As a dedicated Clinical Animal Behaviourist, I meet a lot of dog parents who are overwhelmed by the daunting task to find someone trustworthy and knowledgeable enough to address their dog’s behavioural issues effectively.
Finding the right dog behaviourist can deeply impact your dog parent experience and help you stress-less when it comes to your furry family member. And in the UK anyone can call themselves a dog behaviourist, even if they have no qualifications or training which makes it very much a buyer beware situation. But how can you make sure the professional is right for you?
1. Are they insured and carry the proper certifications?
While there is no legal requirement for professional registration for behaviourists in the UK, there is a self-regulation scheme. The Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) is the registration body that acts to promote humane practice in animal training and behaviour therapy.
Clinical Animal Behaviourists (CAB) listed on the ABTC register have been assessed to confirm they meet the knowledge and experience requirements set down in the standard. This makes sure that any CAB on the register has demonstrated their ability to apply the science of animal behaviour and welfare to modify the behaviour of animals that are behaving in undesirable, inappropriate, problematic or dangerous ways. And that they address these behaviours in ways that are effective and based on best practice and scientific evidence.
Additionally those of us registered with the ABTC also have to provide proof of continual education every year, and have to be adequately insured for the services we provide.
I’d recommend working with someone who is listed as a CAB or a VB (veterinary behaviourist) on the ABTC register. And if you find someone through a google search or on social media who says they are registered – take the time to check to make sure they really are.
2. What’s their experience?
What you need is probably dependent on why you are looking for a dog behaviourist in the first place. If your dog is aggressive or reactive in certain situations, it makes sense to find a professional who has experience with those kinds of cases.
A dog behaviourist may specialise in certain dog breeds, or in the types of cases they take. Or they may be a generalist and take different kinds of cases with many breeds. There’s no right or wrong here.
If you are dealing with several issues with your dog like separation anxiety and also aggression or reactivity it might make sense to find someone who would help you with both those things together. Or you may decide to prioritise one problem and work with someone who specialises in that, and someone else who specialises in something else afterwards.
It may also depend on what services they offer. Often if they specialise, they will have different options and price points like group options or private packages. It’s common for professionals who work exclusively with separation issues to work fully online.
Look at what service they offer and what you will feel comfortable with. If you don’t like using technology, then someone who works fully online or even partially may not be a good fit for you.
3. Have you heard good things about them?
Ask other dog guardians you trust for their recommendations. Chances are you’ll at least find out who to start researching.
When you’re looking for a dog behaviourist, you can look at reviews on their website or Google. You can learn a lot from the positive and negative reviews, especially if the behaviourist has responded to them.
Look for comments on how they work. Is there a particular part of their service that people enjoy? For instance, many of the testimonials and reviews I get comment on how valuable the video feedback part of my services is, where clients can record their training between sessions and get prompt feedback on what to tweak or how to progress.
4. Do their values align with yours?
You can sniff out a dog person a mile away. Does enthusiasm for their profession ooze from their website? Do you see a deep care for animals and their humans?
If I’m hoping to learn and be supported by someone, the non-judgement, empathy and patience are high on my list of requirements. Not just towards my dog, but towards me too!
Dog behaviourists are often working with clients who are worried by their dog’s behaviour and may have tried many things beforehand. There needs to be a high level of trust between behaviourist and client, because change doesn’t often happen instantly and consistency is important.
Communication styles however are different to ethics and values. Depending on your own preferences, you may work best with someone who is supportive but straight talking. Or you may prefer someone who is less direct.
You will probably get a feel for this from the content on the website. But often dog behaviourists offer a call before you book for a small fee, or even for free and this gives you the opportunity to see if their communication style will suit you.
5. Are they within your budget?
It’s true, money matters! You want a great service provider who fits your budget. Sometimes it might be a case of reprioritising funds, especially for something like behaviour support which isn’t a forever expense like grooming costs.
When it comes to dog behaviourists, if they are properly certified and registered you are often able to claim back their fees from your pet insurance provider. This is what the majority of my clients do. Check with your insurance provider to see if behaviour costs are covered and to what amount. This could ultimately save you £100s!
And dog behaviourists like me also understand that insurers may not pay out until the package is finished, and there can be admin delays. So payment plans to help you spread the cost while you wait for reimbursement are often on offer too.
So while the initial cost of a package may look high, do talk to your insurer and the behaviourist directly about ways that you can make their specialist help more affordable for you.
6. What does your gut say?
We often get a feeling about someone that we can’t quite justify with logic. Your intuition knows if someone is right for you or not.
If you feel slightly uncomfortable around someone, it doesn’t mean they are an awful person or that they don’t know their stuff. But it often means you can’t be yourself around them, and who wants that?
Does that always matter? Maybe not if I’m only going to spend a tiny amount of time with them – like dropping off my car to be serviced. But for a dog trainer or behaviourist, I’m going to want to vibe with them so I don’t feel awkward the whole time we are working together.
When you find the right one, you’ll have them for life!! So take the time and really vet your options. You’ll find someone you absolutely love. I know it!
I work with guardians of reactive dogs who care deeply about their dog and want to live a rich and fulfilling life with them stress-free. If that sounds like you, I’d love to hop on a quick call and see how I can help! You can schedule with me here.