Finding Professional Help for Pet Behavior Problems
What’s in a Name? continued...
Applied Animal Behaviorists, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs) and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs)
An applied animal behaviorist has earned an MS, MA or PhD in animal behavior. They are experts in dog and cat behavior and often in the behavior of other companion animal species as well, such as horses and birds. Some applied animal behaviorists are veterinarians who have completed a residency in animal behavior. Some behaviorists have also met the requirements for certification by the Board of Professional Certification of the Animal Behavior Society (ABS). Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs, those with a doctoral degree) and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs, those with a master’s degree) received supervised graduate or post-graduate training in animal behavior, biology, zoology and learning theory at accredited universities. They possess the relevant education, research and practical experience according to specified academic and ethical standards. They are an exclusive group, numbering only about 50 in all of North America.
Effective applied animal behaviorists will have expertise in (a) behavior modification, so they know the techniques that produce changes in behavior, (b) the normal behavior of the species they’re treating, so they can recognize how and why your pet’s behavior is abnormal, and (c) teaching and counseling people, so they can effectively teach you how to understand and work with your pet. Many applied animal behaviorists know basic common medical conditions that can impact an animal’s behavior. Most are also familiar with psychotropic medications, such as tranquilizers and antidepressants, which can enhance the effectiveness of a treatment program. Most CAABs work through veterinary referrals, and they work closely with veterinarians to select the best behavioral medications for pets. You can find a list of CAABs and ACAABs at www.certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com.
Knowledge of animal behavior isn’t required to earn a veterinary degree, and animal behavior isn’t comprehensively taught in most veterinary training programs. However, some veterinarians seek specialized education in animal behavior and earn certification through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. To become a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (Dip ACVB), veterinarians must complete a residency in behavior and pass a qualifying examination.
In addition to having knowledge of domestic animal behavior and experience treating pet behavior problems, veterinary behaviorists can prescribe medications that can help speed along your pet’s treatment. Issues that often require the use of medication include separation anxiety, phobias, compulsive behaviors and fear of people, objects or other animals. You can find a list of veterinarians with ACVB certification at www.dacvb.org.
What Behavior Experts DON’T Do
If your pet has a behavior problem, contacting a trainer or a behaviorist is a great first step on the road to resolution. However, some behavior problems can be caused or exacerbated by physical problems. If your nine-week-old puppy urinates on the kitchen floor when you’re not supervising him, he probably simply needs house training. But if your five-year-old dog who hasn’t made a mistake in the house for years suddenly starts urinating indoors, you might have a medical condition on your hands.