By Lyn Fleet
Choosing a behaviourist is simple you would think but in reality it can be a minefield. There is a term in retail ‘Buyer Beware’. You are going to be the customer that is buying the services of a behaviourist. It’s up to you do the research and be satisfied they are capable of providing you with the help that you and your dog need. There are supposed experts springing up everywhere almost daily; it seems to be that it is the trendy job title to have.
These days, anyone wanting to practise canine behaviour is required to have academic qualifications, usually to degree level or higher. However, there are some who are no less capable but they have learnt their craft over many years and have a wealth of practical hands-on experience, keeping abreast of current scientific knowledge.
Don’t be swept along by someone’s flashy looking website and all the claims they may make. You need to go through it with a fine toothed comb. Remember Buyer Beware! You may see, “I’ve been a dog handler for over 20 years.” Seems impressive but were they any good at it? Most likely they have only worked with German shepherds, so what do they know about other breeds? When did you last see the police release a Chihuahu to pursue an armed robber?
Some people proclaim to be ‘experts’ and list an array of letters after their name but do you know what they actually mean? You would be well advised to check these organisations out for yourself. Look on their website for how to become a member. They often require no proof of experience or training received, be that academic or hands-on. All that is wanted is that the applicant has to pay an annual subscription and that will entitle them to put letters after their name. Looks good but means nothing!
Something else you might see listed on someone’s website is a huge array of topics. It’s easy to assume that it is something they have studied in depth.
Nutrition – (they might just have listened to a manufacturer’s sales rep doing a talk)
Dog law – (they’ve read an article in a pet dog magazine)
Canine First-Aid – (attended an afternoon talk on the subject)
You might well have seen every episode of Casualty and remembered all the medical terminology but it doesn’t make you a doctor.
Programmes about behaviour problems are not meant to be educational. They are just for entertainment value like any other reality show. Don’t be fooled by how charismatic the presenter is; TV companies wouldn’t select a less popular presenter because the viewing figures would plummet.
You must be Pack Leader!
Anyone that says you must be Alpha or Pack Leader is talking old fashioned rubbish that was scientifically disproved years ago. Walk away and save your money!
Instant and guaranteed cures
If something seems too good to be true then it usually is. Someone may tell you that they can cure your dog’s problems in just one visit. Again, this sounds very impressive but “talk is cheap” as they say. In real life nothing is that simple. It’s as ridiculous as feeding the one sample bag of diet food given to you by the vet and expecting that this alone will cure your obese pet. Your GP wouldn’t prescribe one antibiotic tablet and tell you that will cure your pneumonia.
As with every profession charges will differ. If someone says they charge just £10 for a three hour behaviour visit and someone else is £200 for a three hour behaviour consultation, this should tell you something. There is a world of difference between the chap down the road having a look at your car for the cost of couple of pints when you next see him in the pub; as opposed to a fully qualified mechanic that belongs to a recognised dealership or organisation whose charge is £100.
Where do I start?
Ask your vet if they can recommend a behaviourist and check out our ICB members’ list to see if there is anyone local to you. Personal recommendations are also worth considering.
If you engage the services of a well- meaning amateur, no matter how nice they seem, their results can often be poor or non-existent. With aggression in particular, they can often make problems worse, so much so that the aggression is completely unresolvable by anybody.