Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Building a reward system, or "My dog won't work for food"

Getting an animal to work for food is sometimes a little bit tricky. It is absolutely worthwhile, though, even if you have your animal working for another kind of reward. Food as a reward comes with several advantages. For example, it can be delivered and consumed very quickly so that the flow of the training is not disrupted and more repetitions can be fit into a short training session. It can also be delivered slowly (e.g. in lots of little bits one after another), stretching out the moment of reinforcement to make it seem like the animal has just hit the jackpot. It's a very flexible kind of reward. It can increase and decrease arousal, it can be delivered close to you or farther away, it's easy to carry, and it's one of the most reliable ways to improve emotional state, so invaluable for behaviour modification.

If your dog (or other animal) currently won't work for food, don't write the whole thing off. All animals will work for food. They have to eat, after all. Work through the following steps and pretty soon your animal will be working for their regular food whenever you give them the opportunity.

Step 1: Desensitisation

Animals won't eat unless they feel safe. If an animal is not safe it is just like when we are very anxious. Our stomach roils and we may even feel nauseous. We do not want to eat. They feel much the same way. Therefore, the first step in building a food-based reward system is to make sure your animal is comfortable with the environment. This means they are comfortable with their surroundings, the other animals and people in it, and the trainer. With dogs we tend to skip this step because many of them are very opportunistic about food and always seem ready to eat, but I can't emphasise enough how important it is to keep in the back of your mind. If you have a dog that is glancing around a lot, staring at other things in the environment, or seems very distractible or unwilling to move much, chances are the dog is not comfortable in the environment. For other animals you may see freezing and staring and a lack of response to you or any food you offer. The fix for this is desensitisation. Give them time to just take in their surroundings and get used to it. If they are in a whole new place, like they have just been rehomed, give them a few weeks. If they are in novel or unfamiliar surroundings but have a good relationship with you, give them a few days or sessions in those surroundings. If they are still not comfortable you can help them along with some counter-conditioning and active desensitisation. Stay tuned for an article detailing this.

Step 2: Establishing Food as a Reward

Some animals have not really had the opportunity to realise that food is something they actually can have control over. They are used to having it dished out to them and left to eat it in their own time. They don't know there might be other ways to get food, or that it might be much better than what they are used to. Other animals may naturally eat food that doesn't exactly run away from them, like grass. Basically they can eat whenever they feel like it and they won't have the motivation of a more opportunistic animal like a dog to take advantage of when it is available.

My preferred way of handling this is to find a food the animal particularly likes and make sure they only ever get it from my hand. For dogs, fresh or cooked meat is usually a winner. For very fussy dogs, try cooked heart. I boil lamb hearts in a saucepan until they are cooked through and then cut them up small. For herbivores, sometimes fresh fruit can hit the spot, or a favoured vegetables. I've had success with berries and carrot tops (the leafy bit from dutch carrots is a rabbit favourite). Grain-eating birds can be trickier. Watch what grains they choose first to work out their favourites. Try dark, oily seeds like a canary tonic mix, or egg and biscuit. For parrots, you may find fruit and nuts or a commercially available treat work. Make sure you check with experts if your animal's treats may cause health or digestive problems.

Step 3: Practice

Once we have some tasty rewards to choose from and our animal is interested in us and our food, then it just comes down to practising working for food. Many companion animals just don't realise they can earn food any time. If they can only earn food at meal times, or in training sessions, then how will they know it's worthwhile listening to you at other times? Make it really easy for them to earn food. They need to learn that just interacting with you pays. Making eye contact, following you, staying close, following gestures, and of course, lots of sits and downs. I love a default sit or down. Keep treats handy and play a game of trying to surprise your animal with treats or opportunities to earn treats when they are not expecting it. Note: This may work better for dogs than other animals.

