What is an Animal Behaviourist?
I am Dionna, founder of Animal Behaviour Australia and I am an Animal Behaviourist. A what? I hear you say. Now your brain is probably going into overdrive trying to figure out what I actually do, so I will save you the trouble. I am an animal psychologist and yes, it's a real profession.
I will explain how we fit into the human world. A vet is a doctor for pets. They help your pet if they are sick or injured and vaccinate them against disease. They are dentists, surgeons, medics, dietitians, pathologists...I could go on and on and having worked in the veterinary industry for decades and worked with the best vets out there I have the utmost respect for vets, however the one thing they are not trained in is animal behaviour or psychology. We can let them off though right? As they are already looking after almost everything else.
Dog trainers are teachers. They teach you how to teach your pet to perform specific behaviour. Again, in human context, they teach your dog it’s ABC's. They can even teach your dog to get degrees in specific tricks if you want! However, who helps you when your pet is healthy and knows it's ABC's but is performing behaviour that is unwanted / embarrassing / or antisocial, well that would be me, an Animal Behaviourist.
As an Animal Behaviourist I look at what is driving your pet to perform this behaviour. This requires me to think like your pet and get into their head to unravel the underlying problem driving the behaviour. I look at what your pet is thinking and feeling to motivate them to perform the behaviour in question. Put simply, I look at the Why? Once I have determined the Why? I show you how to replace the unwanted behaviour with an alternative behaviour for your pet to perform that is just as rewarding for them. That way both you and your pet are happy and content. Happy people, wagging tails, I call it!
A professional pet behaviourist is a trained animal psychologist and this also requires me to be a detective and I love it! I do not only work with dogs but cats, rabbits, birds and guinea pigs.
I work out what the problem actually is then work with you the owner to put a plan in place to help rectify the issues that you are having. I love my job as I help those who often feel defeated. If I had a $1 for each time I have been asked if I can really help their pet I would be rich!....
I can also help owners get on the right path from the beginning, avoiding going down unnecessary problem behaviour paths. Behavioural vaccinations I call them and believe me they are just as useful!
So to recap - if your pet needs surgery or to learn how to do a back flip please don't call me. However, if you are having trouble understanding why your pet is behaving as it is, or want to avoid having a basket case of an animal to begin with, then I am the one that can help you.
People also ask me how I studied to become an Animal Behaviourist. My love of animal psychology started at university when I completed an honour’s component of my bachelor of science degree that focused on animal behaviour. Since then I have trained specifically in pet behaviour in the UK at the Centre Of Applied Pet Ethology -aptly referred to as COAPE. I was lucky enough to be trained by some of the behaviour greats such as Peter Neville and Val Strong. I have worked in Veterinary Clinics for decades as an Animal Behaviourist.
I also studied Veterinary Nursing at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in the UK. This was important to give me the medical insight that is also required in my line of work. I need to know what is healthy and unhealthy from a medical perspective in case a medical issue may be contributing to certain behaviour. Depending on the nature of the problem it is sometimes necessary for me and your vet to work together in unison. However, it is the specific training in animal psychology that makes me an Animal Behaviourist.