As a certified animal behavior consultant for cats and dogs, I receive many requests for pet behavior help. Solving cat behavior problems and bad dog behavior can be a challenge. Some of these I address with articles explaining cat behavior (how to stop meowing, for example, or dealing with cat aggression), as well as puppy and dog behavior issues like noise phobias and separation behaviors.
Some pet behavior challenges have solutions through reading books and articles, others via phone call advice, and more serious issues (dog aggression, for example) need one-on-one help. But how do the behavior experts receive training? Some time ago, I received this email:
My son Dylan is a sophomore in high school. He wants to be a cat behaviorist. He is 16-1/2. Can he take online class somewhere to become a cat behaviorist? David A.
Hands-on help with a professional able to offer individual advice works best, especially in severe cases of dog behavior issues or cat problems. So I applaud Dylan’s interest in learning how to help cats and the people who love them.
Are Pet Behavior Problems Getting Worse?
In our grandparents’ day, pet potty problems weren’t an issue. The whole outdoors served as a toilet. The wide-open spaces reduced territorial arguments between pets. Did the cat groom too much? Folks never noticed (or cared) about hissing off their cat and causing behavior issues. And when an animal’s behavior became a problem, they were replaced.
Today cats and dogs have moved from the barn to a fenced yard or house. They share our meals, our love, and often our pillow. Some may even climb into our refrigerators! But with busy lives, many pets end up alone for hours each day while we’re at work. Boredom, frustration, and sometimes poor breeding, or lack of training or socialization leave us with neurotic, destructive or sometimes aggressive pets. What’s a caring puppy lover to do?
There are several paths that Dylan (and pet lovers needing help) can pursue. Here are my top recommendations.
Finding Credentialed Pet Behavior Help
- Animal behavior specialists study the relationship of animals to their physical environment as well as to other animals (and to people). The study tries to understand the causes, functions, development, and evolution of behavior and uses that knowledge to help owners and pets build positive relationships.
- The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) established in 1993. Veterinary behaviorists have veterinary degrees and so can diagnose and prescribe drug therapy as well as behavior and training interventions to solve problems. As of 2020, there are about 80 veterinary behaviorists in the world.
- The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) developed a certification program in 1991. Members called certified applied animal behaviorists, must have a Ph.D. in a related field. There are about 56 ABS-certified animal behaviorists in the world.
- The American Animal Behavior Society consists of both veterinary behaviorists and Ph.D. behavior consultants. The database here allows you to do a search to find behavior help for your animal companions.
- The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) formed in 2003 to create a certification program that validates non-veterinary or Ph.D.-credentialed individuals. Certifications for dog, cat, parrot, horse, and shelter behavior consultants are offered. A number of veterinary and Ph.D. behaviorists also are certified with IAABC. Certified behavior consultants often work with veterinarians. They often also are dog or cat trainers.
How to Become A Cat Behaviorist or Dog Behaviorist
Prep courses in high school and college help students for a future as a veterinarian or Ph.D. behaviorist. For those without those credentials, online courses offer some great instruction. But be aware that just about anyone can tout a “title” on the Internet.
So choose a respected source to find coursework, especially if you plan to offer professional advice to pet lovers. Some of the best options include mentorship and hands-on interaction with the animals.
IAABC offers a “supporting” level membership where interested students like Dylan can get paws wet *s*. The organization also has online course work for learning about behavior. The Animal Behavior College also has an accreditation program for both dogs and cats.
Look into the possibility of working as a pet sitter, under the guidance of a professional. Many of these folks know pet behavior and/or also train dogs (or cats). Learn more about pet sitters here.
I’d also encourage Dylan to volunteer at the local animal shelter, and read lots of books on the subject. Self educate not only with your own animal companions, but learn from other pet lovers and experts. For general behavior information about cat behavior and dog behavior, check out my ComPETability cat book and the ComPETability/Dog book.
I’ve just begun to create on-demand cat (and dog) behavior webinars for folks like Dylan. Designed as an economical alternative to one-on-one consults, pet lovers, pet sitters, shelter volunteers, and similar folks benefit with the specific advice. As they become available, I’ll post links here.
The first one is here, and comes with one of my Quick Tips cat behavior booklets:
NOTE: Recently, I’ve received a large number of Email questions about pets, writing, and publishing. While I can’t answer all of these in detail, some of these will become blog posts and/or added to future Ask Amy videos and podcasts.
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