, having an anti-depressive effect.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MOA’s) – increase the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain by inhibiting the enzyme that would normally break them down.
What does a Vet Behaviourist Do?
A dog trainer is like the canine equivalent of a teacher, they understand how dog’s learn. While a dog behaviourist is like a psychologist that understands how behaviour works. The best dog behaviourists and dog trainers have some understanding of both learning and behaviour. To be a great teacher, you need to be able to engage your students and that requires an understanding of what motivates a dog to do what it does.
A Vet Behaviourist is like a psychiatrist, they can diagnose and treat mental illness in animals. They understand the physiology of the brain and body and what is going on under the surface when all others see is a behaviour. When necessary, they can manipulate how the brain functions by prescribing drugs that can help regulate a dog’s emotions and mood. Sometimes, medication can provide the bridge that a dog requires, in conjunction with training, to improve their behaviour and quality of life.
Similarly, many dog behaviour problems are caused by an underlying and undiagnosed health issue such as pain. Being first and foremost trained and qualified as veterinarians; vet behaviourists are able to carry out a thorough physical and mental examination of the dog.
How to become a Dog Behaviour Specialist
In Australia dog trainers and dog behaviour specialists are not regulated, meaning anyone can call themselves a dog behaviourist or dog trainer. Someone can have no experience or qualifications and offer dog training at home, courses, puppy preschool, doggy day care, camps etc where they can share training techniques without being held accountable for the services they offer.
With so many people calling themselves dog behaviour specialists, it’s important to do your due diligence before giving someone access to your dog or puppy. If you’re searching for dog trainers or dog behaviour specialists near you, keep in mind that the following major cities of Australia are not regulated:
- Gold-Coast – Tweed Heads
- Canberra – Queanbeyan
- Central Coast
- Sunshine Coast
- Alice Springs
The best dog behaviourist might not be located near you, but many now offer online consultations during which they gather information and put together a bespoke behaviour modification plan for your dog. This means that you can train with some of the best behaviourists and dog trainers worldwide from the comfort of your home.
What is the difference between a Dog Trainer and a Dog Behaviourist?
Dog Trainers understand how dogs learn best and are skilled at applying positive reinforcement-based training methods in a controlled environment, to teach a dog how to perform a behaviour. These behaviours are then put on cue and practised in a range of environments, in order to proof the behaviour. Through short, positive training sessions, a dog owner should gradually be able to expect their dog to perform those behaviours in a range of environments.
A Dog Behaviourist understands why dogs do the behaviours they do and considers all the factors that might be influencing a dog’s behaviour. They will often formulate a Behaviour Modification Plan that takes into consideration a range of influences on the dog’s behaviour.
Explaining Dog Behavior: Some things that can influence a dog’s behaviour change, include:
- Environmental influences (distractions – overstimulation, rehearsing unwanted behaviours)
- Arousal levels (Over excited or under-excited)
- Misunderstanding (you have not been clear in communicating the behaviour you desire)
- Value (your dog may not value the rewards you are using highly enough)
- Emotions (Fear, anger, frustration)
- Health (underlying health condition, sleep deficits, pain)
Dog – Human Relationship and Training Methods
Through thousands of years of selective breeding and co-habitation dogs and humans have the ability to enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. Training your dog and possessing a basic understanding of dog behaviour aids in the effective two-way communication of our desires, needs and wants. Both positive (force-free) and negative (aversive) based dog training methods exist and some dog behaviourists use a combination of both.
Force-free methods involve rewarding desirable behaviours whilst aversive training methods place pressure on the dog and or punish the dog when they display undesirable behaviour. Modern force-free dog training is supported by scientific studies on behaviour, which show us that animals learn most effectively using positive reinforcement-based training. A Dog Behaviourist might use positive methods while another Dog Behaviourist will employ aversive training tools such as prong collars, slip leads, check chains, citronella and E collars. Find a Dog Behaviourist near you, who shares your ethics on how dogs should be treated and trained.
