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A trainer is a trainer is a trainer...


As anyone with a strong professional drive and the constant need for validation, I follow a lot of social media, forums, newsletters, and other resources on a regular basis. Something I’ve noticed in most of these groups is that people are always looking for free advice. “My dog is aggressive” or “my dog destroys things when home alone” or “my dog is so hyper I don’t know what to do with him.” My advice, every single time is “talk to a veterinary behaviorist.” Today, it came to my attention that a lot of people don’t know the difference between one type of animal professional and another. I thought it would be useful to define these different individuals, their niche in the world of animal behavior (realizing that this is a bit of a personal opinion), and why you might seek out one over another.

Since animal behavior is still relatively new, I like to compare it to human medicine. It makes it a little easier to wrap your head around. Realize, they are not exact parallels, but it’s a good jumping off point. Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

Veterinary Behaviorist – Veterinarians are required to complete a 4-year undergraduate degree and a 4-year veterinary program. Once they complete their schooling they need to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) in order to practice medicine. Veterinarians are akin to medical doctors. Just like medical doctors, veterinarians can then pursue further training to become boarded. A veterinary behaviorist needs to complete a residency. This can be either a traditional residency, completed at a veterinary college, or a non-traditional residency where they have a mentor but work in a private practice. These individuals are required to take certain college courses, publish a research project, and meet specific case load guidelines. Once their application and coursework is complete, they then sit for a 2 day, rigorous board examination. If they pass, and not many do, they are then considered Diplomates of the American Veterinary College of Behavior or a “DACVB.” They are at the top of the professional totem pole. They are the only ones who can legally and effectively diagnose, prescribe medication, and write a full treatment plan. If these people cannot help you, no one can. There are less than 80 in all of North America. They can be compared to a boarded psychiatrist.

Professional Focus: True behavior disorders: compulsive/repetitive, aggression, panic disorders, behavior problems that have not responded to training alone, etc.

Behavior Technician – This is a licensed veterinary technician that has become boarded through the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (AVBT). As a technician, they must complete an associates or bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology, pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). Once they pass their examination and granted a license to practice veterinary technology, these individuals can then pursue specialty just like veterinarians. In order to sit for their board examination, they must complete 4,000 hours of behavior related w