The process of choosing a dog behaviourist is of the utmost importance. As canine behaviourists are becoming increasingly common and are as yet unregulated, anybody can give themselves this title and begin trading. Training is a different discipline to behaviour and, although there is some overlap, ensuring you employ the services of the practitioner who is best placed to help takes some consideration.
The best place to start your search for a behaviourist is behavioural associations such as the CFBA or APBC. To become a member of such an association the practitioner needs to have proven a high standard of relevant qualifications and a long history of successful behavioural work.
They are difficult to get into!
Insurance companies recognise this and only allow clients to reclaim behavioural fees if the behaviourist is registered with either the CFBA or APBC.
The behaviourist should have a sound varied understanding of canine psychology and behaviour based in specific theoretical qualifications. For instance, an Animal Behaviour degree is not a canine specific qualification as it has little content dedicated to canine behaviour. Similarly, a basic distance learning diploma alone doesn’t signify a significant theoretical foundation.
Of equal, if not of more, importance is vocational experience. Having successful extensive first hand experience of all problematic behaviours in all types of breeds in a wide variety of situations can only come with regular work over many years in this field. Such proven behaviourists often belong to recognised associations or councils, such as the CFBA.
The behavioural consultation should leave you with a complete understanding of how the problematic behaviours developed and how to progress your dog through them. You should feel confident and positive guiding your dog to become the socially acceptable companion you always wanted.
My concern with the current situation
It is not uncommon for a client to have had professional advice from elsewhere prior to our consultation. Sometimes this has been good advice, sometimes good but inappropriate, sometimes misguided or sometimes simply just ineffective. My issue is with the bad advice which can, at the very least, lead people to think their dogs can’t improve or, worst case; make situations rapidly deteriorate putting people or dogs in serious danger! All the more reason to be vigilant when choosing a dog behaviourist.
Dog aggression has serious consequences and isn’t something people should ‘have a go’ at addressing without; a fundamental understanding of the issue, offering clear psychology based explanations and being able to demonstrate effective techniques the client will be comfortable with and able to successfully apply. Alternative options and techniques should also be demonstrated with all the pros and cons of each aspect described clearly.
Dog’s showing aggression towards people is the most serious situation a dog owner will face. The consequences of dog to human aggression can be devastating and the incidences of people dying due to dog attacks is increasing exponentially. Changes to how the dangerous dog act is now applied has seen the focus move from ‘dangerous breeds’ to any dog posing a risk to people and prosecutions are more frequent and more successful than ever before. If this is an issue you are facing, then finding a behaviourist who has extensive proven experience in successfully working with owners with dogs displaying human aggression is the only responsible option. Again, the sensible place to start researching behaviourists is recognised associations like the CFBA.