Frequently Asked Questions
What is a veterinary behaviorist?
Above all, a veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian. They have graduated from an accredited veterinary school and passed the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE). Following that, a veterinarian needs to obtain a license to practice medicine in specific states. Once a doctor is a practicing clinician, they can enter an approved Residency or Specialty Training Program, which typically takes 3-5 years to complete. This program requires strict supervision by a mentor, specialized classes, courses, seeing a heavy number of behavior cases, and then, finally, taking the 2-day certifying board examination. Only then will these candidates be able to call themselves a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB).
Veterinary behaviorists are qualified to diagnose and treat behavior problems. They will be able to determine if there are underlying medical disorders that need to be addressed, analyze the underlying motivation for your pet’s problem, and implement an effective treatment plan. These individuals are often compared to a psychiatrist, but their repertoire is less confined than in human medicine.
When is it a training problem or a behavior problem?
Training and behavior certainly have some overlap, but for the most part are very different things. Behavior refers to the collective response to stimuli, coping skills, and general mental state of being. Training refers to the dog’s repertoire of learned skills. You can have a completely untrained, but behaviorally normal dog or an extremely well trained, but horribly anxious dog. Most people want a combination of the two.
Training problems are often termed “nuisance” behaviors. Animals with training problems can learn new responses, are relatively relaxed, but do naughty things like jumping up, chewing on inappropriate items, or not quite understanding house training. Behavior problems are motivated by an underlying emotional abnormality. For example, maybe he can’t concentrate while out on walks because he’s constantly worried; she urinates in her kennel when home alone because she’s panicking. For most pet owners and trainers, it can be difficult to tell the difference between training problems and behavior problems. It comes down to the underlying motivation of the behavior, not necessarily the manifestation.
I’ve already seen a trainer and they were no help. How will seeing a veterinary behaviorist be any different?
Many trainers implement techniques that just help to change the behavior itself. While this can improve many aspects of day-to-day life, it doesn’t treat the underlying cause. Behavior problems that are “trained away” will often come back with a vengeance later down the line, especially if any type of punishment was used in the process. A veterinary behaviorist will help put into perspective exactly what is happening with your pet, what needs to be done, and how we can be successful moving forward.
Is it a medical condition or a behavior problem?
Most medical problems have a behavioral component. As a veterinary behaviorist, it is Dr. Pike’s responsibility to assess the provided information, diagnostics, and the pet itself to determine what needs to be treated. Only a veterinary behaviorist has the legal capability and training to determine what would be the best course of action for your pet. We frequently collaborate with your family’s primary veterinarian and outside training resources to ensure your pet gets the best care possible.
Don’t you need to see my pet’s behavior in order to understand it?
This is a common question from our families. We often hear it in conjunction with “Why don’t you do housecalls?” or “But my pet doesn’t act the same way at the vet as he does at home” or “I’m worried my pet might hurt someone.” Our goal is to not force your pet to manifest his or her behavior problem. In fact, the cornerstone of our treatment plans is often figuring out a way to stop it from happening at all.
No, we do not need to see the problem. Before your appointment, our office asks you to complete a detailed history form. This will give us a lot of background information that might not seem important to you. It does, however, give us some insight into your pet’s upbringing, education, and daily home life: all important details for us to put the puzzle together. After reviewing this form, we’ll discuss even more details in person.