Qualifications of our Animal Behaviorists
The Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic offers two types of professionals to help people whose pets are having behavior problems: Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and a Board-certified Veterinary Behaviorist. Before you can decide what a particular specialist can do for you, you need to understand what the individual’s qualifications mean.
- What is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist?
- What is a Veterinary Behaviorist?
- What can a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Veterinary Behaviorist do for Your Pet?
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) is the leading professional organization in North America for the study of animal behavior, and was the first organization in the United States to offer a certification program for applied animal behaviorists. Certification constitutes recognition by the Animal Behavior Society that the professional applied animal behaviorist meets the educational, experiential and ethical standards required by the society.
Certified applied animal behaviorists come from a variety of backgrounds. However, they all share a common understanding of animal behavior theory, as well as application. Animal behaviorists can be educated in several disciplines, including psychology, biology, zoology and animal science. A professional applied animal behaviorist has expertise in the principles of animal behavior, in the research methods of animal behavior, in applying animal behavior principles to companion animal behavior problems, and in disseminating knowledge about animal behavior through teaching and research.
Educational and experiential requirements are extensive and include a doctoral degree (or masters degree for an associate applied animal behaviorist) from an accredited college or university in a biological or behavioral science with an emphasis on animal behavior and a minimum of five years of professional experience. Another option is a doctorate from an accredited college or university in veterinary medicine plus two years in a university approved residency in animal behavior and three additional years of professional experience in applied animal behavior.
At the time of this writing, there are only 32 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists in the United States.
Veterinary behaviorists are veterinarians with a special interest in animal behavior. Some veterinary behaviorists have completed residency programs after graduating from veterinary school and some have passed an exam given by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) have attained specialist status in veterinary behavior. They are doctors of veterinary medicine who received additional training in clinical veterinary behavior and satisfied the certification requirements of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. These veterinary behaviorists are “board-certified” diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
Veterinary behaviorists are trained and licensed to diagnose and treat problems in animals, whether they are medical or behavioral. Being veterinarians, these behaviorists can diagnose medical problems that may be contributing to the animals’ behavioral problems. A veterinary behaviorist is also licensed to prescribe drugs and is familiar with psychotropic medications (tranquilizers and anti-depressants), their uses and side effects.
What can a Certified
Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Veterinary Behaviorist do for Your Pet?
At Tufts, whether you make an in house clinic appointment or use our PETFAX remote consultation service, we ask you to complete an extensive questionnaire regarding various aspects of your pet’s behavior, health and lifestyle. Your answers to these questions help us categorize your pet’s unwanted behavior, such as inappropriate feline elimination or canine aggression.
In the next stage, we make a diagnosis that includes some reference to the reason for the behavior. In the case of inappropriate feline elimination, for example, we must determine whether your cat has developed an aversion to its litterbox (house-soiling) or if it is uncomfortable with some aspect of its environment and is engaging in anxiety-related urine marking. If you are having problems with aggression from your dog on the home-front, we'll help you determine if your dog is challenging family members because of dominance issues or if your interactions are triggering a defensive reaction from your dog.
Once we have made an accurate diagnosis, we move into the next stage - a full explanation for the behavior. This is an important aspect of behavior case management. Understanding what your pet is doing and the reason why is often a big relief and a crucial step in resolving the problem. Such knowledge also helps you develop the patience and understanding necessary to implement the recommended behavior modification strategies.
It is important to understand that many animal behavior problems are actually normal behaviors that are being performed out of context or inappropriately from an owner’s perspective. A dog that is biting strangers is not necessarily a “bad” dog but rather is probably reacting out of fear. Recognizing that the dog is frightened and has no option but to bite a stranger that forces contact should relieve some of your own fears and frustration. It will also help you protect your dog from well-meaning strangers while you learn appropriate behavior modification strategies to help train your dog to become more relaxed.
Once you understand the reason for your pet’s behavior, we’ll develop a behavioral management and treatment program specifically for you and your pet. At Tufts, we offer follow-up via telephone or e-mail to provide support and answer questions as your begin to implement the recommendations. Treatment is holistic in that it embraces all aspects of the pet’s life and lifestyle.
Subjects that we address include:
- The opportunity for exercise and acceptable outlets for innate behaviors
- Communication and training
- Environmental enrichment
- Specific behavior modification programs including, “Nothing in Life is Free” and desensitization and counter-conditioning exercises
Both the certified applied animal behaviorist and the veterinary behaviorist at Tufts can supply all of the above information. If medical treatment is necessary or psychopharmacologic treatment is indicated, the veterinary behaviorist is qualified to supply this aspect of treatment. Our veterinary behaviorist will often perform a physical examination of your pet and order relevant laboratory tests, when indicated, to support the behavioral diagnosis.
Although applied animal behaviorists cannot treat medical conditions or prescribe medication, many recognize when medical problems are involved or when psychopharmacologic intervention is necessary to resolve the behavior problem. Applied animal behaviorists will often work with your local veterinarian to determine the possible medical causes of the behavior problem and can supply drug therapy information that your veterinarian can pursue if he/she feels that pharmacological intervention is necessary to resolve the behavior problem.
Not everyone requires a veterinary behaviorist to help resolve their pet’s behavior problems. Certified applied animal behaviorists are well-suited to handle non-medical behavioral issues. Their scientific background in ethology and psychology makes them ideal resources for treating complicated behavioral problems. The human medical equivalent of a certified applied animal behaviorist is the psychologist.
Veterinary behaviorists also have some background in animal behavior and learning theory and are qualified to counsel on psychological problems. They are also valuable for diagnosing medical problems that may be associated with behavioral problems and other unwanted behaviors that require psychopharmacologic treatment. Veterinary behaviorists function as animal psychiatrists.