As a behavior professional, I am often asked how pet owners should go about finding a behavior expert. The best advice I can give you is to start at your veterinarian. Many of us in animal behavior (that are reputable) have partnerships with veterinarians that have critiqued our work. Getting a referral from your veterinarian is one of the safest ways to find a behavior professional. However, sometimes vets do not have anyone they collaborate with.
If your primary care veterinarian is not an option, I recommend using the search options under three organizations I personally adore, The Animal Behavior Society, the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Other places to find a behavior professional that has had to go through some sort of screening process include but are not limited to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Karen Pryor Academy, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and Fear-Free Pets.
How do you know if you need a trainer, behavior consultant, behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist? Well the answer to that question is a bit more tricky. The behavior issues at play and your financial limitations are the biggest factors to consider. Trainers offer well, training. They do not often offer behavior modification which is a whole separate thing. If you need preventative training such as puppy or kitten classes, go with a trainer. Training is often used in behavior modification but behavior modification (or B-Mod as us cool kids call it) requires someone more specialized in the science of animal behavior. Whether this is additional work experience or higher education is your decision to make. But please keep in mind that training and B-Mod are two different areas.
In general, veterinary behaviorists (VB) tend to possess the highest level of knowledge in animal behavior. However, they do have limitations. Many are out of the financial reach of most families. Most require you to bring your pet to them which not every pet owner wants to do. Often times, you can use your primary vet for the medical side and a behavior consultant for the behavior side instead of a VB. Some cases such as severe aggression and separation anxiety really need to be addressed by a VB.
What about behavior consultants and behaviorists? This area is highly UNregulated. “Behaviorist” is a term used around the world but has tons of different meanings so you have to ask for their educational background. A “Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist” is someone who has advanced degrees (masters and/or doctorate) and has been screened by the Animal Behavior Society. A behavior consultant can really be anyone. As in anyone can call themselves a behavior consultant so ask for their training, degrees, licenses, certifications, etc.
What about animal whisperers? This might upset some people but my advice is to stay away from these individuals. They often have no educational background or work experience in animal behavior (ethology).
- ASPCA Finding a Behavioral Professional
- Companion Animal Solutions
- Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists FAQ
- Best Friends Society Article on Finding Behavior Help
- The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
- The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
- Keeping Standards High
- Finding a cat behavior professional
- Animal Behavior Management Alliance
- What is Ethology?
- Ethology Poster