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Pet Training & Behavior Topics

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What is the difference between
an animal trainer and a behaviorist?

Welcome to Diana Guerrero's Ark Animals Training & Therapy. This section is dedicated to pets, companion animals, and topics related to their care and training. This article discusses the difference between an animal behaviorist and pet trainer. You should get professional help for pet problems.

Many people are confused over the difference between an animal behavior consultant and an animal trainer. What is the difference and does it matter? Yes, it does matter but the gap has been closing in recent years. Many animal behavior consultants are also trainers, but not all; most trainers are not animal behavior consultants--but some are.

Animal behavior has only been a recognized profession for only about ten to fifteen years. For those of us involved in the business longer than that (over 30 years for me), it has been a frustrating path to get understanding as to what it is that we do!

Animal behavior deals with behavior, causes, and contributing factors that influence it. Behavior consultants look at environment, socialization, breeding, diet, health or medical background, previous training (or lack of) and other dynamics in the home. With this information they will customize a program to stop, prevent, or change certain behaviors of pets.

Owner's are trained to use behavior modification techniques too, in most programs. As with animal trainers, there are no universally recognized organizations that license or certify behaviorists, (fairly new exceptions are the board certification in the veterinary field and degrees in the field of animal behavior consultants along with a couple of animal behavior organizations who will offer certification for a fee and a test). Most behavior problems such as chewing, digging, barking, separation anxiety, aggression, and house training need a behavior consultant not a trainer.

Consultants help the animal to learn, not to just respond, and they recondition or retrain appropriate behavior. Sometimes there will be alternative therapy or psychopharmacology prescribed with the assistance of your veterinarian. They get to the root of the problem instead of addressing a symptom. Each animal and program is designed for the specific animal and situation surrounding the behavioral challenge. Things are starting to change as most behaviorists now have formal education in what they do.

Pet trainers usually apprentice and learn from another trainer with hands-on experience and coaching. Recently some training groups began to offer specialty classes that focus on specific types of training. Many private organizations and facilities recently began holding formal training programs that include some behavior oriented therapy.

Ultimately, search for someone who has both practical and theoretical knowledge so you and your pet will have the best of both worlds. Be sure to find someone who you and your pet are comfortable with. Each person and animal will have different needs so spend some quality time looking. Select someone who you feel is professional and personable because you will be working closely together and this relationship is an important one.

Please understand that some trainers will have basic knowledge of behavior and some behaviorists will have a basic knowledge of animal training. When you are working with a trainer, look for help from someone who does not use force techniques, pain, or archaic tools such as prong/pinch collars, chokes, etc. Animals do not learn well if they are fearful or if the methods are harsh. Also, don't pick someone who treats animals all the same--they aren't!

As a final note, remember to use care and caution if you are looking for help with aggression. In aggression cases you should never use aggressive, or harsh techniques, since it will only make matters worse. Ask questions on the background and methods of training when searching for anyone to help you. And don't forget that the earlier you start dealing with problem behaviors, the easier they are to get rid of!

If you are experiencing this behavior problem help is just a phone call away! Hire Animal Expert

About the columnist: Since 1978 Diana L. Guerrero has worked professionally with both wild and domestic animals. Guerrero has been affiliated with, and certified by, a variety of animal programs in the USA and Europe. Based in California, she writes, consults, and speaks. Information on her animal career programs, training courses, and her books {What Animals Can Teach Us about Spirituality (SkyLight Paths, 2003), Blessing of the Animals (Sterling, 2007), Help! My Pet is Driving Me Crazy (Guerrero Ink, 2007), Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners & Pet Professionals (Guerrero Ink, 2007)} can be found in this web site and in the shop. Questions for Guerrero should be submitted via the blog comments or membership forum.


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