Transitioning to using treats other than the amazing ones you found in Step 2 is quite easy. Wait until your animal is looking for a treat. This will usually happen a few days into Step 3. They will do something that has recently been rewarded and their ears will come forward and they will look at you and may dance around a little in anticipation. This is when you can try popping them a different treat. If they won't take it, go back to the good one for another day or half a day, then try again. If they do take it, good! Start offering it only 20% of the time at first, then after a day or so, move to 50% of the time, then 80%. Once you get to about 50% of the time, introduce a third treat in much the same way. Phase out the best treats at the same time. It is good to save these ones for when you really need them.

Next step - the big wide world. These dogs are in the habit of looking to humans for rewards, even somewhere as exciting and full of rewards as the beach.

Step 4: Taking it on the Road

It's easy to trip up, here. I know it's a drag, but if you have treats on you all the time you will see things to reward and you will have the means to do so. Why be stingy? The more opportunities your animal has to earn rewards the more attentive they will be to you. Once you get into the big wide world (if you take your animal there), they may completely forget about treats and earning food. It's okay, just be patient. The work you put in here will pay off in a big way. Go back to Step 1 and work through the protocol again somewhere that is not the most exciting place on the planet. You need to have your animal relaxed enough that they can stop running around and be content to look around instead, or even sit or lie down. Alternatively, teach them a cue that means "I have your favourite treats right here, right now." Use the amazing treats you discovered in Step 2 and pair them with a word or sound. I use "Hey!", but other people use a kissy sound, or clicked fingers, or "Oi!". Start at home, and every time you say the word, wait for your animal to look at you and then feed them the amazing treat. Do this a lot. Until when you say the world they whirl towards you. This can sometimes help you get your foot in the door once you are out in the world again by getting their attention.

Remember not to ask much of your animal at first. Be a good bet. All they need do is look at you when you say their name and you can reward that. If you ask for a sit, expect a one second sit and reward it if you get it. You can work up to more attention and longer sits later. To begin with this is all about teaching your animal that you frequently have good things for them, so it's worth their while to keep track of you and listen to you. If you can get their attention you're 90% there.

NILIF - Nothing In Life Is Free

Nothing In Life Is Free, or NILIF is a phrase that according to Karen Overall was originally coined by veterinary behaviourist Victoria Voith, although Bill Campbell had a similar concept at around the same time. Since then various trainers and behaviourists have developed variations on the NILIF concept, which is still in broad use. Why it is still in use after all this time is because it is a valuable protocol, but perhaps is sometimes misunderstood as it seems harsh and regimental. This article describes NILIF and what it does.

The Protocol

The idea of NILIF is that whenever your dog wants something, they must perform a particular behaviour before you give it to them. Usually a sit or down is used because it is a stationary behaviour that is incompatible with things like jumping up, so you are setting your dog up to do a lot of polite sits. If your dog wants to go out, they should sit first. If they are to get food, their leash on for a walk, or their leash off at the dog park, sit first. If they want affection or attention, sit first. Before they get to do anything they enjoy or want to do they should sit. It does sound regimental, but think of it as the dog asking nicely, the way we teach our children to say 'please'. If the dog doesn't sit, you don't have to make them. Assume they don't want what is on offer after all and walk away. Try again in 10 seconds or so. If they still won't do it, walk away again and leave it at that. They will quickly learn to just do it the first time, and then they will start doing it before you even ask them to.

The degree to which you implement NILIF is up to you. Most people believe that some things in life should be free, like water, and shelter. Others believe things like affection and going out to toilet should also be free. Really it depends on the dog. If you have a dog that is very opportunistic and pushy, you may want to use stricter NILIF than if you have a dog that is laid back and mellow. If you have a dog that rarely seeks your attention you may want to give them attention for free to encourage them to seek it more often. This protocol is quite flexible. It can be Some Things In Life Are Free or Many Things In Life Are Free or Occasional Things In Life Are Free. Read through the next section on why it works to decide the level you want to use.

How NILIF Helps

NILIF can help with a broad range of problems, as it offers a dog several things.
1) Predictability - The dog knows when good things will happen and that they will be able to get them. This is particularly helpful for a nervous or soft dog, as predictability = security. It takes pressure off them as they don't have to guess what you want of them. For these dogs you may want to adjust how much is for free depending on how nervous they are. Very nervous dogs will probably really appreciate a strict structure because it takes all the guesswork out of their lives, but you may want to let them have things for free that they are cautious about seeking.

