Forums » Veterinary Social Work Corner

When Your Pet Has Behavior Problems, Where Do You Find Help?

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    July 3, 2017 6:11 PM EDT

    In an ideal world, the shelter, rescue organization, or breeder your pet came from will have a system of support available to assist you in getting the behavioral help your pet needs and your search will be done before you’ve even had to start! I’ve heard of wonderful collaborations between the animal rescue community and behavior professionals, so do ask if that is an option in your area.

    I think it can be helpful to have a reference of the various types of professionals that are out there and the roles they play in providing support for people and their pets. Here are some of the professionals I hear most about from pet owners who have sought help (the ASPCA also has a nice description of the different professionals which you can find here):

     Veterinary Behaviorists:

    These brilliant folks are veterinarians who have completed additional intensive training and certification in animal behavior. Typically when you consult with a veterinary behaviorist you will receive a diagnosis for your pet and a treatment plan. Veterinarians are the only individuals who can prescribe meds for behavior problems (if needed), and veterinary behaviorists have advanced and specialized training in the use of medications for behavior. This is a professionally regulated field. A veterinary behaviorist may very likely recommend that you also work with a trainer. The role of the trainer is to help you implement the behavior modification recommendations in the treatment plan for your pet. The veterinary behaviorist also collaborates with the pet’s regular veterinarian to ensure that all aspects of the pet’s medical care are tended to. Dr. E’Lise Christensen is VetVine’s veterinary behaviorist, and on her website she has detailed answered to frequently asked questions about veterinary behaviorists. You can find a Veterinary Behaviorist near you on the Veterinary College of Behavior (ACVB) website.

     Trainers:

    Trainers are amazing. They have dedicated themselves to helping people learn how to communicate with their pets, and their help can be invaluable! Dog training is not a professionally regulated field, so it is wise to do your due diligence in researching a trainer you are going to work with. Learn as much as possible about their professional background and education, any certifications they have earned, and their approach in working with people and their pets.

    I often hear from pet owners that they are working with both a veterinary behaviorist and a trainer - as a collaborative team. The Certification of Professional Dog Trainers (CPTD) is good place to start looking for someone who has completed the formal process of becoming certified. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers also provides some guidance on how to choose a trainer, as well as this guide from the American College of Veterinary Behavior.

    The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has this position statement recommending training methods to use (and not to use) to address behavior problems.

    Behaviorists:

    This is a trickier title. People who call themselves an Animal Behaviorist (should) have an advanced degree in animal behavior.   A well-known and well-respected animal behaviorist is the wonderful Patricia McConnell, who writes great books and articles about behavior problems and pets.

    But pet owners have told me that they’ve encountered people calling themselves a “dog behaviorist” (or the like) and who do not have an advanced degree in animal behavior. “Dog behaviorist” is not a professionally regulated title or field. So be mindful that anyone one could call themselves a “behaviorist.” I would encourage you to ask lots of questions about training and education in behavior.

    Many trainers are diligent about getting advanced training in behavior, and they might highlight that for you. Again, ask about the training and education related to behavior. For example, if they say they are a “Behavior Consultant” you can ask if that means that they’ve completed the International Association of Behavior Consultants (IAABC) Certification process which you can then verify with IAABC.

    For me, the “dream team” of support includes professional support for the pet and for the people all working in collaboration! The next post will talk about where you can find support for yourself.

    Where have you found support for your pet?

    Kristin Buller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Certificate in Veterinary Social Work. Kristin lives in Chicago with her husband and their dog, Ruby.  For more information on Kristin, visit www.kristinbuller.com.