Dog Behaviorist vs Dog Trainer

Dog Chewing Furniture

Let’s explore the differences between a ‘dog behaviorist’ and a ‘dog trainer’, and why each has its place in the wonderful world of canines

Canines are a man’s (and woman’s) best friend, but many natural behaviors, such as chewing, digging, biting, scratching, running away, and barking can be challenging for some doggo owners to content with.

Despite advice readily available online, there isn’t a substitute for professional help, education, and guidance. Yet, many fur parents aren’t entirely certain what type of professional help they need: a dog behaviorist or a dog trainer?

In this guide we evaluate the differences between a dog behaviorist and a dog trainer, giving you greater insight into these two roles and which may be the most applicable to your pet.

What is a Dog Behaviorist?

A dog behaviorist is a professional trained and experienced in interpreting and understanding WHY a dog may exhibit certain behaviors. Dog behaviorists, such as those from Man-K9, seek to discover and understand the motives (good or bad) that drive such behavior.

In other words, dog behaviorists treat the action (barking, biting, chewing, etc.) as a symptom of an underlying motivation or cause. This enables behaviorists to effectively address the reason behind the behavior, getting to the root and origin of the problem.

By understanding a dog’s reasoning behind their action, trainers and owners will be better equipped to help their dog work through the issues in the most effective way possible.

Dog behaviorists work with pets and their owners to evaluate, observe and interpret dogs’ behavior in various settings, ranging from the home, to dog parks, with people or when introduced to other dogs, and more.

The Role of a Dog Behaviorist

Dog behaviorists take on both an observatory and hands-on role with dogs.

Dog Behavior is evaluated based on environmental factors, including but not limited to:

  • Location of the behavior
  • Noise
  • Social interactions (with people or pets)
  • Presence or absence of the dog’s owner
  • And more…


Other aspects a dog behaviorist is responsible for taking into consideration include the dog’s age, breed, health, history of neglect or trauma, and the pet’s unique personality type.

The role requires years of experience, and a natural intuition with regards to pets, people, and the environment. Dog behaviorists aren’t always trying to alter the pet’s behavior, such as to encourage or discourage a particular action (i.e. tail wagging), but rather seeking to help pet owners understand how to interpret their dog’s communication.

What is a Dog Trainer?

Now that you have a better understanding of what a dog behaviorist does, let’s take a closer look at dog trainers.

Dog trainers typically work hands-on with the dog and its owner(s) both separately and together. The goal of a dog trainer is typically to correct ‘bad’ behaviors and/or teach dogs certain desirable actions or traits. Dog trainers will often teach ‘tricks’ such as handshaking, rolling over, etc., as well as commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘come’, and more.

Examples of Training Techniques Employed by Dog Trainers

  1. Reinforcement

    : This strategy works by discouraging or encouraging a behavior through reinforcement techniques. For example, if a dog listens to the command ‘sit’, it may be given a treat or affection. Over time, the dog learns that it receives a positive outcome when it listens to such commands, thus positively re-enforcing ‘good’ behavior.

  2. Pack Mentality

    : By their very nature, dogs are pack animals. This can be leveraged to the owners’ advantage in order to modify behaviors. Owners are positioned as the ‘alpha’ of the pack, and through the use of strict boundaries (such as not letting pets ‘lead’ you on walks, or jumping on furniture) reinforces their alpha status. In other words, what the ‘alpha’ says goes.

Dog Behaviorist vs Dog Trainer Overview

Aggressive Dog

Licensing Requirements

Dog Training Licensure

In the United States, dog trainers are not required to have any type of licensing in order to market themselves as a trainer and to carry out services. However, some trainers may opt to undergo training and education that may result in certifications.

Dog Behaviorist Licensure

Similar to trainers, no specific licensures or certifications are required to become a dog behaviorist. However, dog behaviorists often have significant experience (years to decades) and/or education that better prepares them to fulfill their role.

For example, Man-K9’s training director has more than 40-yeares of experience, with a long and documented track record of achieving results for pet owners, police departments, and organizations.

Man-K9 Certifications:

  • California P.O.S.T Certified Police K9 Evaluator
  • California P.O.S.T. Certified Instructor
  • Police K9 Trainer (the only civilian Police K9 trainer in San Diego County)
  • DEA Certified (the only trainer in San Diego County)
  • Kennel Tech Certified
  • Canine Good Citizen Evaluator (AKC)
  • And more…

Other Awards and Accolades:

  • The Friends of Animals award from the North County Humane Society
  • Head dog trainer for leading facilities in the region, including: San Diego Humane Society, San Diego Obedience Club, and North County Humane Society
  • Handlers and their K-9’s from Man-K9 have earned honors including: Top Dog Award, Judges Choice Award, 1st place in Obedience, 1st. place in Agility, 1st. place in Area search, 1st place in Building Search, and 1st place in Protection

Areas of Work for Dog Behaviorists and Trainers

Each may work in a variety of settings and capacities. Breeders, re-homing facilities, special needs training schools, canine schools, dog sitting businesses, dog walking businesses, law enforcement departments, dog rehab centers, dog rescue organizations, and more are all potential roles or places for dog trainers and behaviorists to work.

Differences and Similarities: Dog Trainer vs Dog Behaviorist

Let’s recap the major similarities and differences between these two roles.


  • Dog trainers tend to be hands-on while dog behaviorists may be both hands-on as well as observational.
  • Trainers are unconcerned with the ‘why’ behind a dog’s actions and more so concerned with simply correcting the behavior. Behaviorists, by contrast, seek to understand the reasoning or motivations behind a dog’s actions.



  • Neither profession is required by law to have any specific type of training, education, or certification, however, it is not uncommon for either to proactively seek out certifications.
  • Both trainers and behaviorists may work on either short-term or long-term with pets
  • Both roles may work with good as well as bad behaviors
  • Each may involve the owner individually and together with their dog when working to uncover the reasons behind the behavior as well as to correct or influence the dog’s behavior(s).

Is Your Fur Baby Acting Out or Acting Up?

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