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Dog Behaviorist vs Dog Trainer – What’s the Difference?

Breeding Business is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Published on
Monday 28 October 2019
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
dog trainer vs dog behaviorist
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Dog behaviorist vs dog trainer, what is the difference between these two key roles in the canine industry? And how can they benefit us as owners?

cA dog behaviorist works to understand why a dog may behave in a certain manner. They have to consider their motives for both good and bad behavior. As opposed to a dog trainer who aims to teach individuals the behavior as asked by their owner. Whether this is for working, performing or pet dogs. Behaviorists provide the ‘why‘ in dog behavior and how to understand it and trainers provide the ‘how‘ to correct it.

What is a Dog Behaviorist?

A dog behaviorist is involved in the understanding of behavior in several environments from the vets to their home. All formal dog behaviorists are certified with either an:

  • Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (ACAAB)
  • Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), or
  • International Association of Behavior Consultants certified (IAABC).

The two more well-known qualifications in the United States are the ACAAB. and CAAB.


An ACAAB applicant must hold:

  • A master of science
  • A minimum of two years of work experience in animal behavior
  • 30-semester credits of behavioral science (including animal behavior, learning, and psychology)


A CAAB applicant must hold:

  • A science-based doctorate and five years of work experience


  • A veterinary medicine doctorate, two years supervised residency and three years of work experience

As well as a contribution to the annual Animal Behavior Society (ABS) meeting through a talk or presentation.

Dog Behaviorists Role

The individuals who work in this career understand the possible reasons for different dog behavior. This may include areas such as poor health, neglect, trauma, breed type, and even individual traits. Workers may be involved in a hands-on position and interacting with the dog. Or may watch their behavior without involvement, it is situational-dependant. Workers in this career must have a calm nature to assess a dog in any position. They should also have a natural level of intuition to assess the dog, owner, and environment. They also must figure out where the behavior originates from.

Being a behaviorist may mean you are involved in the assessment of good and bad behavior of dogs. Over half of dog behaviorists help write professional articles and explain different behavior types. Therefore the understanding of good behavior or even general dog behavior is required. A good example is a dog wagging its tail is considered to be normal behavior. Though understanding of why it happens is still required; workers are not necessarily trying to alter, prevent or encourage a behavior, but understand and explain.


Famous Behaviorists

Three well-known behaviorists include Dr. Karen Overall, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, and Jeff Silverman.

  1. Dr. Karen Overall specializes in the genetics of dogs, the formation of normal and abnormal behavior. She typically works with Pit Bulls.
  2. Nicholas Dodman has focused on noise phobia, clinical treatments and debunking dominance theory in recent years. Although he works with a range of dogs he can often be seen with boxers.
  3. Jeff Silverman works with rescue dogs and aids in the treatment of behavioral problems such as food aggression. He is known most for his work with large breeds with aggressive/fearful tendencies such as Labradors.

What is a Dog Trainer?

Dog trainers work closely with both the dog and the owner to correct bad behavior. They also attempt to install suitable replacements in both the owner and the dog. Further tasks in their profession include teaching tricks such as sit, stay and whatever else the owner has requested. Currently, individuals in this career do not require any specific education. A regular entry method is apprenticeships. If you possess a passion for dogs, canine training and have experience with both then you could be considered.

Training techniques

Numbers of training methods exist but some of the most popular or well-known today are reinforcement, association and pack mentality. Here are just a few of these common method broken down:

  • Reinforcement: is when an action is either encouraged or discouraged through reinforcement. If a dog sits or stays, they may be given a treat, if they take food they may be scolded. This is training through reinforcement.
  • Association: A popular example of this is clicker training. When a dog hears the clicker being used repeatedly when sitting and receiving a treat, they will repeat the action. Clicker training can also be used to prevent an action.
  • Pack mentality: This method works on the idea that owners should be considered the alpha in their home situation. Using strict boundaries is the base rule in this technique. A few examples of this are not letting them on furniture and not letting them lead on walks. The owner should control the eye contact given and received by the dog.
  • Relationship-based training: When a trainer works to understand an individual’s behavior and what causes this. We call it relationship-based training. The trainer may see unwanted behavior, such as excessive barking and work to understand why this is happening. Then they may choose a way to move forward.

Three popular USA dog trainers include Cesar Milan, James Hamm, and Dianne Marcinizyn.

  1. Cesar Milan works with pet dogs as opposed to working dogs. He typically treats behavioral problems as opposed to teaching tricks. Milan creates a pack mentality to help dogs in the home. Though, he remains a controversial trainer due to pack mentality recently being debunked by Dr. Dodman. Furthermore, it was argued such training techniques can increase permanent anxiety and aggression due to stress.
  2. James Hamm uses many techniques but mainly reinforcement to teach puppies and adult dogs alike. This can be for better behavior in the home and on the leash. He owns the company lonestardogtrainer and works with other trainers to improve a dog’s behavior.
  3. Dianne Marcinizyn specializes in rescue dog aid, Marcinizyn often works with Labrador retrievers using relationship-based training.

Dog Trainer vs Dog Behaviorist

The differences between the professions of dog trainer vs dog behaviorists are not well known but very important!

