Occasionally pets display behaviour that may, at best be inconvenient, or at worse cause serious concern. Usually the behaviour is perfectly normal, just not acceptable in a domestic environment. In addition to the inconvenience ‘problem’ behaviour can also be an indicator that the pet’s welfare is compromised.
By gaining the help of an appropriately qualified and experienced Animal Behaviourist the pet owner can work to establish the reason the pet behaves as he or she does, gain an understanding of their pet’s needs, emotions and behaviour and ultimately learn the skills to successfully manage and change the pet’s unwanted behaviour.
You can find a qualified, experienced behaviourist by following this link.
A reputable behaviourist will only work on veterinary referral so they will require contact and information from the pet’s vet. It’s important for the pet to have a full health check as undiagnosed, untreated health issues are known to be the cause of many cases of aggression and phobic behaviour.
What happens at the consultation?
The behaviourist will usually want to see all the family and the pet in the home environment. Each family member may have a different experience and view of the animal and all will need to work together to resolve the problem. Appointments vary in length but typically last about two hours during which a full history is taken and observations made. The behaviourist will then be able to explain why the pet behaves as he or she does and what to do to change and manage the behaviour. The family will then have the opportunity, under the behaviourist supervision, to practise any training that is required. After the appointment the client and vet will receive a full report detailing the behaviour modification programme. Follow-up support will be provided when needed via phone and email. Follow-up visits may also be needed and the service is tailored to individual needs.
Unfortunately a quick trawl on the internet shows that there is a lot of poor quality advice available and following some of the advice can lead to the pet’s welfare being compromised. If advice recommends punishment or a restriction on the pet’s normal social life, activities or choices it may lead to deterioration in the pet’s welfare, escalating the unwanted behaviour and a breaking down of the relationship between pet and family. The pet may then up be sent for rehoming ….or worse….
Methods should encourage the required behaviour by rewarding and teaching the pet what behaviour is acceptable. Safe and suitable outlets for the ‘problem’ behaviour may also be necessary. It’s clear from research that animals (and people) learn best when rewarded and encouraged. The ‘good’ behaviour is also more likely to be maintained – even in the absence of the owner.
How long will the behaviour change take?
This really depends on the problem – what it is, how long it has been going on and the owner’s dedication at changing it. Usually improvement can be seen quite quickly but often lots of work has to be done to improve other aspects of the pet’s life before the actual problem can be addressed.
Julie Bedford BSc(Hons), PGCE, PG. Dip (CABC), CCAB
Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors