When Should a Dog See a Behaviorist?

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Is your new puppy chewing on his leash or has he been urinating in inappropriate places? Your vet may suggest that you seek help from an expert — a dog behaviorist. A professional will assess your situation and come up with a plan of action. She’ll also be able to offer tips for training your pet. Many times, dogs are referred to behaviorists by their owners because they have behavioral problems.

Sometimes these issues are caused by simple misunderstandings about how pets behave when left alone. Other times, the problem is more serious, such as aggression toward other animals or people. In some cases, a dog can suffer from separation anxiety if left home alone too often.

A good behaviorist will take all factors into consideration before making any recommendations. Even though most dogs get along just fine without human intervention, there are instances where a veterinarian or behaviorist believes it would benefit the owner to work with a trainer. The goal is to find the right solution so everyone can live happily together.

So when exactly does it become necessary to consult a professional? When we say “a dog behaviorist,” who specifically are we talking about? And why do we need one at all? Read on to learn about the different types of dog experts out there.

Dog Behavior Problems

Dogs aren’t like humans. They don’t talk to us, and they certainly don’t share their feelings with us. So when they start acting oddly, it can seem hard to figure out what causes those behaviors. But sometimes, even veterinarians can’t tell what’s bothering them. That’s when a behaviorist comes in. Veterinarian Dr. Jane Goodall once said, “I think every doctor should be trained in both surgery and psychology.” Veterinarians are familiar with medical conditions, but they also know a lot about psychology and sociology. It helps them understand behaviors better than anyone else.

And since dogs tend to follow our lead, it makes sense to turn to someone who understands them first. A good veterinarian will be happy to refer clients to a qualified behaviorist, especially if he suspects something might be wrong. Behaviorists usually work closely with vets, helping them solve problems and make treatment decisions.

In addition, many vets consider behaviorists highly important members of their team. If a client has a health issue related to her pet, she wants to know that her veterinarian has consulted a specialist. After all, it’s not fair to put all the responsibility on the owner’s shoulders. Just ask around until you find someone you trust.

Behaviorists typically specialize in working with dogs. Some focus solely on training. Others work with animals of all ages. There are even professionals who specialize only in working with specific breeds of dogs. Before taking matters into your own hands, it’s always best to check with your veterinarian. He may already have a recommendation.

Dog-wise, the saying goes, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Dogs aren’t much different from people in this respect. We want to feel secure and loved, which means doing things for others. As a result, dogs naturally want to please their masters. This trait probably explains why dogs enjoy being part of the family, whether they live indoors or outdoors. However, it also leaves them open to abuse. Owners must exercise caution and use common sense when dealing with dogs.

How to Find a Dog Behaviorist?

Finding a good dog behaviorist isn’t difficult. You simply need to look through your phone book or online directory. Search under “therapy” or “pet therapy,” or whatever term suits your location. Make sure you call several references to find out about their experience and background, including credentials and education. Ask about fees and insurance coverage for services.

Does the person provide free consultations?

It’s also helpful to research the area you live in. Check with your state veterinary association, which provides information about licensed practitioners in your community. Do some internet searches as well. Look up the Better Business Bureau Web site. Also, search Google for reviews of the practitioner you’re considering.

There are two major certifying organizations for professional dog trainers. These include the Canadian International Council for Veterinary Education (CICVE) and the American College of Professional Pet Sitters (ACPS). Memberships require passing tests and maintaining continuing education credits. Be wary of anyone offering certification programs outside these accrediting bodies.

Such courses are likely substandard and won’t give you the skills you need to properly train your pet. If you’d like to learn more about canine behavior, take advantage of the resources available online. Many universities now offer degree programs in animal science.

Online classes are also popular and cost less money than attending college campuses. For example, Cornell University offers an undergraduate program called Animal Science & Technology. Students complete courses in physiology, nutrition, anatomy, zoology, genetics, husbandry and management. The university also offers graduate degrees in animal sciences.

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