5 Questions for a Behavior Specialist

Amy Pike, DVM, DACVB, IAABC-CDBC, graduated from Colorado State University in 2003, and was soon after commissioned as a captain in the US Army Veterinary Corps, where she worked with dogs suffering from PTSD.


Amy Pike, DVM, DACVB, IAABC-CDBC, graduated from Colorado State University in 2003 and was soon after commissioned as a captain in the US Army Veterinary Corps. She is an International Association of Animal Behavior certified animal behavior consultant and is also owner of the Animal Behavior Wellness Center in Fairfax, Virginia.


What made you choose your specialty area?

When I was in veterinary school, I really loved our behavior elective and the behavior problem prevention we learned. After graduation, as an active-duty Army veterinarian, several of my military working dogs came back from deployments with signs consistent with posttraumatic stress disorder. Watching the improvement in their anxiety using psychotropic medications and behavior modification made me want to learn everything I could about behavior medicine. I became very discouraged with general small animal practice and wanted to make a big change, so I met with Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, for “life advice” over coffee and she convinced me to do a residency with her.


What is one thing you wish you could tell general practitioners regarding your specialty?

How frustrating it can be to hear the bad behavior advice that some general practitioners continue to give to clients. We have been a recognized specialty for 30 years, and whether those clinicians simply are not seeking out widely available continuing education in behavior medicine or they are intentionally choosing to ignore the science-based recommendations of me and my colleagues, it can be disheartening. Also, remember that the dog training industry is highly unregulated, so please do not recommend trainers to clients who are espousing dominance theory, the use of aversive tools (like prong collars or shock collars), or those who do not keep up on the latest continuing education in the field.


What is one thing that pet owners could do that would make your job more satisfying?

Do not seek out the veterinary behaviorist as a last resort. If owners would come in as soon as a behavior problem is identified, rather than when they are facing the possibility of rehoming or euthanasia, we would have a much higher chance of making significant meaningful improvement.


What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Teaching owners how to communicate with their pet. Knowing how to read their pet’s body language and understanding what their pet is trying to tell them about how they are feeling is so empowering for owners! And it’s amazing how much easier it is to address behavior problems when the owners understand the motivating “why” behind it.


What advice would you give to someone considering your specialty?

Do it! We need more amazing veterinary behaviorists. If I could do a residency that many years postgraduation, with two small kids, and an active-duty husband who traveled a lot for work, then you can do it too!

Photo courtesy of Amy Pike



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