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Finding a Non-Quack Expert
It may feel bad to acknowledge them when they happen, but dog behaviour problems are known to occur in the best families. It's nobody's fault. The thing about getting professional help from a behaviour consultant is that you know that there is no educational or licensing requirements that they need to clear. When it comes to dog behaviour consulting, it's the Wild West out there. But if you try to take care of the problem with your own homegrown techniques, you know how much time it takes and more often than not, you really don't get the kind of results you're looking for. How exactly do you go about getting professional help you can actually trust?
The problem with going to a hack consultant for your dog behaviour problems is that he can do more than just waste your time and money. He can actually give you bad advice that can harm your relationship with your dog - if not harm your dog itself. For instance, ignorant consultants will often interpret a dog's constant growling or snapping as a challenge that the dog poses, to achieve dominance over you. And they will advise punishment. While this kind of dominating behaviour is not unheard of, it really is quite rare. Usually, dogs act this way for the opposite reason - they're fearful. And if it's an older dog that's suddenly turned problematic, there could be an illness behind it. Try to confront the dog with intimidated gestures like jerking its collar or shaking it by the scruff, and your dog may decide it's had enough and fight back.
You want to look for an expert on dog behaviour problems. What you're looking for then is someone who has great book learning, an intuitive love and understanding of animals in general (and dogs in particular), a lot of experience, and an interest in working creatively with dog behaviour problems. Some people just decide to go to a dog trainer instead of taking the trouble to find a consultant. While both these are skills exhibit a considerable degree of overlap, they are hardly the same thing. Dog trainers specialise in things like teaching dogs manners or how to participate in a dog show with grace. Dog behaviour consultants on the other hand, specialise in how to change specific attitudes and ways of behaving. And just because you have an expert on hand who has been in practise for 20 years, it doesn't mean you have found exactly what you want. Old experts may often fail to keep in touch with the latest advances made in understanding of dog behaviour (and there have been many advances of recent).
Learning Theory is one such recent advance. Researchers have now established several ground principles of how animals learn and how to teach them. You need someone who's kept himself abreast of all this. The dog consultant also needs knowledge of how to understand social behaviour, body language and the cognitive abilities of dogs.
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