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What is a Behaviorist? What do they do?
A behaviorist is responsible for evaluating a dog to determine what problems are going on, why they are going on and coming up with a plan to correct the issues. In other words the behaviorist looks into the canine mind to figure out how the dog thinks and lets owners understand why the behavior is occurring and then comes up with a plan to correct it
How do I know if I need a Behaviorist or a Trainer?
When an owner states they are having problems with their dog other then commands it is helpful to have a behaviorist get involved. If your dog is well behaved except that he doesn’t sit or heel then you probably want training. If your dog is jumping, chewing items, is aggressive, or you believe has any mental or obsessive problem then you want a behaviorist. This is usually seen in destructive behavior, any form of aggression, ‘the bad dog syndrome’ and many other terms owners complain about.
How do you determine the cause of the problem?
A behaviorist observes and evaluates the dogs body language and personality as well as interviewing the owners and observing their interaction with their dog in order to determine what the causation of the problem is.
How do you solve my problem?
Once we determine what the problem is and what is causing the problem we will give you techniques and exercises to do in order to solve the problem you are having with your dog. We will also explain why you are having the problem in the first place so you better understand it and can prevent future problems from occurring.
At times it requires simple counter conditioning or retraining of owner interactions and other times it rangers all the way to mental disorders requiring medication and advanced behavioral techniques to resolve.
Why do dogs have separation anxiety?
Many people use the term, Separation anxiety as a catch all to describe a dog’s action given a particular situation. There are really many types of separation anxiety and many causes for separation anxiety. Below are just a few of them to give you an idea of the different types. Since there are many types of separation anxiety, they cannot be treated the same. Often books, TV shows and the internet; give ‘expert advice’ on how to treat separation anxiety, but without identifying the type and cause for the particular case, this is highly irresponsible and rarely affective. This is also why simply placing the dog on a medication, rarely works. The choice of what medication to use, if any, needs to be targeted to the specific type and cause of the dog’s separation anxiety, usually in conjunction with a modification program, to be truly effective. When we have a client whose dog is suffering from this ailment, we conduct a detailed evaluation to determine the type and cause of the separation anxiety, then design a custom plan to reduce and resolve the problem.
Medical separation anxiety occurs when a dog has an ailment, often unknown to the owners, that causes an insecurity when they are left alone. Since dogs cannot tell us how they are feeling, they speak to us through their behavior. Unfortunately, it is not financially realistic for us to do body scans and MRI’s on our canine companions; this is often not discovered from a medical screening but can be recognized by a behavioral evaluation.
Geriatric separation anxiety occurs as a dog ages and during specific situations they become confused and react through behaviors that would be deemed separation anxiety. Again, this is something that can be identified and treated through a behavioral consultation.
Specific triggered separation anxiety is another form. This occurs when a dog develops an association towards a specific sight, sound or smell; that caused a traumatic reaction. Often this manifests into other areas through something known as forward chaining and by the time the owner notices the dog suffering from separation anxiety, it has morphed far from the original issue. This type of separation anxiety usually requires a behaviorist to evaluate the dog in order to determine the cause and develop a program to resolve the reaction.
Another big form of separation anxiety is dominance based or lack of leadership. If your dog does not feel you are the pack leader then the job of protecting the pack falls to them. Could you imagine how you would feel if you had a young child that you are responsible for and that child walked out of the house and disappeared without you knowing where they went and if they are safe or not. This is what the dog experiences every time you leave the house when they feel they are responsible for your safety. In order to stop the anxiety the dog has to know that you are in charge and not them. While living with us in our world a dog is not capable of being in charge and only can be well behaved and happy if it is clear that you are the alpha, capable of making decisions for the pack and ensuring the safety of the pack. In the wild when the alpha wolf goes out to hunt those that stay behind do not stress over his or her leaving because they are confident in their leadership and know they will return. The alphas comings and goings are never questioned it is their right to do so and canines operate with this same mentality.
This is by No means a complete list, but as you can see from just these few examples, separation anxiety is a complex disorder that cannot be handled through a ‘cookie cutter’ approach. A dog suffering from this requires a behaviorist to conduct a scientific evaluation to determine what type of separation anxiety is occurring and why it started, so that a Proper modification program can be developed to resolve the behavior. Often dog’s suffering from separation anxiety display severe behavior or causes substantial damage but the issue can be resolved once the type and cause is determined. We have had many cases where dogs were set to be euthanized or re-homed due to this disorder but after a few weeks of work the situation was resolved.
How do I start letting my dog know I’m in charge instead of him/her?
Four main times you need to send the message that you are in charge:
- When reuniting with the pack.
- When feeding the pack.
- When leading the hunt.
- When deciding to fight or flee during perceived danger.
Do you deal with Veterinarians?
Yes, we deal with your doctor on a regular basis. Any time we perform a behavioral consultation we send a behavioral report to your doctor in order to keep them involved with your overall dogs care.
In cases where clients have more severe problems requiring medication we will consult with your veterinarian to ensure your dog is placed on the right medication for the condition he / she has. We are educated in the latest veterinary psychopharmacology which allows us to assist your doctor to ensure the latest and most effective medications are utilized.
We are also available to consult with your doctor at any time, free of charge.
If you do not currently have a vet we will recommend one in your area.
What certifications do you hold?
Yes we are both formally educated and are Board Certified Companion Animal Behavior Counselors, as well as dog trainers.
Daniel Forst is certified by ACABC as a Board Certified Companion Animal Behavior Counselor. He also holds a certificate from the American Foundation for Animal Rescue in the area of Dog training and Instructor skills. Daniel has been published in journals and taught classes in applied canine behavior and psychopharmacology for ACAS’s graduate and undergraduate program. He has testified as an expert witness in multiple jurisdictions.
Shari Forst is certified by ACABC as a Board Certified Companion Animal Behavior Counselor. She also holds a certificate from the American Foundation for Animal Rescue in the area of Dog training and Instructor skills. Shari has been published and taught classes in applied canine behavior for ACAS’s graduate program. Additionally, she is on staff as a behaviorist for the Warwick Valley Humane Society and has testified as an expert witness in multiple jurisdictions.
Can you help me on the phone or via video?
Yes, many problems can be explained on the phone. There is no replacement for a behaviorist seeing the dog in person but a phone / video consult can be extremely helpful for clients that cannot travel to us. Through interviewing the client, evaluating their intake form and incident sheets; we can get a feel for what is transpiring. We prefer to conduct video consultations via skype, webinar, facetime or Google; so that we can see the body language of your dog and view specific situations or exercises. We can then give the client several exercises to try in order to improve the condition. We also can let you know if we feel the dog has a true disorder or if the condition is behavioral only. Again, this is not as effective as doing a consult in person, since we cannot physically interact with your dog or trigger certain responses; but if you do not have a behaviorist in your area that specializes in aggression or anxieties, and you cannot travel to us, a video consult is the next best thing. Phone / video consults are conducted by appointment.