What Is A Dog Behaviorist?

What Is A Dog Behaviorist?

What Is A Dog Behaviorist?
What Is A Dog Behaviorist?

Many behaviors that are entirely natural for dogs and cats—like barking or meowing, scratching, biting, digging, chewing, escaping, and running away—can be challenging for some pet parents. Although advice abounds in the form of popular TV shows, books, and well-meaning friends and family, the best and most efficient way to resolve your pet's behavior problems is to seek assistance from a qualified professional.

When seeking help, it's essential to remember the knowledge of animal behavior isn't required to earn a veterinary degree, and animal behavior isn't comprehensively taught in most veterinary training programs. However, some veterinarians seek specialized education in animal behavior.

What Is A Dog Behaviorist?

According to Wikipedia, a dog behaviorist can be defined as "a person who works in modifying or changing behavior in dogs."

They can be experienced dog handlers who have developed their experience over many years of hands-on experience or have formal training up to degree level. Some have backgrounds in veterinary science, animal science, zoology, sociology, biology, or animal behavior and have applied their experience and knowledge to the interaction between humans and dogs. Professional certification may be offered through either industry associations or local educational institutions. There is, however, no compulsion for behaviorists to be a member of a professional body or to take formal training.

A Dog Behaviorist Overview

While any person who works to modify a dog's behavior might be considered a dog behaviorist in the broadest sense of the term, that can be misleading. An animal behaviorist is a title given only to individuals with relevant professional qualifications. The professional fields and courses of study for dog behaviorists include but are not limited to, animal science, zoology, sociology, biology, psychology, ethology, and veterinary science. People with these credentials usually refer to themselves as Clinical Animal Behaviorists, Applied Animal Behaviorists (Ph.D.), or Veterinary behaviorists (veterinary degree). When limiting their practice to a particular species, they might refer to themselves as dog/cat/bird behaviorists.

While many dog trainers work with behavioral issues, there are few qualified dog behaviorists. For the majority of the general public, the cost of the services of a dog behaviorist usually reflects both the supply/demand inequity and the level of training they have obtained.

Some behaviorists can be identified in the U.S. by the post-nominals "CAAB," indicating that they are a Certified Applied Animal behaviorist (which requires a Ph.D. or veterinary degree), or "DACVB," indicating that they are a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary behavior (which requires a veterinary degree).

The Discipline of Behaviorism

Behaviorism is the theory or doctrine that human or animal psychology can be accurately studied only through examining and analyzing objectively observable and quantifiable behavioral events, in contrast with subjective mental states. A dog practitioner using a behavioral approach or psychobiological approach, regardless of title, typically works one-on-one with a dog and its owner. This may be done in the dog's home, the practitioner's office, the place where the dog is showing behavioral problems, or a variety of these locations for different sessions during the treatment time. By observing the dog in its environment and skillfully interviewing the owner, the behaviorist creates a working hypothesis on what motivates and, thus, sustains the behavior. The dog may act very differently in different locations, and interviewing owners, no matter how thorough, may not provide enough details. Office-bound behaviorists may be disadvantaged when assessing behavioral modification. After establishing a motivating cause, the practitioner will develop a step-wise, goal-based plan to alter the behavior in stages, continue their work with the pet owner to guide and make changes in the plan as the goals are met (or not) and conclude with a final write up of the case and its outcome.

Do I need a Dog Behaviorist?

If your pet has a severe behavior problem that puts people or other animals at risk, or if he's developed an issue that causes significant stress, seek an expert with both academic training and practical experience.

What Dog Behaviorists Don't Do

Only a licensed veterinarian can diagnose and prescribe medication if your dog's behavior problems stem from a medical condition.

If your dog is experiencing physical pain or showing signs of physical distress, it's essential to see your veterinarian immediately. Sometimes unwanted behavior is a sign that they are uncomfortable or sick, especially in older pets.

Because veterinarians are highly qualified in all aspects of animal behavior and have medical training, they can give a diagnosis that addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of your dog's health. By approaching them using this perspective, the veterinarian can provide the care your dog deserves.


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