Is your dog having behavioral issues and you’d like to get help from a behaviorist? The term “behaviorist” is fairly broad and could mean one thing to one person and another to someone else. Some dog behaviorists, such as veterinary behaviorists and certified applied animal behaviorists, go through rigorous higher-level degree programs and residencies to achieve certification; others may have no formal education whatsoever and do not need to meet many requirements to become certified, if they’re certified at all.
To get your dog the best help possible, find out about each type of behaviorist and what he or she can do to reduce behavior issues.
- Education: These professionals are medically trained. They are board-certified veterinarians who have specialized in animal behavior, which generally entails three years of residency in addition to the typical degree of veterinary medicine. Coursework includes psychology, behavioral genetics and physiology, psychopharmacology, ethology, and more.
- How they can help: Given that many behavior problems in dogs can be related to underlying health issues, veterinary behaviorists use their knowledge of an animal’s physical and emotional vital signs to determine if there is a medical reason for the issue. These professionals will come up with treatment options, including medications and behavior modifications, if necessary. Veterinary behaviorists can help dogs and all types of animals with problems that include aggression—with people and other animals, anxiety, marking and other bathroom issues, barking and whining in excess, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, eating inappropriate items, problematic grooming, and more. These professionals treat not only average household dogs, but also work as researchers at shelters and for organizations in the animal-related industries. While a trainer may arm you with tools to reduce the occurrence of a behavior problem, a trainer is not as qualified to address the cause of the problem, according to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
- How are they certified: Veterinary behaviorists are overseen by the American Board of Veterinary Specialists, part of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and are regulated by local and state veterinary laws. This profession is often designated as “DACVB”—Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists
- Education: These are animal specialists who have PhDs, or associate applied animal behaviorists who have master's degrees in one of several fields, including animal science, biology, psychology, and zoology and have at least five years of work in the industry. They can also get PhDs, have two years of residency, and three years of professional work. This is a very small field.
- How they can help: They use their expertise to address non medically-related issues in dogs and other animals. For humans, the corollary to certified applied animal behaviorists would be psychologists.
- How they are certified: Designated CAAB and ACAAB, respectively, these certifications are overseen by the Animal Behavior Society.
- Education: The qualifications necessary are less rigorous: Three hundred hours of experience, 150 hours of coursework, and at the least, a high school diploma or GED.
- How they can help: These consultants aim to help you curb your dog’s issues via behavior modification.
- How they can help: Since there isn’t much regulation, there can be varying standards among people who call themselves trainers. You’ll need to do your homework and assess whether a trainer will be beneficial for your dog. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists cautions against hiring trainers who:
- Recommend pain-inflicting collars
- Use physical pain to guide behavior
- Encourage humans to adopt “alpha” personas to get dogs to “submit”
- Explain animal behavior as solely or primarily being related to the dog’s desire to be “dominant”
- How they are certified: They are not required to be certified or meet any standardized requirements and there is no formal degree for the profession.
The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers does offer certification—designated as CPDT-KA—via testing; the number of trainers who have been certified is in the low thousands.
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