Appendix E: Behavior Trainers
Promoting the Human-animal Bond in Veterinary Practice
Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, Diplomate American College of Healthcare Executives

Professional Behavior Management Help

Courtesy of Nancy McKenna and Delta Society

Special Recognition for these contributions to:
Daniel O. Estep, PhD and Suzanne Hetts, PhD
Animal Behavior Associates, Inc.
4994 S. Independence Way, Littleton, CO 80123, (303) 932-9095

Authors Note: This Appendix provides a few sample ideas for a "letter/brochure" for veterinary practice clients. With training and continuing education, most veterinary practices can provide the initial behavior management assistance to clients, but like first aid care, the practice must know when to refer to a specialist. When the physiological has been ruled out, and the staff has tried, do not hesitate to call for assistance. There needs to be a Behaviorist on-call to your practice the same as an orthopedic surgeon or internal medicine specialist. Dr. Tom Cat

A veterinary practice guide to finding professional help for animal behavior problems

The Client Perspective

Knowing who to turn to when your companion animal is misbehaving can be a confusing process. Well-meaning people may have already given you suggestions which are at odds with each other, and you don't know who to believe. People who work with animal behavior problems are not regulated by any government agency and may have very different types of qualifications. You need to know what questions to ask to evaluate their training. Your veterinarian is the professional you trust to provide you with information about various types of animal related professionals, how they are trained, and what professional credentials to look for, in order to find the person who best meets your needs.

The volunteers who staff the behavior help-lines at humane societies, like the Denver Dumb Friends League, have completed an extensive training program taught by the on-staff certified applied animal behaviorist. The training program includes both lecture and supervised experience.


Clients know that their first call for a pet is having a problem should always be to their regular veterinarian. Urinary tract infections, hormone imbalances, neurological conditions, orthopedic problems, or dental disease are just a few examples of medical problems which can influence behavior problems such as house soiling or aggression. The veterinarian must do the physical examination and diagnostic screening before any form of "behavior management" is considered.

A great deal of variation exists in how much training in animal behavior veterinarians receive in school. Some receive very little, while others have taken advantage of clinical behavioral elective courses or have even obtained post-graduate degrees in a behavioral science. In 1995, it became possible for veterinarians to become Board Certified in Behavior by the AVMA's Behavior College. Ask your veterinarian what kind of specific training in animal behavior s/he has received. Most veterinarians readily recognize the advantage of referring behavior cases to a behavioral specialist, just as they would refer complicated cardiology or cancer cases to medical or surgical specialists.

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists

Perhaps the greatest confusion in finding professional help for your pet's behavior problem lies in the distinction between animal trainers and animal behaviorists. People who have worked with or trained animals for many years are not animal behaviorists unless they have specialized academic training.

Animal behavior is a specialized field of scientific study as are clinical psychology, social work, or veterinary medicine. In order to become an applied animal behaviorist, an individual must have specialized training not only in the broad field of animal behavior, but also in that part of behavior which relates to behavior problems in companion animals. In 1991, professional certification for applied animal behaviorists became available from the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), which is the primary professional organization for the study of animal behavior in the U.S.

Certification indicates that the behaviorist is academically trained, has experience in the field, and meets the ethical standards of the ABS. To become certified, behaviorists must document their training, provide letters of referral from other ABS members, and submit three case studies for review by the Board of Certification. You should ask the animal behaviorist what graduate degree they have (M.S. or Ph.D), in what field (a behavioral science such as animal psychology or ethology), and if they are certified. (

Behavior Consultants with Graduate Degrees

Graduate degree programs which provide the necessary training for applied animal behavior consulting are in a behavioral science (not chemistry or geology for example), should include animal learning theory and ethology (understanding how to observe and interpret behavior), and should involve learning how to apply this information to behavior problems in companion animals. Ask the consultant what graduate degree they have (M.S. or Ph.D), in what field, what courses they have taken, how they obtained their applied experience, and if they are eligible for certification.

Animal Trainers

Most animal trainers are self-taught; obedience training is not a standard science and there are many "schools of thought". Some may have apprenticed under another trainer, and/or attended various training seminars. Animal trainers typically are not trained in the study of animal behavior, and many use punishment (e.g., choke collars, shock collars, etc.). Trainers are usually available for birds, horses, and dogs, but not often for cats (cat owners will say they are too smart to be trained, but the simple fact is that there is not a lot of money in becoming a cat trainer). Good animal trainers are knowledgeable about many different types of training methods, and use techniques which neither the animal nor the owner find consistently unpleasant.

Good training methods should focus primarily on reinforcing good behavior, and use punishment sparingly, appropriately and humanely. Using choke chains to lift dogs off the ground and "string them up" are not appropriate or humane training methods; nor is excessive use of force with whips or other devices with horses.

Dog obedience classes are an excellent way to develop a good relationship with your dog and to gain more control over him by teaching him to respond reliably to specific commands. However, resolving behavior problems such as housesoiling, barking, aggression or separation anxiety requires more than teaching your dog commands. Specific behavior modification techniques must also be used. Some animal trainers also offer behavior consulting services.

Ask the trainer what type of methods they use, how they were trained, and if they will allow you to observe their classes. If you do so, and observe techniques which you are not comfortable with then find another trainer. Dog obedience instructors can be endorsed by the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI). Endorsement indicates that an instructor has been approved by his/her peers and uses humane methods of training. If the trainer is endorsed by another organization, ask what the criteria for endorsement are.

Things to Watch for and Avoid

1.  Anyone who guarantees their work. Animals are living beings, not dishwashers with warranties. Qualified behaviorists and trainers will always do their best for you, but cannot guarantee outcomes, because animals have minds of their own, and can never be completely controlled by humans.

2.  People whose primary methods or style focus on punishment. If their first recommendations involve choking, hitting or slapping the animal, or confinement or isolation this indicates little or no understanding of animal behavior.

3.  People who misrepresent their qualifications. People who call themselves animal behaviorists, even though they are not trained in animal behavior.

4.  People who want to take the animal and train it for you. Most behavior problems are a result of interactions between the animal, the owner, and the environment. Giving the animal to someone else to "fix" the problem is rarely successful because these three elements are not addressed. Owners need to work with the animal in the home environment.

If you are committed to working with your pet, and find qualified people to help you, the chances of successfully resolving many problem behaviors are great.


1.  Delta Society875 124th Ave NE, Ste 101Bellevue, WA 98005-2531Main Line: (425) 679-5500 (8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. PST, Monday - Friday)Fax: (425) 679-5539

2.  The Latham Foundation Latham Plaza Building1826 Clement Avenue Alameda, CA 94501Telephone: +01 (510) 521-0920 Fax: +01 (510) 521-9861 -- No Unsolicited faxes accepted

3.  For general questions please email: CENSHARE University of Minnesota717 Delaware St SE, Rm 130Minneapolis, MN 55455-2040phone (612) 626-1975fax (612) 624-3370e-mail:

Speaker Information
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Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, Diplomate American College of Healthcare Executives

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