Do I Need A Dog Trainer Or A Behaviorist?

Dog owners often say that when they began having problems with their dog, they attended an obedience class and it “didn’t work.” Have you given up on dog training (or dog trainers) after an unsuccessful class experience? You may need to consult a dog behaviorist.

Group obedience classes are designed only to teach basic obedience, and in some cases address minor problems such as jumping up or pulling on leash. Obedience training is an important and potentially life-saving skill for your dog to have, but learning to come will not solve your dog’s barking problem! It isn’t realistic to expect obedience training to solve behavior problems.

Let’s define the different types of “dog trainers” and what they do

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Obedience Instructor

Teaches basic obedience classes, and sometimes private obedience lessons. Some also run puppy classes and classes for those wanting to compete in obedience trials. This is the person you want to call to learn how to teach your dog to heel, sit, and come when called. If you weren’t successful learning obedience exercises in a group class, consider taking private lessons.

Behaviorist/Behavior Consultant

Meets with individual dogs and owners to give advice on solving and managing behavior problems. This is the person you want to call when you need your dog to stop doing something such as showing aggression towards people or chewing up your couch. These people are most commonly called behaviorists, but “behavior consultant” is actually more correct; technically a behaviorist is one who studies behavior.

Veterinary Behaviorist

This is a veterinarian who specializes in treating behavior problems. There are relatively few veterinary behaviorists. This is the person to see when other options run out or if you are referred to one by a behavior consultant. A veterinary behaviorist can run tests to find out if your dog’s behavior is being influenced by a physical condition, and dispense psychotropic drugs to help modify your dog’s behavior. The veterinary behaviorist will also fill the role of the behavior consultant and give behavior modification advice.

What exactly does a behavior consultant do?

Rather than having you attend a group class, a behavior consultant will meet on-on-one with you and your dog. Some will have you come to their office, and others will come to your home. Home visits are often preferable because the behaviorist will be able to observe your dog on his home turf. The behaviorist will ask you detailed questions about your dog and observe his behavior.

Then the behavior consultant will give you instructions on how to modify your dog’s behavior. You will be given training exercises to work on, and sometimes instructions on how to interact differently with your dog, how to manage his environment so that the problem has less of a chance to occur, and specialized training equipment.

Rather than meeting with your behaviorist every week (as with an obedience class), you will probably set up an initial consultation. After that, depending on the behaviorist and the severity of your dog’s problem, you may set up follow-up appointments every month, in three months, etc. For minor problems a single session may be enough.

How much does behavior consultation cost?

Behavior consultation tends to be significantly more expensive than obedience classes. Depending on your area and the individual behaviorist, consultations may last anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, and cost between $35.00 to $200.00. Veterinary behaviorists will charge more.

Why is behavior consultation so expensive?

This may seem expensive, but the behaviorist is probably making less money per hour than the obedience trainer. First of all, take a average fee of $75.00 for an obedience class. The average class would last 8 weeks at an hour a week, and contain 10-20 dogs. Let’s take 15 as an example. That’s $1,125 a class or $140.00 an hour. If you factor in an hour of travel and setup time for each class session, the trainer is making $70.00 an hour.

Now let’s take a fee of $100.00 for a 1 1/2 hour session with a behavior consultant. That’s $66.00 an hour, already less than the group class. Then add a ½ hour for travel time, and ½ hour to talk to you on the phone and get together the equipment and literature needed for the consultation. We’re down to $40.00 an hour. After the session, your behaviorist goes home, finds the additional information she said she’d send you, photocopies it and mails it. That takes at least 30 minutes. She invited you to call with any questions after the session, and when you call she spends at least 15 minutes on the phone answering your questions. That’s $30.75 an hour. Not bad, but compare it to the $70.00 a hour the class instructor is making, and add in taxes, advertising, and insurance! When you realize that the behaviorist needs far more expertise and deals with much more serious issues than the obedience instructor, the price begins to sound much more reasonable.

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