What do you think about dog psychologists aka dog behaviorist? Me not so much.
If you’re talking about someone that brings the dog into their office, sticks it on the couch and asks it if it hates its mother then me not so much either. However, dogs are intelligent and anyone that has studied dog behaviour in its nuance and variations in breeds and individual dogs might consider themselves as students of dog psychology. Dog psychologist though? A little self-aggrandizing I think.
There are dog trainers that call themselves a “dog behaviorist” and earlier in my career when I thought such a thing would distinguish me from the run of the mill dog trainer I embraced the term. After a while, I thought it was silly and so now I’m just a dog trainer that believes in ethology with a strong emphasis on field observation, and has done a fair amount literature study.
There is a branch of veterinary science now that certifies veterinarians as behaviourists. I believe their intellectual focus is mistakenly inverted when compared to that of a good dog trainer, with much more theoretical and laboratory emphasis rather than field experience. In my experience, they seem to have a poor grasp of the real world of dogs and their owners. I’m sure there are exceptions but when it comes to actually training a wide range of dogs as of yet I haven’t met one that seemed to know the difference between a scientific paper and a pee pad. They seem to think that saying “No” to a dog will ruin it’s self-esteem forever.
I recently learned of a new branch of the pet mental health services and if anything has ever got anyone’s goat, my goat was got. On the truck radio there was a pet psychic. I almost ran into the ditch. If I hadn’t been driving I would have called her to see if she could figure out what I was thinking. Vomit and the word charlatan would have figured prominently.
Outside of the world of fantasy here is what you’ll find good and bad as your advisory options; people that have owned a dog or a few dogs. Their advice is often unsolicited. There are the “ignore bad behaviour – reward good behaviour” all positive trainers – often “certified” – that think they’re training for obedience but are actually not getting things much past the trick level. Then there are balanced dog trainers that excel at obedience – teaching dogs to do practical things as if it were a job instead of a trick.
Then there are trainers that have personally trained a thousand or more dogs. They can consistently help teach a dog to stop doing something harmful to others or itself, or at least reduce the impact of the negative behaviour on the dog and dog owner’s lifestyle, or and to me the mark of a true professional; be honest and say and be able to explain why meaningful change isn’t going to happen.
Over the years, people interested in becoming a dog trainer have approached me. They emphasize how much they love dogs, working with dogs, reading about dogs etc. That doesn’t move me much. Loving dogs is easy. Whatever they end up calling themselves, a good dog trainer must love people. Without that natural ability in the forefront, it won’t matter what they call themselves.