Trainer, Behavior Consultant, or Behaviorist: What’s the difference?


You need help with your pet’s behavior. What’s the difference between trainers, behavior consultants and behaviorists? Which one is best for you?



Trainers focus on teaching animals new behaviors. They can specialize in family pet training (manners), basic to advanced obedience, dog sports (agility, lure coursing, nose work) and working dogs (assistance dogs, herding, police K-9s). Most trainers also address common behavior issues, like house-soiling, chewing, and jumping up. Experienced trainers may take on more complex issues. Some specialize in working with multiple species.


There are no state certification or education requirements for trainers. There are many competent trainers with no formal education or certification. But in the interest of professionalizing the industry, most reputable trainers are formally educated and certified.


Trainers can be formally educated through professional programs or college coursework in ethology, psychology or animal sciences. Below are several reputable professional programs:

·         The Karen Pryor Academy

·         Companion Animal Sciences Institute

·         The Academy for Dog Trainers

·         Ethology Institute of Cambridge

Trainers can be certified by a number of different organizations.  All require a written exam; some also require a practical exam.

·         Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers

·         International Association of Canine Professionals

·         Association of Animal Behavior Professionals

·         International Animal Trainers Certification Board

·         Assistance Dogs International


Behavior Consultants

Behavior consultants specialize in helping owners deal with complex problem behaviors, such as aggression- and fear-based issues. Although there is no state requirement, they are usually formally educated and certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Many consultants work with more than one species.


Animal Behaviorists

Behaviorists are scientists with post-graduate degrees, certified by the Animal Behavior Society. They focus on helping owners resolve complex behavior issues. Because of their extensive education and experience, their fees are generally higher than behavior consultants. Veterinary behaviorists are veterinarians who specialize in behavior issues, certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. They focus on resolving underlying medical issues and can prescribe medications to help resolve problem behaviors.


Professional Organizations

Trainers, behavior consultants and behaviorists can be members of various professional organizations. All require a registration fee and adherence to prescribed professional standards. Some require a certain level of education or experience to join, but don’t require certification.

·         Association of Pet Dog Trainers

·         International Association of Canine Professionals

·         International Positive Dog Training Association

·         Pet Professionals Guild

·         Animal Behavior Management Alliance