The purpose of a dog trainer is to change or teach a new behavior. Compared to the dog behaviorist who can explain and recommend changes to aid behavior. Depending on your role (owner, farmer, breeder, K9 worker e.t.c) either a trainer or a behaviorist may be more beneficial.

differences between dog trainers and behaviorists
A behaviorist for dogs provides you with a WHY, and a trainer helps you fix the dog with a HOW.


Trainers do not require licensing of any kind to perform their trade. But for recognized certification, they will have to apply to their board of choice and meet the needs. These may range from age, work experience, passing a written exam or demonstrate training. You do not require a license to identify as a behaviorist, similar to trainers. But high standards of education are needed to gain certification. While freelancers can begin either career with no education or experience, certification is usually wanted for hiring schools.

Areas of work

Many of you reading this will not just be dog owners. But breeders, workers (re-homing, special needs, special forces) and even those considering a career change. Therefore we need to explain the different areas these professions may work in.


You will typically see trainers focusing on one area of work, such as a household, workplace or training schools. Self-employment or branching into training schools are two options for this role. Canine schools will train dogs at their location compared to freelance trainers who go to you. Typical offers include regular training sessions or a school package deal. Training sessions work until the owner’s goals have been achieved. Or during a one-off session to set an example for the owner. Whereas a package deal with a school offers lessons for a set period.

When trainers work with areas of work, their strategies or goals may differ. Instead of teaching a list of tricks like with many owners, trainers often work closely with staff to teach techniques. Therefore, the techniques can be used to train all dogs in the facility, such as training guard dogs. If they are hired to correct behavior through training, then again they would work closely with staff. During this, they would teach prevention methods and explain the reasons for behavior. Trainers may also be employed in specific force industries, such as search and rescue. But often these roles will start from the base job i.e. search and rescue worker.


Behaviorists’ work spread across theoretical and practical working environment; many employers may research the answers to behavioral questions whilst others help those with/working with dogs. Formal journals are contributed to by behaviorists. Therefore the working position may involve more paperwork and less hands-on working days. However, it depends on where they are employed and what working route they decide to take. Many behaviorists work directly with dogs and owners or even rescues to correct and explain negative behavior.

Large rescue branches often employ their own on-site behaviorist to assess dogs for their ideal home. They also provide correction training for possible bad behavior. This also allows a rescue center to understand the origin of each dog’s behavior and give the correct treatment. An example scenario may be where a dog shows aggression when pet on the muzzle. A behaviorist will be able to identify if this comes from fear or possible pain. Thereby deciding on behavioral or vet treatment.

Canine behaviorists will often open up their own dog behaviorist school. Owners struggling with their dog’s behavior are the target audience. These problems are usually more severe such as dog or human aggression or acute separation anxiety. Canine behaviorist schools work with both the owner and dog to understand the origin of the behavior. The staff will usually recommend personalized long term care packages for the individual’s needs.

How do you get into each industry and what jobs are available?

Being a trainer means you will need to choose if you wish to work with a company or by yourself. Schools and companies will regularly offer training to the chosen candidate. Note that work experience and outer reading will increase your chances. There are also paid training courses both online and in-person to help you work towards the career. These are a must for someone who wishes to work alone. You must also consider education, advertising, and pension for freelancers. Regardless, most canine training roles will be with an owner and their dog. Although there are options to work with rehoused individuals and even train dogs on movie sets.

As previously mentioned, most behaviorists will need to partake in a degree and masters. Along with up to five years of work experience to be able to qualify for the role. You would then have to gain your certificate to be a recognized dog behaviorist. Then decide whether to advertise yourself as an individual behaviorist, work with a company or work on research.

Trainers will cost less than a behaviorist due to their education level. You can usually expect to hire a dog trainer for $20 to $50. This is per individual training session or one-off group class. Meanwhile, canine training schools can be from $500 but usually over $1000 for a month’s worth of teaching. Behaviorists will often have a fee of $50 per hour. However, it is common for a behaviorist to offer you a specific quote regarding the problem. They will maintain contact with you and help with change until the problem is under control or ‘cured’. These quotes range from $800 to $2000 depending on the dog’s age and behavioral issue.

Differences and Similarities Summarized

To recap, the list created here helps clarify some key differences and similarities between the dog behaviorist vs dog trainer.


  • Qualifications and education are only needed by a dog behaviorist
  • Dog trainers will work with a dog and owner up close, a behaviorist may not
  • Trainers are not required to research nor explain why a dog could be behaving negatively but correct it. A behaviorist does the opposite
  • Behaviorists will be able to dissect a behavioral issue and find the origin. Next, explain the correction procedure. For most individuals, trainers may have a generalized method for changing behavior. But usually, they will work with lone individuals, such as rescues
  • Behaviorist usually study multiple individuals to compare findings, trainers will often focus on one individual to improve behavior


  • Trainers and behaviorists can work on short term and long term basis with clients
  • Both roles may work with good and bad behavior of dogs
  • Either can alter the behavior of owners and dogs

One comment on “Dog Behaviorist vs Dog Trainer – What’s the Difference?”

  1. t-racy

    Breedingbusiness is literally the BEST place to get breeding and training information anywhere. I am on here almost every day and I’m so grateful I found this site, it helped me with both of my dogs (spitz and german shepherd). Hope this helps some others.

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