2) Control - NILIF also gives dogs a sense of control while simultaneously giving actual control to the humans. This is good for dogs because control makes dogs feel secure and confident. It is good for humans because the dog will not try to take what they want. Instead they will sit quietly to 'ask' for it, which means they will be reinforced for good, calm, controlled behaviour and will not get the opportunity to do things you don't want them to do, like snatching or jumping up. This benefits all dogs, but is particularly important for those whirlwind youngsters that can do six dismaying things in the time it takes you to think what to do about the first one.

3) Deference - NILIF teaches dogs to get into the habit of checking with you and giving you priority access to resources. In other words, they are content to let you decide who gets what when. This means they will be less likely to become aggressive if they don't get what they want, or if you try to make them do something. This helps dogs that tend to be controlling to relax and let the people take care of things.

4) Trust and Reliability - NILIF teaches dogs that they probably want to do what you ask them to do. Rather than thinking about whether they really want to come to you and sit right now, they tend to assume if you asked them it will probably turn out well for them if they do it. Great for dogs that are independent or stubborn.

5) Impulse Control - You can use NILIF to teach your dog to control their impulses once your dog knows the game well enough that they don't need to be told to sit anymore. All you do is wait for your dog to 'ask' for something by sitting. When you have something they want, wait quietly for them to think for themselves how to get it. A sit often works for them if you have used NILIF, so sooner or later they should decide to give it a go. This is excellent because if they were being impulsive they would jump around like a lunatic or try to snatch. Instead, they can think through the problem and control their urges to bounce and grab and instead do something calm and controlled. 

Baby Erik performs a down at the river to 'ask' for a treat. 

So that's NILIF in a nutshell. It's good practice for all dogs to ask nicely for some things, like their dinner and waiting to go out a door because it helps them stay calm at times when they may normally be very excitable. But a more extensive use of NILIF gives dogs structure and puts them in your control, and that can help with all kinds of problems. As a general rule of thumb, the more extreme a dog's behaviour regardless of what it is, the more they may benefit from NILIF. Just remember not to push the matter, as it may put you in direct confrontation with your dog, and that is exactly what NILIF is supposed to help you avoid. You're not making them listen to you, you are gently showing them how it benefits them to listen to you.

Behavioural Medication

Animals, just like people, can sometimes find themselves unable to cope with aspects of their life, either temporarily or long-term. This may be because they have been subject to a traumatic experience, chronic stress, panic attacks, ongoing states of anxiety, or it may be more complicated than that. Like some people, some pets may just find everyday events difficult to cope with, have trouble controlling their responses to things, or tend to over-react or be overwhelmed. They may be particularly sensitive or have phobias that prevent them from functioning normally at times. But pets, like people that have these problems, don't have to suffer. We can treat them, and sometimes psychotropic medication is a very appropriate way to do that and will improve their quality of life. Sadly, it seems there is a stigma around mental illness in humans, and something similar exists for animals. Many people consider this medication to be an absolute last resort, as if there are many options they should try first. This is interesting when you consider how readily we often accept medication as a first port of call for physical ailments. Why the leery avoidance of behavioural medication, in some cases even after a veterinary behaviourist has diagnosed an anxiety disorder, phobia, or other emotional illness? Here are a few reasons that seem to come up regularly.

1) I don't want to change my dog or cat's personality. Are you your moods? Your pet's personality is not something set in stone as it is a beautifully complex and adaptable thing, but it is not so affected by brain chemistry that making a small adjustment to how the brain functions is going to completely change who your pet is so that they are unrecognisable. Rather, you are clearing the way for their personality to shine through their anxiety, phobias, or compulsive behaviour. If they are zonked out and not very responsive, the dose or medication is not right.

