A Bernese Mountain Dog puppy loves working with dog trainers

(Photo credit: Ziga Plahutar / Getty Images)

When you have a question about potty training or a problem with separation anxiety, you may wonder who to turn to for help. What is the difference between a dog trainer, a behaviorist, and a veterinary behaviorist? Which is best? Learn more about dog trainers and behaviorists so you can make the right choice for you and your dog.

What are dog trainers?

A dog trainer is a person that can help you train your dog. Dog trainers have a wide variety of skills, from knowing how to handle the basics of obedience, to working on more serious problems. They also can have qualifications from various dog training schools. In most cases, dog trainers work on the basics, in programs such as Canine Good Citizen, and with service dog training schools. They typically do not work on bigger issues such as aggression or resource guarding.


What are dog behaviorists?

Behaviorists come in two groups: animal behaviorists and veterinary behaviorists. Behaviorists have more specific training than dog trainers and have to meet higher education requirements, such as with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)

Veterinary behaviorists are board-certified veterinarians that also have a board specialty (ACVB). They must complete four years of veterinary school followed by several years of behavior training to become certified. Veterinary behaviorists can also diagnose and prescribe medications.

Behaviorists often work on specific behavior problems, rather than the basics. They are also trained to work with aggressive or traumatized dogs. These professionals can help with advanced issues such as separation anxiety, resource guarding, socialization, and more.

Differences between trainers and behaviorists

There is overlap in what trainers and behaviorists do, depending on the individual qualifications of that trainer. However, one type of professional may be better suited than another. With any trainer or behaviorist, you should look for one with experience in positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement teaches your dog to work with you through encouragement of good behaviors. If a trainer utilizes techniques that make you feel uncomfortable, it’s best to look elsewhere.

If you’re looking for general training, such as with potty training or basic obedience, a dog trainer is a great match. They can offer group classes or one-on-one training to help with basic behavior and learning commands.

If you’re dealing with a more specific issue, such as severe separation anxiety or aggression, a behaviorist is the better choice. With veterinary behaviorists, they can also create a plan of medication and training to address severe problems.

If you’re unsure what training option is best for you, contact a local trainer or behaviorist in your area. Many offer home visits and consultations. You can explain any issues you have to determine the best course of action. 

How to start dog training

Training can be tricky, but it’s good for your dog’s well-being. Now that you know the difference between dog trainers and behaviorists, read up on how to choose the right trainer and the most popular dog training methods. If you’re unsure what is right for you, it’s always good to contact a local in your area to help.

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