When you get a new dog the array of services of dog training options available to you can be a bit overwhelming. There are dog trainers, obedience trainers, animal behaviorists, behavior consultants, aggression trainers, etc. and they offer positive reinforcement training, dominance training, clicker training, trick training, and so many other things. It can be difficult to decide what it is that will work best for you. Here are some basic definitions to help you make decisions.
Dog Trainer: This is someone who teaches you how to train your pet. They may offer private classes and group classes. Some trainers will take your dog and train it for you, rather than teaching you how to train your pet. They may or may not have received certification and training before they set themselves up as a trainer.
Obedience Trainer: This is a dog trainer who specializes specifically in obedience. Most of the time, the two terms are used interchangeably.
Animal Behaviorist: A behaviorist tends to work mainly with dogs that have behavioral issues such as separation anxiety or aggressive behavior. They use science to understand what causes the behavior and help you find ways to overcome or modify it to make it more acceptable or easier to live with. A behavioral consultant does the same thing. Some behaviorists have degrees showing that they have studied the science behind behavior while others become consultants after years of experience. Always ask for references.
Aggression trainer: This is a trainer who specializes in working with dogs that have aggression issues. Because the behaviors can be very difficult to overcome and hard to work with, this tends to be a more specialized field than general training.
Positive Reinforcement Training: This just means that the class focuses on teaching your pet how to behave using rewards such as affection, food, and praise to promote positive behavior. Its opposite is negative reinforcement which uses corrections such as tugs on collars to decrease the frequency of a behavior. Most classes use a combination of the two, with a focus on the positive.
Dominance Training: This is a training method that is based on pack theories and uses forceful methods to establish a person’s dominance over the dog. Most dogs look for leadership from a person but some can be more forceful and domineering. In recent years this type of training has come under a lot of scrutiny with many feeling that it is not helpful in the long term and may even worsen aggressive issues.
Clicker Training: Clicker training is used on a wide variety of animals including dogs, cats, horses, dolphins, and many circus animals. It uses a consistent click sound that is produced by a clicker to indicate to the animal that they are doing the desired action. It allows a handler to shape behavior in very small increments that would be difficult to do otherwise. Because it is so instantaneous, it is much more accurate at pinpointing the right action for the dog. Most trick trainers use clicker training.
Have fun with training your dog. If you enjoy it, he will too.