What is the Difference Between a Dog Trainer and a Dog Behaviorist?

dog behaviorist vs trainer
Written by Graeme Hall

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As a dog owner, you may have heard the terms “dog trainer” and “dog behaviorist” used interchangeably.

However, there’s a crucial difference between these two professionals, a dog trainer cannot address deeper behavioral problems as effectively as a behaviorist, which you should understand.

Knowing the distinction can help you make an informed decision about who to hire for your furry friend’s needs.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the roles, qualifications, and approaches of dog trainers and behaviorists and when you might need one over the other.

If you want to know more about dog training, keep on reading.

What is a Dog Trainer?

A dog trainer, often a certified professional dog trainer, is a professional whose primary role is to teach dogs obedience commands, tricks, and desired behaviors through various dog training methods.

Their main focus is on the actual training process rather than addressing underlying behavioral issues.

At its core, a dog trainer’s job is to build a strong bond with your pup and create a positive learning environment. They use techniques like positive reinforcement, clicker training, and reward-based methods to shape your dog’s actions and responses.

The goal is to help your furry friend learn commands like “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and other basic obedience cues.

While educational requirements vary, many dog trainers have certifications from reputable organizations like the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, where professionals are trained to address behavior problems in pets.

These certifications ensure trainers have the necessary knowledge and skills to work with dogs effectively and humanely.

Types of Dog Trainers

Not all dog trainers are created equal. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Private/Independent Trainers specialized in Dog Training: These trainers work one-on-one with you and your dog, often in your home or a private setting. This personalized approach can be beneficial for dogs with specific training needs or challenges.
  • Group Class Trainers: These trainers lead group classes, usually held at a facility or training center. Group classes can be a cost-effective way to socialize your dog while learning basic obedience skills.
  • Specialized Trainers: Some trainers specialize in specific areas, such as training service dogs, agility training, or preparing dogs for competitions or shows. Their expertise lies in a particular niche or skill set, such as training dogs or correcting aggressive dog behavior.

No matter the type, a good dog trainer should be patient and knowledgeable and use positive reinforcement techniques to create a fun and effective learning environment for your furry companion.

What is a Dog Behaviorist?

While dog trainers focus on teaching obedience commands, a dog behaviorist’s role is to understand and modify your furry friend’s underlying issues to resolve behavior problems.

These professionals are also known as animal behaviorists or veterinary behaviorists.

If your pup is exhibiting problematic behaviors like excessive barking, aggression, anxiety, or separation anxiety, a dog behaviorist can be your best ally.

Their expertise lies in analyzing the root causes of these issues and developing personalized behavior modification plans.

Unlike trainers, dog behaviorists often have advanced degrees and specialized certifications in fields like animal behavior, psychology, or veterinary medicine to specifically address dog behavior problems.

This extensive education equips them with a deep understanding of canine behavior, body language, and the science behind it.

To become a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (ACAAB), individuals must meet rigorous academic and experience requirements set by organizations like the Animal Behavior Society (ABS) or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).

Veterinary behaviorists, on the other hand, are licensed veterinarians who have completed additional specialized training in animal behavior.

They can not only address behavioral issues but also rule out potential underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to your dog’s problems.

Different Types of Dog Behaviorists

While all dog behaviorists share a common goal of understanding and modifying canine behavior, their specific credentials and areas of expertise may vary:

  • Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs): These professionals hold a doctoral degree in animal behavior or a related field and have extensive experience working with animals.
  • Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs): ACAABs have a master’s degree in animal behavior or a related field and meet specific experience requirements.
  • Veterinary Behaviorists: As mentioned earlier, these are licensed veterinarians who have completed specialized training in animal behavior, often through residency programs or advanced certifications.

When dealing with complex or severe behavior issues, consulting a qualified dog behaviorist can be invaluable in helping your furry friend overcome their challenges and improve their overall well-being.

Key Differences Between Dog Trainers and Behaviorists

Now that we’ve explored the roles of dog trainers and behaviorists, let’s dive into the key differences between these two professionals.

Understanding these distinctions can help you make an informed decision about who to hire for your furry friend’s needs.

Training vs. Behavior Modification: The primary difference lies in their focus areas. Dog trainers concentrate on teaching obedience commands, tricks, and desired behaviors through training methods.

On the other hand, behaviorists delve deeper into understanding and modifying problematic behaviors at their core.

Educational Requirements and Certifications: While dog trainers may have certifications from reputable organizations, behaviorists often hold advanced degrees and specialized certifications in fields like animal behavior, psychology, or veterinary medicine.

Their educational background is more extensive and focused on understanding the science behind animal behavior.

Scope of Practice: Dog trainers primarily work on teaching obedience commands and desired behaviors.

Behaviorists, however, have a broader scope of practice, addressing complex behavioral issues such as aggression, anxiety, phobias, and separation anxiety.

Approaches and Techniques Used: Both trainers and behaviorists may use positive reinforcement techniques, but behaviorists often employ additional approaches like behavior modification, environmental management, and in some cases, medication (in consultation with a veterinarian).

When to Hire a Dog Trainer vs. a Behaviorist

Knowing when to hire a dog trainer or a behaviorist is crucial. Here’s a general guideline for selecting a certified dog trainer or behaviorist.

Hire a Dog Trainer if:

  • You want to teach your dog basic obedience commands like sit, stay, come, or heel.
  • You’re looking to train your pup for specific tasks or tricks.
  • You need help with general manners and polishing your dog’s behavior.

Hire a Dog Behaviorist if:

  • Your dog exhibits severe behavioral issues like aggression, excessive barking, or destructive behaviors.
  • Your furry friend suffers from anxiety, phobias, or separation anxiety.
  • You’ve tried training methods, but your dog’s problematic behaviors persist.

Remember, while dog trainers can help with basic obedience and manners, a dog behaviorist’s expertise is invaluable when dealing with deep-rooted behavioral problems that require a more comprehensive approach.


Navigating the world of dog trainers and behaviorists can be confusing, but understanding their key differences is crucial for your furry friend’s well-being.

Trainers excel at teaching obedience commands and desired behaviors, while behaviorists dive deep into modifying problematic behaviors at their root.

If your pup is struggling with severe issues like aggression or anxiety, a qualified behaviorist’s expertise can be invaluable.

Remember, doing your research and consulting with the right professionals can make all the difference in helping your beloved canine companion thrive.

About the author

Graeme Hall

Graeme is the founder of Doggytastic! which is where he blogs about dog training, health, nutrition and anything else related to keeping a dog happy and healthy. Want to know a little bit more? Make sure to check out his full bio.

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