What makes veterinary behaviourists different?

What makes veterinary behaviourists different?
What is the difference between veterinary behaviourists and non-veterinary behaviourists? And what does this mean when it comes to treatment?

Langford's Veterinary Behaviour Specialist, Dr. Sagi Denenberg talks us through the difference between veterinary and non-veterinary animal behaviourists, and the difference this can make in how our pets' behavioural problems are treated. 

Not all Animal Behaviourists are Created Equal

"In recent years there has been a sharp in increase in the number of individuals who profess to be behaviourists. Many of those giving behavioural advice and guidance (including some of the more popular TV shows on pet training) use punishment (also known as “correction”) or forceful measures, or continue to follow the unsubstantiated, outdated, confrontational and sometimes inhumane principles of trying to explain dog-human relationships and aggression in terms of a dominance hierarchy. However, dogs and humans communicate in different languages, and only with an appropriate understanding of learning principles and consequences (as opposed to dominance) can pets be humanely trained and behaviour problems resolved.

There are two animal behaviour specialty groups; a veterinary specialty and non-veterinary specialty. The European College of Animal Welfare and Behavioural Medicine (ECAWBM) and the American College of Veterinary Behaviourists (ACVB) are accredited specialties in veterinary medicine by the European Veterinary Board of Specialties and the American Veterinary Medical Association respectively. Currently there are only 38 diplomats of the ECAWBM, who have passed their board exams and 66 of the ACVB. Some have multiple certification.

What makes veterinary behaviourists different? Individuals who wish to become a member of these specialty groups must first obtain a veterinary degree, then pass a specialty training program (also known as residency), and finally pass the board exam. They must study all animals including domestic animals, zoo animals, and laboratory animals. This includes normal and abnormal behaviours, learning principles, development of behaviour, psychopharmacology, internal medicine, and neuroanatomy. Additional criteria include research, publications, lectures, and continuing education. In addition, only veterinarians can legally make diagnoses and dispense medications.

Veterinary behaviourists, like other veterinarians, are the only ones who are licensed by the government (the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons). This binds them to a strict ethical and legal set of rules. For more information on veterinary behaviourists, please visit www.ecawbm.com and www.dacvb.org. There are several subgroups of veterinarians who are interested in animal behaviour, and consist of both board-certified and non-board-certified veterinarians. Some examples include the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology (www.esvce.org), the American Society of Animal Behaviour in North America, and the British Veterinary Behaviour Association (www.bvba.org.uk).

The second group of animal behaviourists - the non-veterinary group - consists of individuals who hold a Masters or PhD degree in animal behaviour. Certified animal behaviourists must have a background in biology or psychology and a major in animal behaviour. A behaviourist is the individual to whom cases should be sent when a diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan is required.  As in most fields of veterinary medicine, cases requiring referral are sent to veterinary specialists who are often boarded diplomats. In some cases involving behaviour problems, your veterinarian may refer you, or you may seek the help of people outside the profession, such as trainers or non-veterinary “behaviourists”. 

There is little question that for general training and problem prevention, trainers provide an invaluable service. An appropriate trainer to refer to is one that holds formal education in training (such as members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers), takes part in continuing education, and uses positive and reward-based training. Look for a trainer that utilises sound learning principles, positive approaches to training and has moved beyond the outdated principles of having to be a pack leader. However, never engage with someone you have not objectively observed, even if you've talked to the trainer or others have recommended the trainer. Whilst there are many excellent trainers working with animals, others use questionable techniques or have an inappropriate scientific basis for their training. Some trainers use extremely harsh techniques, causing more harm than good, and possibly placing the pet and owner in danger. Therefore, when behaviour problems arise, consider talking to your veterinarian first to rule out medical problems that may affect your pet’s behaviour. Then visit a veterinary behaviourist who can give you and your pet a comfortable feeling and reassurance."


CPD Event: New Veterinary Behaviourist Service

What makes veterinary behaviourists different?

    To celebrate the arrival of our new Veterinary Behaviourist, Dr. Sagi Denenberg, and our new Behaviour Referral Service, we are running a full day CPD course (Vets/Nurses only).

    This course will cover a selection of topics including:

    • Pathophysiology of behaviour
    • Psychopharmacology and natural supplements
    • Cognitive dysfunction.