Guest post in association with the Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians

Choosing a dog can be a minefield. Obtaining a puppy or an adult dog ethically, to discourage irresponsible dog breeding can be a real challenge, particularly in the current climate. But what happens if your new arrival is not behaving as you expected? Or if your long-time canine family member suddenly has a change in their behaviour? To whom do you turn for expert help?

Unfortunately, the world of animal training & behaviour is only in its early stages of regulation. “Trainer” “dog psychologist” or “behaviourist” are not protected titles. In other words, sadly, anyone can call themselves by these names (among others). The Animal Training and Behaviour Council (ATBC) was set up in 2010 as a regulatory body and umbrella organisation for the industry. Any professional who registers themselves with the ATBC is independently accredited and has validated academic qualifications as well as experience. All members practise under a code of conduct that states that they will refer to any cases they are not qualified to deal with – avoiding pet owners being advised by under-qualified people. We would only advise pet owners to choose people registered on their website or who are members of the umbrella organisations registered with them. 

It is also worth noting, if you think your pet has a behaviour problem rather than a training one, accredited behaviourists only work on veterinary referral. This is because there can often be an undiagnosed medical problem influencing an animal’s behaviour – particularly if it is out of character for them or they are approaching middle/old age. Any medical elements must be addressed by a vet in addition to them making the referral for you. 

So, let’s look at how you can decide who you need to see…

Ultimately, it depends exactly what you need help with.

Obedience, general life skills (something some pandemic puppies really need help with) or tricks and games

For these sorts of issues, your best port of call is a good dog trainer. Unfortunately, there are a lot of trainers out there, some excellent, others rather less qualified or experienced. We’d advise checking on the Animal behaviour & training council website under “Animal Training Instructor”. Alternatively, look under the umbrella organisations’ registers of members and see who you can find locally to you.

Unwanted, antisocial, problematic or dangerous behaviour

For these, you need an accredited behaviourist. These professionals are qualified and experienced in dealing with behavioural “problems”, unlike dog trainers.

The first step is to have a conversation with your vet about the behavioural issues you’re having. They can rule out any underlying medical problems. You can then request a referral to an independently accredited behaviourist. You will find lists of these on the ATBC website under “Veterinary Behaviourist”, or “Clinical Animal Behaviourist”. Alternatively, go to the FAB Clinicians website for a one-stop-shop to finding the expert to help you deal with your dog’s problems.

Behavioural problems need professional attention, just like physical health issues

Your vet will know this, and will usually be very happy to refer you to a specifically trained and accredited professional. And with their help, you and your dog can get back to being best buddies again!

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