With the advent of National Geographic's "The Dog Whisperer" and Animal Planet's "It's Me Or The Dog" there has been an increasing number of people setting themselves up as canine behaviorists, dog psychologists, dog behavior consultants and a host of other titles.
Some of those attracted to behavioral work have been obedience trainers, viewing behavior modification as a logical extension of their original work. Hopefully, however, they will have come to realize that good behavioral work involves much more than just the ability to train a dog to do set tasks.
The others set themselves up as behavioral counselors, but in truth possess little experience of dealing with people or dogs - other then their own and maybe a relative or friend's dog. Similarly they will have little scientific knowledge of both canine behavior and human psychology, and the thought of even reading a scientific book on animal behavior sends them into a tizzy. Most have no clue that there are many dogs whose behavior problems are an actually physical problems or chronic pain that manifests as a behavior problem but really needs a veterinarian to fix.
Knowledge and qualifications
To be a good canine behaviourist, it is not enough, by any means, just to like dogs, or to feel you have a gift for working with them, on the basis of simply owning and/or knowing a few you got along well with or having watched the various dog training and behavior shows on TV. You must possess a sound grasp of the science of how dogs fundamentally 'tick' as a species, physically, psychologically and in terms of their basic social behaviour.
You must also be well aquainted with many different dog breeds, and their specific genetic quirks, while still respecting how dogs can vary as individuals. You must be conscious of the multitude of different factors, from early rearing, environment and diet, to specific facets of genetic inheritance that may influence the way any dog behaves. Much of the above knowledge can only be acquired through suitable study and practical 'hands on' experience, usually over many years.
You must have excellent communication skills - not just with dogs, but also with people. Most of your work will involve dealing with dog owners and other dog care takers. How well a behaviourist can work with an owner, in terms of correctly identifying the source of the problem they have with their dog, and then developing and explaining the best possible solution for it, is often the key to his or her professional success, or lack of it!
It's one thing to be able to gain enough trust from a dog you are working with to be able to walk it correctly, but it's another thing to teach the dog's owner(s) how to do the same. As a behaviorist, you must understand that approximately 80% of a dog's behavior problems were created by the owner and be able to communicate that without alienating that owner.
A good behaviourist is one who is constantly prepared to challenge or question his or her own way of working with dogs. Effective behaviourists never close their minds to the possibility of doing something better, more enlightened, or more humane, when it comes to the training of dogs, or management of their behaviour.Learning for a good canine behaviourist should never stop. Going on courses, reading and studying, networking with others in your field, and learning about allied subjects will all help you with your behavioural work.
Canine behavioral work can be quite stressful, as well as mentally and emotionally challenging. A behaviorist often deals with highly troubled dogs and/or owners in a considerable state of distress. Desperate owners may also ring you at antisocial times expecting sympathy and help. Not everyone who loves dogs will find this professional responsibility easy to handle.
A behaviorist needs to be a very patient person, both with dogs and their owners alike, and not be quick to panic when faced with a particularly agitated or aggressive dog. You will also need a good level of personal confidence, in order to step into any troubled human/canine situation and attempt to find the most appropriate solution.
What we do
The services of a canine behaviorist go beyond that of a basic dog trainer. Behaviorists take a scientific approach to understanding the causes, functions, development, and evolution of canine behavior. Since many behavior problems are complex, behaviorists conduct in-depth evaluations of a pet’s history, environmental factors and specific behaviors to develop a treatment plan.
One of the first steps a trainer or behaviorist addressing behavior problems must do in working with a new client is taking a detailed behavioral history. It is impossible to plan a course of treatment without knowing what exactly the problem is and what is triggering your dog's reactions.
The second thing is to take your problem-pet to your veterinarian for a complete physical examination. Take along a fresh stool sample for a parasite check. My records of more than 2,000 cases show that more than 20% of dogs with behavior problems who had not been checked in more than 6 months also had a health problem. There is no use wasting money on a behavior problem when there may be a contributing health factor.
The behaviorist you choose will want to observe your dogs’ interactions between each other and your interactions with your dog. She will likely ask you how frequent these incidents are occurring, and if you note any “triggers” for the your dogs' reactions. Are the incidents increasing, or decreasing in frequency as time passes? Do the incidents seem to occur around specific people, objects, treasured toys or food sources? And many more questions of this sort.
Then and only then will the behaviorist begin working with you and your dog.