In the past five years there has been a huge increase in the number of people calling themselves ‘animal behaviourists’ and who believe that they are ready to solve any behavioural problems that people are having with their pets, and in most cases, dogs.
In the 20th century it was almost unheard of to admit that your dog had a problem, let alone pay someone to help ‘sort it out’. But in the 21st century, thinking around the owning of pets has dramatically changed, as well as our lifestyle. Housing in particular has changed to really small townhouse living with tiny gardens, high walls and owners who work long hours and feel guilty when they are home, so they lavish attention on their pets. There is a generation of pets who bark, dig holes, chew, are aggressive, generally unruly, suffer separation anxiety and cause neighbours and corporate bodies to offer ultimatums to the owners.
Enter the ‘animal behaviourist’ – the owner is advised by the vet or by word of mouth, or looks on the internet to find someone who will be able to ‘sort out the problem’ quickly and permanently. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, there are now thousands of people who are calling themselves ‘animal behaviourists’ but in reality, they are people who have done a quick course either locally or via the internet, and believe that they are ready to solve any problem.
An animal behaviourist is someone who specialises in applying scientific principles learned from the study of behaviours, psychological learning theory, and who has counselling skills to help people deal with their pet’s behaviour problems. They should use humane methods, often involving various behaviour modification techniques. Only veterinarians may prescribe medication, but reputable behaviourists will work closely with vets.
1. It is of the utmost importance to find a reputable animal behaviourist. Often vets will give the name/s of a behaviourist. Word of mouth is another way to find one, but the internet is widely used nowadays. Find out as much as possible about the behaviourist from the vet or referring person.
2. First impressions are very important. How the person speaks to you over the phone for the first contact should give you an idea if they are the correct person to help you. If you are not happy, try someone else.
3. A good behaviourist should ask for a brief outline of the problem, so that they can assess whether they are able to assist. You should not be asked to deposit money into an account before any conversation is started.
4. Find out where the consultation will take place. Do you go to their house, and if so, do they have a special area where the animal will be safe, or will the person come to your house and do the consultation there?
5. Ask what qualifications the person has in the behaviour field. This should include any behaviour courses, years of experience, any other work with animals – training, helping at animal shelters and entering shows. A good behaviourist should have all-round experience, not just a ‘love’ for animals.
6. The cost of the consultation is very important. You need to know upfront just how much you will be charged. Some behaviourists charge one price for the whole consultation; others charge per hour.
7. Some behaviourists will send through a form which you need to fill in and send back prior to the visit. Others will do a ‘question and answer’ at the beginning of the visit, while assessing the animal and situation, and then give the behaviour modification advice.
8. A reputable behaviourist will ask for the medical history of the animal. In many cases, what is thought to be a behaviour problem could be a medical problem. The owner will be asked to take the animal to the vet for a check-up before booking an appointment.
9. A written report should be sent to the owner after the consultation. If the behaviourist is working from a vet’s recommendation, then the report will be sent to the vet as well.
10. In some cases the behaviourist will suggest a follow-up visit/s. It might not always be necessary as follow-ups can be done telephonically or via email.
The Animal Behaviour Consultants of SA are willing to assist anyone who is looking for a reputable animal behaviourist.
Secretary: Sam Walpole, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chairman: Kathy Clayton, 082 454 1750, email@example.com