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What’s a behaviorist?

The average dog trainer is fine for typical pet dog training. Such a trainer probably can help solve typical puppy/dog issues like jumping up, chewing, etc. When you move into the realm of performance dogs, or even dogs who will do more than hang out in the backyard, then I think it’s best to seek out top trainers in your area, who specialize in the various training you need and who really keep up on the latest animal behavior research. When a dog’s challenges cross beyond typical and into abnormal, then it’s time to consult with a behaviorist … especially if the behavior is dangerous.

Now, a lot of people call themselves behaviorists who really aren’t. True behaviorists are PhD’s who are certified applied animal behavior professionals. There are also veterinary behaviorists with extensive animal behavior credentials, in addition to their medical ones. Here’s a link to the certifying body’s website, if you need help finding a real behaviorist near you:

http://www.animalbehavior.org/Applied/CAAB_directory.html

There is also a link the sidebar to the right, in my Blogroll, for a behaviorist blog from Animal Behavior Associates here in Colorado. I highly recommend it, if you want to learn more. They are very good at explaining complex topics to “regular” people.

They have no magic elixers, though. Hiring a behaviorist requires hard, often long-term, work. Based on my research and reading, it’s much better to call for help sooner rather than later. So, keep that in mind as you face any doggie drama in your life. Don’t assume weird or scary behaviors will go away or get better on their own. Most times, they won’t.

On a personal note
So far, I’ll admit, I have not gone this route with Lilly because we both adore Gigi Moss, who I call our behaviorist-type trainer (
http://www.gigimoss.com/index.htm). Gigi reads a lot, researches a lot, attends conferences to learn more from top trainers. She’s not pedaling old crappy methods or ideas. She adjusts strategies based on each dog’s needs, not on some formula that only works for “normal” dogs.

Lilly loves Gigi’s classes. She howls with joy when we turn up the street to the dog park in Boulder, where Gigi holds drop-in classes. It’s the one place Lilly has worked well or learned to recover.

Gigi hangs in there with us, even when things get tough.

Unlike many of our classmates, Lilly and I started our pet dog obedience work elsewhere, but the dogs who started with Gigi as pups are stellar. I’m not kidding. These dogs are phenomenal, and their handlers adjust as needed to help me manage Lilly’s environment so that it is not so “scary.”

These are good people with great dogs, and I’m grateful to have them in our corner as we look to expand what Lilly is capable of doing. They help us build confidence so that Lilly doesn’t feel like she needs to be on guard all the time.

At these classes, Lilly is mostly practicing behaviors she already knows. In fact, one of Gigi’s interns called Lilly “The Ringer” when we first started going because her skill level was so much higher than the pups in the class (usually 9 months to a year old).

I usually refer to it as our work-and-play class because we take play breaks so that the dogs DON’T learn that every time we call them the fun is over. Lilly doesn’t really play with the other dogs. Once in a while, she’ll take up the chase and pretend she’s herding the pack. But, mostly, it’s a victory for her to poke around on her own or stay calmly by my side, even though noisy, rambunctious dogs keep racing by.

It’s not so much a place for Lilly to
learn new behaviors in the traditional sense. It’s a place for Lilly to learn to trust. It’s a
place to practice doing simple things even though
other dogs are around.
And, for Lilly, that’s hard work.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.