Positive Reinforcement Based Dog Training Explained
Positive reinforcement in dog training involves the process of rewarding desirable behaviours with something the dog values such as food or play. Rewarding the behaviours we want to see more of, increases the likelihood that those behaviours will be repeated in the future. In fact, a study involving 364 dogs and their owners found that dogs trained using positive methods such as praise, food rewards and play were reportedly more obedient than dogs that were trained using negative training methods such as physical and vocal punishment.
Furthermore, the welfare of dogs trained using negative methods was found to be at risk due to the higher frequency of problematic behaviours found in dogs that were trained using negative methods (Hiby, EF Rooney, NJ & Bradshaw, JWS 2004, ‘Dog Training Methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare’, Animal Welfare, vol. 13, pp. 63-69).
Any use of force as seen in negative reinforcement or positive punishment can detrimentally effect the relationship you have with your dog. It is important to build trust in that relationship and to be aware of any stress we are causing our dogs whether it be through undue pressure due to false expectations or raising our criteria too quickly in the training process. This quote by P.Cohen is relevant for anyone training a dog, “There is no one giant step that does it, it’s a lot of little steps”.
The Foresight Dog Training philosophy is based on building layers of understanding and empowering dogs with skills that will help them make good choices throughout their lives even when we’re not there to tell them what to do. Many dogs will have limitations and benefit from first identifying and finally accepting these limitations. Having an understanding of your dog’s fears, triggers for excitement and or aggression will enable you to create an environment in which your dog feels comfortable and secure while they are learning.
Thankfully, there is a growing trend in dog training to respect dogs’ autonomy and view them as valued collaborators in the training process.
Stress and it’s influence on Dog Behaviour and Wellness
Furthermore, this understanding will be invaluable for preventing exposure to such triggers in the future. Dogs benefit from reducing the incidence of over-arousal (or stressful situations) otherwise known as going over threshold. When our dogs go over threshold (over excited/stressed) their bodies release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline/epinephrine which are designed to be released in life-threatening situations.
However, when our dogs are regularly stressed or over-aroused and they have a consistently high level of stress hormones pumping through the body it begins to have adverse effects on the health of the body. This effect is similar to what we observe when we are under pressure due to time constraints. Prolonged stress can result in reproduction, growth, immunity and digestive issues.
If you’d like to find out more about how stress can impact the health of animals, including dogs and ourselves, we highly recommend the work of neuroendocrinologist, Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University, who has studied stress in baboons:
The best dog training, trainers and dog behaviourist has the ability to mould our dogs into the best companions they can be. Genetics, past experiences and how your puppy or dog was raised before coming into your care will also have a big influence on shaping their future behaviour.
What happens to a dog’s behaviour when it isn’t trained?
Without any training dogs will revert to behaviours that they would naturally practise in the wild such as chewing, barking, scent marking, digging, jumping, mouthing etc. The high number of dogs that are euthanised each year conveys that sometimes the human/dog bond can introduce conflict & stress into our lives.
Sadly, many people underestimate the commitment required in rearing and owning a dog. Owning a dog is not only for elite dog trainers or behaviourists. In fact, dog owners may feel overwhelmed by the huge volume of information available on dog training (Facebook groups, articles, blogs, books, DVDs, television programs) not to mention that everyone has an opinion about how you should train your dog!
Some dog behaviourist professionals seem to make dog training and behaviour much more complex than it needs to be, resulting in disempowered dog owners who feel that they are not skilled enough to meet their dog’s needs let alone to see their dogs reach their full potential in dog sports.
Conclusion – A Dog’s Behaviour is either growing or decaying
The best dog trainers and canine behaviourists help dog owners, by providing simple and concise dog training information. Information that will empower owners and their dogs with the skills necessary to live an enriching and harmonious life. Owners need to feel empowered with the ability to communicate their expectations to their dogs through force-free training methods and likewise to use feedback from their dogs to keep training ‘alive’ for the life of their dog. Training is not something we do for 3 weeks and then our dog is cured of all undesirable behaviours. Dog training never ends and like anything in nature it is either growing or decaying, the same applies to your dog’s behaviour.