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What Is A Pet Behaviourist?

This dog definitely needs a pet behaviourist

Ever wondered whether you need a pet behaviourist? We all love our pets. But sometimes their actions can be distressing, destructive, or even dangerous.

It’s times like these that, as a pet parent, you may want to call in the big guns. This might come in the form of an animal or pet behaviourist. This is someone who’s an expert at deciphering dog or cat behaviour and helping you modify it.

We spoke to well-known veterinary behaviourist Dr Jess Beer about what exactly a pet behaviourist is and why you would need one. Dr Beer has a BVSc MANZCVS in Veterinary Behaviour and was the president of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists’ Veterinary Behaviour Chapter from 2018 to 2020. She really knows her stuff.

What is a pet behaviourist?

Anyone who deals with pet behaviour is by definition a pet behaviourist. However, there are veterinarians who have gone on to further qualify and specialise specifically in animal behaviour. They’re referred to as veterinary behaviourist.

By the way, if you’ve ever wondered how our pets’ health affects vet mental health read here.

Pet behaviourists deals with a variety of issues, including and not limited to:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Over excitement with visitors
  • Dog to dog aggression
  • Dog to people aggression
  • Puppy oriented issues
  • One on one obedience training
  • Unruly behaviour
  • Chewing/digging/destructive behaviour
  • Pulling on a lead
  • Jumping up
  • Nipping and biting
  • Anxiety, fear, or phobias
  • Persistent and excessive barking
  • Issues with riding in cars
golden doodle dog barking

It is very important to check the credentials of any pet behaviourist you enlist. If they aren’t a qualified vet, find out about what techniques they will use on your pet.

Someone who uses controversial and unproven practices such as ‘dominance’ or ‘pack theory’, could do more harm than good. Never employ anyone who uses or advocates the use of prong collars, electric collars, chains or any other cruel devicesThis article has some good information on what to look for when enlisting a pet behaviourist.

Incidentally, if you see or suspect any animal abuse, here’s how to report it appropriately and 12 signs to look out for.

“The unregulated industry makes it hard for people to determine who is qualified to help them,” says Dr Beer. “It’s not just training an animal – it’s working with both the pet and their guardian to reach and happy relationship. Not just control.”

What are the benefits?

According to Dr Beer, there are many benefits to getting a behaviourist to help you live a calmer, more predictable life with your pet.

“They can manage and resolve anything from problem behaviours through to significant mental health concerns,” says Dr Beer. “Having a qualified behaviourist – with credentials and memberships to appropriate institutions – who understands your pet is the key. They will help you truly optimise your relationship to one of trust and enjoyment.”

As a pet owner, you may try your best to train or modify your dog or cat’s behaviour. Perhaps you tried positive reinforcement dog training. However, you may not be aware of the underlying issues causing the behaviour. Because of their experience, a pet behaviourist can see things from a holistic view.

Usually, the behaviourist sets up a time with you to come see your pet in their natural environment. Then based on what they observe, they’ll devise a programme specific to your animal and individual situation.

This program will help you manage and prevent certain issues using scientific tools such as behaviour modification.

Generally, a pet behaviourist isn’t interested in training – they’re interested in finding the cause of the dog behaviour problem.

An evolving industry

Dr Beer says there have been many changes to the industry over the years. The biggest change has been a greater awareness by pet owners of the professional help that’s out there.

“Guardians are more aware of possible issues that can be improved by seeking help from a qualified pet behaviourist,” she says.

Covid-19 has also brought about increased dependency on our pets and closer cohabitation, meaning behavioural issues affect both humans and pets more.

“We have come a long way in our science and evidence-based approach to dealing with problems,” she says. “This means a greater level of success with many of the more complicated issues.”

Pet behaviourist success stories

Dr Beer says she’s happy to report many positive outcomes as a pet behaviourist: “It’s a part of my job I love. Seeing guardians come to learn and understand their pet and help them through their fear and anxiety. It’s all about reaching a better behaved and most importantly mentally healthy pet.”

She works with many rescues and says it’s very rewarding seeing fearful and aggressive animals come out of their shell. 

“One such girl was adopted at about 6 months after an abusive home. She still had scars from cigarette burns and was showing very fearful behaviours despite being in a loving home,” Dr Beer says.

“She had growled at a family member, was impossible to walk on leash, and overreacted to other dogs. So, we focused on getting the right management, medication, and protocols. This was to teach her to be safe, comfortable, and responsive to people without manipulation. Within a few months she was happy on lead, relaxed, and playing with strange dogs in the park.”

Lastly, Dr Beer adds that being a behaviourist is about education and experience and always wanting to learn more.

Pet insurance for peace of mind

Getting comprehensive pet insurance is part of being a responsible pet owner. It’s great for your pet and your purse strings, protecting both. Just read all the reasons why pet parents think insurance is so important.

Cover your beloved dog or cat with a PD Insurance policy so you know you can give them the best care. Our three simple pet insurance policies offer you the cost-effective protection your furry family member deserves. Get pet insurance quotes online here in only a couple of minutes.

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