What is Behaviour Modification?
How is it different from "regular" Training?
When we look at the ways that we're able to work together with you and your dog, we tend to divide the training needed into one of two categories; Behaviour Modification or Skill Building.
Behaviour Modification is designed to help change your dog's fundamental understanding of the world, how they react to it emotionally, and how they are expected to conduct themselves in response to it.
It focuses on things like resolving fear/anxiety, overcoming confinement stress, moving past reactivity, etc., and is implemented as a way to change the way your dog feels about the world and all of the things in it, instead of being limited to teaching conditioned responses to external stimuli (which is basically a fancy way of saying that instead of teaching your dog to sit and focus when they see another dog, we'll help your dog not necessarily NEED to have to look away from things that they see).
Skill Building, on the other hand, refers to teaching the aforementioned conditioned responses, as well as any of the other "mechanical" skills that we need our dogs to be able to master in order for them to safely accompany us throughout our lives. These things include Sit, Down, Stay, Come, Place, Heel, Focus, etc.
It should be noted that both aspects of working with dogs are equally important, but that they may need to be addressed at different times or for different reasons.
For example, I might really want to teach my dog how to loose leash walk, but in order to do that, first I need them to stop being terrified of every new person that walks by. Or, I might want to perfect my dog's Place command, but before I do that, I might need to help my dog get over the anxiety they feel if they aren't right beside me every waking moment.
At Align, our biggest focus is ensuring that you and your dog are getting the kind of training you need, when you need it, which is why we have decided to separate lessons that focus on Skill Building from sessions that focus on Behaviour Modification. This way, we can help you resolve any Behaviour challenges that may be creating barriers to the success that you and your dog are working so hard to achieve!
In other words, if you're concerned about your dog's reactions to other dogs, people, the environment, etc., then you're likely going to benefit the most from Behaviour Modification. However, if your focus is just on how quickly and well your dog is able to learn and respond to direction that you give him or her in the form of commands, then you're likely going to be happiest with Private Lessons for Skill Building.
Do you need a "special" Trainer to do Behaviour Modification?
Yes and no.
We say this because, as an unregulated industry, anyone can technically refer to themselves as a "Behaviour Consultant", just as easily as they can refer to themselves as a "Professional Trainer", but there are some helpful indicators to watch for:
First of all, Behaviour Consultants are like Trainers in that they may or may not be certified; however, a Behaviour Consultant absolutely requires a lot more knowledge about the way dogs think and feel, and why they do the things they do in the ways that they do them.
In fact, it's not unreasonable to say that Behaviour Consultants can "speak dog" to a certain degree, which gives them the ability to determine and understand the root cause(s) of a dog's behaviour(s) and reactions. This in turn allows them to develop plans and programs designed to address and resolve those things, rather than teaching the dog a new skill or command. In order to gain this type of knowledge and ability, it is our opinion that a really good Behaviour Consultant likely has at least five or six years of experience as a Professional Trainer prior to moving into the field of Behaviour Modification, if not more. This is not a field where success is typically going to be found by taking online courses.
Secondly, a Behaviour Consultant should be extremely proficient at Skill Building techniques in addition to their understanding of dog psychology and body language, though they may or may not integrate those skills into a Behaviour Modification Program, depending on what it is that they are trying to achieve with the client they're working with. It's worthwhile noting that some Consultants almost always include Skill Building components in their plans, while others prefer to mostly keep those two things separate; neither way is better than the other, they're just a reflection of the Consultant's preferences and style.
Finally, working with a Behaviour Consultant often ends up feeling like participating in a therapy session... for both the dog AND the owner. This is why we feel that it's important for a good Behaviour Consultant to also have education and background in human psychology... not just canine. This is because a huge aspect of the success that you will be able to achieve with Behaviour Modification boils down to the owner's ability to participate in the Modification Plan with their dog.
At Align, our resident Behaviour Consultant is also our Company Founder & President, Christina Chandler. Along with being a Certified Professional Canine Trainer and Certification Evaluator through the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP), Christina is currently completing the final classes she requiresd to obtain a degree in Human Psychology through the University of Saskatchewan.
Christina has more than fifteen years of Professional Canine Training experience and has been informally focusing on Behaviour Modification for the last couple of years. She has recently decided to make Behaviour Modification her main focus, while Align's other Canine Trainers will continue to work diligently on the Skill Building aspect of the training picture!
If you would like to read more about Christina's qualifications and experience, you can find that information HERE.