If you are experiencing problems with your dog, it is sensible to seek professional help as soon as possible to prevent the problems becoming ingrained as time goes on. Bear in mind that attempting methods to alter behaviour problems yourself or following unqualified advice can often compound the issues affecting your dog.
As the industry is currently unregulated, it is important to find a Clinical or Veterinary Behaviourist registered with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (www.abtc.org.uk) so that you can be assured that the behaviourist has met the necessary academic qualifications and practical experience needed to help you and your dog. Working with ABTC accredited behaviourist you can feel confident that the welfare of your dog is not going to be in any way compromised by the advice given.
Firstly you should visit your vet to ensure that there are no medical issues contributing to unwanted behaviour. For example, undetected pain is connected to a lot of behaviour problems and this will need to be addressed before a behaviourist can make any progress with the behaviourist. The vet will then be able to refer you to the behaviourist, and they will work together collaboratively to ensure you and your dog receive appropriate support.
The types of problems that a behaviourist can help you with include separation issues, noise fears, reactivity issues on walks, aggression, excessive barking behaviour, car travel problems, as well as any anxiety or fear-based problems. The behaviourist would spend a couple of hours with you initially, taking a lot of information about your routine and your dog so that they can diagnose the underlying motivations for the behaviour.
Once they have established why your dog feels the way they do and how that emotion is leading to the expression of the undesirable behaviour, they can outline a treatment plan to work on changing your dog’s emotional response. This is very different to simply addressing the unwanted behaviour, which does not alter why the dog is showing such behaviour in the first place and often involves suppressing behaviour in a way that the dog finds unpleasant. This can lead to an increase in anxiety or fear which ends up manifesting in different ways.
Initially, the behaviourist will implement management strategies that will prevent your dog from being able to rehearse the unwanted behaviour, allowing them a period of ‘stress detox’ if necessary before then starting to work on changing the dog’s behaviour in response to the triggers.
The behaviourist would help you implement the treatment programme and support you through the following weeks and possibly months. They will write a report up for you, outlining what was discussed (which will also be sent to your referring vet), and will support you either remotely or with face-to-face sessions.
Many pet insurance companies will cover the cost of behavioural therapy from behaviourists registered with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council, as well as adjuncts recommended by the behaviourist such as pheromone support.
Rosie Bescoby is a Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist with a degree in Psychology and Zoology and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling, based in and around Bristol and North Somerset. Rosie is a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and registered as both a Clinical Animal Behaviourist and as an Animal Training Instructor with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council.
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