Finding Professional Help for Pet Behavior Problems
Is your pet driving you crazy? Many behaviors that are completely natural for dogs and cats—like barking or meowing, scratching, biting, digging, chewing, escaping and running away—just don’t go over well with their human companions. Changing or managing those undesirable behaviors isn’t always easy. 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. Professionals in the pet-behavior field fall into four main categories:
- Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs)
- Applied animal behaviorists, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs) and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs)
- Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (Dip ACVBs)
What’s in a Name?
Pet trainers use a number of different titles, such as “behavior counselor,” “pet psychologist” and “pet therapist.” The level of education and experience among this group of professionals varies greatly. Most learn how to work with animals through apprenticeships with established trainers, volunteering at animal shelters, reading books and articles, attending seminars on training and behavior and training their own animals. A few are certified by specialized training schools. Some of these schools have excellent curricula, instructors and reputations. However, it’s important to know that certification is meaningful only if the certifying organization is completely independent of the training school or organization. Legitimate certification means that an unbiased body has assessed an individual and determined that he or she meets specific standards and possesses a certain degree of knowledge.
Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs)
The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), an independent organization created by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), offers an international certification program for dog trainers. To earn the designation of Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), an individual must demonstrate that she has accrued a requisite number of working hours as a dog trainer, provide letters of recommendation and pass a standardized test that evaluates her or his knowledge of canine ethology, basic learning theory, canine husbandry and teaching skills. After meeting the necessary requirements and passing the exam, a CPDT must abide by a code of ethics and earn continuing education credits to maintain certification. You can find a list of CCPDT certified trainers at www.ccpdt.org.
Although CCPDT certification means that a trainer has met the minimum educational, experiential and ethical standards required of the pet-behavior profession, it does not guarantee that she or he meets a specified level of professional competence. Even if a trainer has earned a CPDT title, it’s important to ask for recommendations and conduct a careful interview before employing her or him. We’ll discuss how to evaluate a trainer or behavior expert to the best of your ability below.