2) Medication doesn't teach them anything; it just treats symptoms. This assumes the animal is often in a state where they CAN learn. This is not necessarily true. It also assumes the problem can be solved by simply training the correct behaviour. Also not necessarily true. Emotional responses are not isolated from each other. There is ongoing emotional feedback that influences mood and how the animal sees the world. See the articles on emotional states in training for more information. Strong emotional responses override attempts to train behaviours. The medication will help address the emotional response so that training can be effective. It's not one or the other. They should go hand in hand.

3) Behavioural medication is over-prescribed, often used by people who can't handle the animal they have. This shifts the focus unfairly away from the animal, who may not be able to handle the life they have. Why should they suffer more than everyone else when there is medication available that can make them feel better? Most likely some animals are prescribed medication as a management measure because their owners can't cope with them. This may not be the disaster it sounds like. After all, this is about their welfare, not pet owner abilities.

Erik is a great dog, highly trained, very obedient. He is on fluoxetine (Prozac) as he is prone to getting overwhelmed, which makes life for him stressful. The medication helps keep his emotional responses moderate so he can be his best and happiest self. 

The psychological reasons why we might avoid behavioural medication may be more significant, and many of these may come down to cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when our ideals contradict reality. It makes us feel icky and conflicted. We don't like it and strive to resolve it. We resolve it either by justifying our ideals and beliefs in this new context, for example, with reasons not to medicate, or we discard those old ideals and beliefs and adopt new ones based on new experiences and information. The latter is extremely difficult for many people! See the article on cognitive biases to understand why. We are just not wired to discard beliefs we have held for a while. Here are some possible sources of cognitive dissonance related to behavioural medication in pets.

1) Surely my pet is not THAT sick. This comes up with people with mental illnesses as well. Perhaps we feel that we should be in control of our own behaviour and so should our animals, yet if we medicate a behavioural problem, are we taking their control away? It must be really serious for medication. But this has been going on for months. Maybe years. You pride yourself on being a good owner and taking your pet to the vet right away when they are unwell. It's okay! You are not a bad owner. You just don't know everything. Focus on the future. You are going to overcome all your reservations and hang-ups so you can give your pet this extra help. That makes you a good owner.

2) I'm a good trainer. A good trainer would be able to fix this with training. This is a big one for some dog owners. There is some confusion about what training can and can't do. As above, their ability to learn may be compromised without the support of the medication. Furthermore, your skill as a trainer is really a moot point. However skilled or unskilled you are, you are all your dog has. If that is not enough, your job is to recognise that so you can get your dog help now. You could be the best trainer on the planet and still not be 'good enough' to train an animal to alter their brain chemistry. If the medication helps, not only will training be much easier and more effective, but what training you have already done will come to the fore more often. Your dog is trying to be a good dog. They're just up against emotional states that are bigger than the both of you. When the medication is making that emotional problem much smaller and more manageable, your training will emerge like a beach when the tide recedes.

Like the tide coming in, heightened emotions will swamp your training.

3) He's been much better lately. I think we are making progress. Don't think, know. See the end of the bias article. Be very careful with this one. It is so easy to accept a very high baseline for 'normal' behaviour because that is what you usually see. If the animal is typically anxious and highly emotionally reactive, does this mean that if you see a small improvement the animal is no longer struggling to cope?

So when should you consider behavioural medication? Well, that's something you should discuss with a veterinary behaviourist. As a general rule, I would recommend a veterinary behaviourist when the animal is significantly stressed on a daily basis, when they are having panic attacks related to phobias or separation, and when they are engaging in behaviours so obsessively that it is impacting on their ability to function normally or is causing them harm. In short, when your animal's quality of life is diminished because of what they are going through. Remember that behavioural medication is not an exact science. If one medication doesn't work as hoped, don't be afraid to discuss adjusting doses or changing the medication. Just like people, individual dogs and cats can respond differently to the same psychotropic medication. Give it a proper chance.

A Bias Smorgasbord

After 3 1/2 years of studying cognitive bias in dogs, this has become a deep and abiding passion. Biases are fascinating and mind-bogglingly prevalent. They help us in many ways, but sometimes they are profoundly unhelpful. This article discusses just some of the many cognitive biases that have been documented in humans. If we know about some of the main offenders, we can decide for ourselves whether to let our biases help us or reject them as a hindrance.

