Do I Need a Dog Trainer or a “Behaviorist”?

< A version of this article was published in the November 2019 issue of Downeast Dog News>

< Updated 09FEB21 >

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Dogs do not come with written instructions, and whether you have an 8-week old puppy, a six-year-old rescue dog, or anything in between having a relationship with a professional and accredited dog training or behavior expert can be your greatest asset.

Dog trainers typically teach you how to train your dog to be a great companion. They will address house-training, bite inhibition, jumping, and socialization with puppies and skills like teaching sit, down, stay, come, heel, leave it, and attention. Dog training is not a licensed profession, so you need to do your research carefully before making a selection. You can learn more at these links

If you have a dog with anxiety, fear, or aggression issues, you may need more than an accredited, professional dog trainer. In, fact if you are experiencing any of these issues, you should start with a visit to your veterinarian as there are medical issues that could be contributing to your dog’s undesired behavior. Any medical issue causing pain or discomfort can contribute to aggression. Other medical problems that can affect behavior include endocrine and neurological disorders and even tick-borne diseases.

Aggressive behavior is often an emotional response (anger or fear), and training alone may not be helpful. For example, a dog who has been trained in a wide variety of scenarios may well be able to sit on a single visual or verbal cue, but when under stress they may not respond to the cues you give. For example, you may be able to recite Shakespeare or solve differential equations, but your ability to do so when stressed may make it doing those tasks very difficult. We need to recognize and accept that a reactive dog is stressed and uncomfortable.

If your veterinarian rules out a medical reason for your dog’s behavior, you will want to seek the assistance of a professional credentialed to work with behavior cases. There are three levels of professionals to consider.

At the top of the list is a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. This is a veterinarian that has completed additional training in behavior and is entitled to use the term “Veterinary Behaviorist’ and use the initials DACVB after their name. They will be experienced in training, behavior modification, and in the use of pharmaceuticals to aid in treating behavioral issues. As of the Fall of 2019, Maine has its first Veterinary Behaviorist in the state, Christine D. Calder DVM DACVB. [ FMI – Introducing Dr. Christine Calder, Maine’s 1st Veterinary Behaviorist – ]

Next on the list are individuals who are credentialed by the Animal Behavior Society. They usually have a doctorate or master’s degree in animal behavior and have passed an exam that then allows them to use the title Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB or ACAAB). You can find a list of these individuals at I am not aware of any currently practicing in Maine.

At the next tier are those like myself that are credentialed as Behavior Consultants. Although people occasionally refer to me as a behaviorist, I am not. The only people that should be using the title “behaviorist” are those that are credentialed by the Animal Behavior Society or the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. There are three independent accrediting bodies that credential people like myself doing behavioral work listed below.

Like dog training, behavior consulting is not a licensed profession, so please verify the credentials of whomever you select to help your dog. If they recommend the use of any type of aversive (shock collar, choke collar, prong collar, spray bottle, dominance downs), anything meant to punish, look for someone else. Punishing your dog is only likely to make their aggression worse and more dangerous.

Lastly, you might want to review a past column of mine at the link below.

Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog
( )

What Is Dog Training?

How to Choose a Dog Trainer

Maine Dog Trainers That I Recommend

Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show
( )

Introducing Dr. Christine Calder, Maine’s 1st Veterinary Behaviorist

Web Sites

American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB)

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB)

Animal Behavior Society –

Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)

Midcoast Humane –

Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB)

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( ) in Bangor, ME where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at, the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog:  The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

09FEB21, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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