It’s one thing to work with little Spanky in the yard and through the judicious use of treats teach him to sit up or roll over.
But bigger challenges — digging, aggression, mindless barking and the like — require more than a Milk-Bone. Sometimes you need a professional.
First, though, talk to a veterinarian to be sure there are no physical issues causing the behavior. The next step is hiring a trainer or behaviorist.
“Take into account the problem you’re having or what you want,” says Kristen Collins, director of anti-cruelty behavior services with the ASPCA’s Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team. “Say you have an untrained dog or a dog that’s rowdy when it greets people ... (if you want) to treat behaviors, a trainer is your best bet. But (for) fear, anxiety or aggression, your best bet is to go with certified behaviorists.”
The choices: There are four main categories of pet professionals: trainers (or pet psychologist, pet therapist or some variation); certified professional dog trainers; applied animal behaviorists (certified and associate certified); and veterinary behaviorists (vets who go beyond vet school training and are certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists). Certification is a big deal, Collins says, and should be from an unbiased group.
The search: There are three certification councils you can consult: for trainers, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (ccpdt.org); for applied behaviorists, the Animal Behavior Society (certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com); for a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (dacvb.org).
“Find someone in your area,” Collins says, “then go to your vet and ask if they have any experience working with them.”
Also consider education, experience, recommendations and references.
Collins recommends at least two or three thorough interviews over the phone. “Ask about specific experience solving problems like yours, their general education,” she says.
And, she adds, seek “trainers who emphasize reward-based training (and) positive reinforcement. Make sure they use humane training equipment. Ask specifically about the methods the trainer will use to make sure you’re OK with them.”
If you’re considering a group class, ask to watch one. If a trainer says no, look elsewhere. They should welcome you to sit in, she says.
Cost: Eight-week sessions can cost anywhere from $60 to $200. In-home lessons cost more because you’ll get personal attention. Group classes are almost always less expensive. And even the classes at large national pet stores have benefits.
The ASPCA offers an excellent — and free — pet behavior database at aspcabehavior.org.