Assembling a support team
Working with a qualified trainer
Qualified trainers can be valuable partners on a veterinary behavior management team. 28 ‘‘Training’’ is an unregulated field, and unskilled, poorly schooled trainers may cause harm. It is worthwhile to establish a collaborative relationship with a qualified, certified, and insured pet trainer. An accomplished trainer can work seamlessly with the veterinary team to help clients implement behavioral interventions, provide feedback, and elevate the practice’s level of behavioral care. Diagnosis and medical intervention remain the purview of the veterinarian.
Trainers should have obtained certification from a reliable organization that has, as its foundation, the sole use of positive methods. Certification for trainers should require annual continuing education, liability insurance, and testable knowledgeable in behavior and learning theorys. Unfortunately, credentials don’t guarantee the use of humane methods or honest marketing. It is essential that clients ask trainers about specific tools and techniques used. If the tools or techniques include prong collars, shock collars, or leash/collar jerks/yanks, or if the trainer explains behavior in terms of ‘‘dominance’’ or throws anything at a dog, advise clients to switch trainers. Ensure that individuals teaching the class do not force fearful, reactive dogs to stay in class. Forcing dogs to remain where they are fearful, even using crates or baby gates, worsens fear. Classes should have a high ratio of instructors to clients and dogs. 28
The role of technicians
Canine and feline behavior management is a certifiable veterinary technician specialty acquired through training and testing. Veterinary Technician Specialists in Behavior and the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians understand the value of a team approach in implementing scientifically proven and humane behavioral treatments in clinical practice. Many technicians are interested in training and behavior and would benefit from joining the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians, a group that provides quality continuing education in this specialty.
Specialists in veterinary behavioral medicine
Behavior cases can be complex, often involving public health and safety issues. Board-certified veterinary behaviorists (diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists) are specifically trained and qualified to treat clinical behavior problems in companion animals. Referral to a veterinary behaviorist may be recommended in cases involving self-injury, aggression, multiple concurrent behavioral diagnoses, profound phobias, or for patients not responding to conventional treatment despite the primary care veterinarian’s best efforts. Dogs either inflicting deep bites or those injuring immunocompromised individuals should be referred to a specialist. Under no circumstances should aggression or any condition involving a clinical diagnosis be referred to a trainer for primary treatment. Referral to a dog trainer is appropriate for normal but undesired behaviors (e.g., jumping on people), unruly behaviors (e.g., pulling on leash), and teaching basic manners.