A healthy dose of skepticism is one of the best things you can cultivate when it comes to caring for and training your animals. The reason why is because it is astonishing how what we come to believe can be twisted and warped by bias. And most of the time we have no idea it's happening. The training world is full of ideas that were formed through bias and then supported by bias until they come to represent fact purely on the basis that a lot of people have said it, and some of them sounded like they knew what they were talking about, or were perhaps professionals.

Firstly, it's important to understand that the decisions we make are based on risk assessment. All the biases described below are most likely to occur when the consequences of being wrong are less risky than the consequences of being right. There is a great paper by Haselton and Nettle (2006) that explains this concept in terms of natural selection.
Brace yourselves for a reality check, folks. Generally people have inflated views of themselves, being quite optimistic and considering themselves more in control of events than they are likely to be (Taylor and Brown, 1988; Roese and Olson 2007). Our first question of ourselves in training should be are we as good at it as we think we are? Will we truly see the details we imagine we would see? Is the change in behaviour we think we see real and is it a result of our training? As we explore some of the biases we are subject to, the answer to that last question may become more and more uncertain.

Where events are random to some degree, people believe they have more control over the flow of events than they do in reality, creating an illusion of control (Alloy and Abramson 1979). We develop rituals and a strong belief in our ability to control events (Matute, 1994, 1995). This is where superstitions come in, and, incidentally, obsessive/compulsive behaviours. Animal behaviour is not random, but it is extremely complex and there can be an element of uncontrollability. We should be very careful how much of an animal's behaviour we attribute to our actions. Remember that when we are training an animal, our behaviour is still subject to reinforcement. If the animal does what we intended it to do, it's part of our nature to attribute that to something we did and so we do it again. And once we think we are creating an effect, we will do just about anything to find support for our continued belief in that effect. This is called confirmation bias, where we seek or interpret evidence in ways that support  existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand (Nickerson 1998). For example, success with a training method once may lead to an inflated belief of its effectiveness. You will see success where it doesn't really exist and fail to see problems with the method when they do exist. One obvious reason for this is the desire to find a hypothesis correct or incorrect, usually because people like being right. We'll do just about anything to make sure we are right! Not only do we look specifically for evidence to support us, but we tend to ignore or even avoid evidence that goes against an already held belief (Koriat et al. 1980). Confirmation bias may include selective testing of a hypothesis that will fail to test both sides of the story (Wason, 1960), paying more attention to positive evidence than negative evidence (e.g. Gilovich 1983), and seeing what you are looking for or expect (e.g. Foster et al. 1976). People often draw conclusions early on in a process and then seek evidence to support those conclusions, which is known as the primacy effect (Anderson 1965). What's more, once a belief is formed, it tends to be very resistant to change even in the face of strong evidence against it (e.g. Ross and Leper 1975), and we are entirely likely to take information unrelated to the hypothesis at all as evidence for our continued belief (Pitz 1969)!

On top of this, we have other odd little biases to contend with. We tend to think we are less biased than everyone else (Bias Blind Spot) (e.g. Pronin et al. 2002), which is just gloriously ironic. And we tend to prefer immediate pay-offs over long-term pay-offs (Hyperbolic Discounting) (Green and Myerson 1996 for review) which reminds me of that sublime split second in which a dog pauses in its barking after you shout at it. There's the Mere Exposure Effect, where people prefer things they are familiar with, particularly at a sub-conscious level (Bornstein and D'Agostino 1992), and Negativity Bias, where people pay more attention to negative than positive experiences (e.g. Rozin 2001). And lastly, perhaps the most insidious of biases, Inattentional Blindness, where we just don't see what we're not looking for (see Simons 2004 for a decent review). There are some good videos on YouTube that will demonstrate this. It's a lot of fun and very enlightening, so look them up. Do a search for "inattentional blindness" or "change blindness". The most well known example is embedded below. The things we think we will notice we often don't. That goes for small details and major changes. This could hurt both our training effectiveness and our assessments of the welfare of animals we are training.

These human biases are NOT defects, they are adaptations. We all do it, even scientists. Scientists have just had it drilled into them to look for bias and always try to find something more concrete than their own interpretation of events. Remember that biases have all run through the natural selection gauntlet and ultimately benefit us in many circumstances. They are often like cognitive shortcuts that help us use our experiences to find patterns and make decisions where we don't have a lot of information. But they can be real pitfalls in training and interpreting behaviour. Our animals are at the mercy of our decisions and interpretations, and the way we make decisions and interpret events is coloured by our biases. We can easily be led astray by our natural tendencies to be biased, and our animals may suffer for it.
When trying to prove something scientifically, the general rule is numbers don't lie (although interpreting numbers puts us squarely back in bias wonderland). Our animals can't tell us directly when we are wrong about them, but they can often tell us indirectly. Count the occurrences of behaviour within a set timeframe to determine whether it is increasing or decreasing or staying the same. Calculate success rate. There is a photo of a simple success rate counter on the Creature Teacher Facebook page. Get a stopwatch. Record unwanted behaviour in a diary. Familiarise yourself with an ethogram for your species or make one for your animal. Look for the behaviours in your ethogram, even when you don't expect to see them. That's what we do to convince ourselves in science. It's actually not that hard on a small scale for a layperson, and my guess is it will be a real eye opener. Start with one behaviour at a time and do lots of watching. I think it's a bit more kind to yourself than becoming your own biggest skeptic, which I guess is the second best thing you can do to keep yourself honest.

Alloy, L. B., & Abramson, L. Y. 1979. Judgment of contingency in depressed and non-depressed subjects: Sadder but wiser? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 108, 443-479.
Anderson, N.H. 1965. Primacy effects in personality impression formation using a generalized order effect paradigm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2(1): 1-9.
Bornstein, R. F., D'Agostino, P.R. 1992. Stimulus recognition and the mere exposure effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 63(4).
Foster, G., Schmidt, C, & Sabatino, D. 1976. Teacher expectancies and the label "learning disabilities." Journal of Learning Disabilities, 9, 111-114.
Gilovich, T. 1983. Biased evaluation and persistence in gambling. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 1110-1126.
Green, L and Myerson, R. 1996. Exponential Versus Hyperbolic Discounting of Delayed Outcomes: Risk and Waiting Time. American Zoologist 36(4): 496-505.
Haselton, M.G., Nettle, D. 2006. The paranoid optimist: An integrative evolutionary model of cognitive biases. Personality and Social Psychology Review 10(1):47.
Koriat, A., Lichtenstein, S., & Fischhoff, B. 1980. Reasons for confidence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6, 107-118.
Matute, H. 1995. Human reactions to unavoidable outcomes: Further evidence for superstitions rather than helplessness. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 48, 142-157.
Nickerson, R. 1998 Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises. Review of General Psychology 2(2):175-220.
Pitz, G. F. 1969. An inertia effect (resistance to change) in the revision of opinion. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 23, 24-33.
Pronin, E., Lin, D.Y., Ross, L. 2002. The Bias Blind Spot: Perceptions of Bias in Self Versus Others.Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 28(3):369-381.
Ross, L, Lepper, M.R., and Hubbard, M. 1975. Perseverance in Self-Perception and Social Perception: Biased Attributional Processes in the Debriefing Paradigm Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1975, Vol. 32, No. 5, 880-802
Roese, N.J., Olson, J.M. 2007. Better, Stronger, Faster: Self-Serving Judgment, Affect Regulation, and the Optimal Vigilance Hypothesis. Perspectives on Psychological Science 2 (2): 124-141
Rozin, P. 2001. Negative bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (5)4: 296-320.
Simons, D. 2000. Attentional capture and inattentional blindness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4(4): 147-155.
Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. 1988. Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193-201.
Wason, P. C. 1960. On the failure to eliminate hypotheses in a conceptual task. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 14, 246-249.

What is an Animal Behaviourist?

In Australia, anyone can call themselves a dog behaviourist or animal behaviourist, or a dog trainer, animal communicator, dog behaviour consultant, or any variation of those terms, for that matter. It is unsurprising that there is a large variety in skill and knowledge among those calling themselves dog behaviourists or animal behaviourists. This makes it very difficult to know who to contact for help when your dog or other pet has a behavioural problem or needs training. This article explains differences in qualifications in Australia and what they mean.

Dog behaviourist, dog trainer, animal behaviourist, behaviour consultant, behaviour specialist... So many names.


There are a couple of places where someone can get a Certificate III or IV in dog training and behaviour. These are recognised as advanced post-secondary qualifications in Australia. There are other similar qualifications that can be obtained overseas. They are not recognised in Australia. Practically, this means they may be better or worse than a Certificate III or IV. To find out you will have to research what the courses leading to the qualifications involve and compare it to Australian recognised courses. The National Dog Trainers Federation (NDTF) and Delta are the two main schools in Australia that train dog trainers. The main difference between them is Delta deliberately avoids using punishment and NDTF does not necessarily.

Tertiary Qualifications

Generally someone in Australia calling themselves a dog trainer or behaviourist and possessing a relevant tertiary qualification has a Bachelor degree. Bachelor degrees give graduates a broad knowledge base they can apply to specific situations and are internationally recognised. A Bachelor degree with honours signifies advanced knowledge and skills beyond that of a straight Bachelor degree. In science or psychology this usually involves a research project. A Masters or PhD comes after honours, and again in science and psychology which are the most relevant fields to animal behaviour and training, usually involve a longer and more involved research project. A PhD is the highest qualification that can be obtained in Australia.

Veterinary Behaviourist

A Veterinary Behaviourist holds a degree in veterinary medicine and usually a post-graduate degree in animal behaviour. Veterinary Behaviourists in Australia have undertaken rigorous assessment by exam. This guarantees a high level of minimum knowledge AND experience. Veterinary Behaviourists are skilled in identifying the causes of behaviour problems and can prescribe medication that will help more than training alone. In some cases this medical support is the difference between success and failure.

So... which do I need?

Training animals to do basic behaviours is not necessarily difficult. Anyone can learn how to do it and many people without qualifications of any kind are good at it. Those with background knowledge of how animals learn are likely to be successful. Anyone with a dog training qualification will certainly possess the bare minimum of this background knowledge.
Behavioural problems can get a lot more complicated, particularly when the behaviour is motivated by something other than obvious rewards or punishments, or is influenced by several factors. For this reason, it is often asserted that a behaviourist should have a relevant advanced tertiary degree like a Masters or PhD. But what does that give you that a certificate doesn't?

a) Detailed, extensive knowledge of animal behaviour. There is no way you can learn in 1-2 years of a certificate-level course what you can learn in 6-7 years of university-level study.

b) A scientific background, which will aid immeasurably in identifying the source of the problem, being able to test assumptions, and staying free from bias, thus giving pets their best chance at better behaviour without compromising welfare. See Creature Teacher's philosophy for more information, and the article on biases.

An animal behaviourist can assess any species.
So in conclusion, it depends on what your problem is. Ultimately qualifications just tell us the minimum knowledge someone has. If you need help with training particular behaviours, or discouraging common problem behaviours like pulling on leash and jumping up, a trainer with a Certificate III or IV will possess the knowledge required to do that at least. If your dog is displaying behaviour that may be driven by emotion or excitability, or your animal is not a dog, someone with tertiary qualifications preferably advanced ones such as a PhD should have the knowledge required for that. If your dog's behaviour is driven by anxiety or fear or some other emotional imbalance, you should see a Veterinary Behaviourist. The difficulty is in identifying what the problem is before seeing a professional. It may appear to be a simple problem but be much more complex in reality. A trainer with a Certificate may or may not be able to identify this. A behaviourist with an advanced degree will be able to identify that, but will not be able to help with medication. A Veterinary Behaviourist will be able to identify that and be able to prescribe medication that will help.