The evolution of behaviour help: Using modern technology to get superior results.
The way I have worked as an Animal Behaviourist has evolved over time. The same as any other profession, you have to adapt and evolve, continually moving forward to improve the way that you do things. “The only thing that is constant is change”.
In the UK, some clinics are large enough to employ their own Animal Behaviourists. I started out, trained and got experience in a large animal hospital where they had specialists working in all fields. There were various departments with experts dealing with all aspects of animal welfare such as heart, eyes, skin, bones and diseases etc., as well as people such as me who had trained specifically in behaviour. When I moved to Australia in 2006, even in Melbourne, clinics were a lot smaller than where I had come from, so I started working for a single practice as their behaviourist in a part-time capacity.
I moved to rural Victoria and clinics were smaller again. I then started operating as a consultant. This meant that I was no longer attached to a single clinic but serviced many clinics within the vicinity of which I lived. The clinics would refer behaviour problems to me. I continued with the same model when I moved to Tasmania. Sometimes I would see clients in their usual clinic or I would run behaviour clinics from the bigger practices and clients would travel to me at a particular clinic. I also conducted home visits if it was practical to do so.
Behaviour clinics would run on set days in the mornings. Due to their infrequency and restriction of appointment times I started to get a lot of owners in need of help who were unable to make an appointment due to other commitments. Some people needed more immediate help and waiting until the next clinic session was not ideal. To fill this gap I started to do phone consultations and this evolved into video call consultations.
What appeared to me at first to not be ideal, started to prove otherwise. In a clinic environment the pet’s behaviour changes quite dramatically. This isn’t surprising, as usually when they are at the clinic something strange happens that isn’t particularly pleasant, they have a vaccination for example. The same is true when I conduct a home visit. Again, the pet’s behaviour changes as a visitor who they have never met before is present. They may be overly excited or overly nervous, so neither way do I get to see the pet in its normal state from a behavioural context.
Seeing a pet as it behaves normally is more important for me to be able to work out how to best help the owner and their pet, than seeing their pet performing the unwanted behaviour. This can surprise most people. But when I get to see a pet behaving normally in a relaxed home environment this shows me the pets true character and personality.
Prior to any type of consultation:
A wealth of information is provided by the owner prior to the consultation via an on-line questionnaire that they complete. This informs me about their particular situation, their pet’s behaviour traits, and their home environment. They can also upload video of their pet performing any unwanted behaviour directly via the website. I review this information and am able to start analysing their case before we even meet.
I encourage veterinary clinics to be proactive and to refer clients who are in need of help. The owner can also ask their vet to refer them, and can download a vet referral form straight from the website to take to their vet. Referrals are great, as depending on the issue I may need to liaise their vet and having the pet’s medical history to work from can be very useful. This way I can also keep in contact with their pet’s vet easily. Sometimes their vet and I may need to work together to enable us to help their pet in the best way possible. The vet will check that their pet is medically fit and heathy and no health-related issues are affecting the behaviour. If there are any health issues contributing to the behaviour these will be dealt with by the vet. Then, if I feel it may be beneficial, the vet and I can liaise and the vet can prescribe medications that may help in assisting us with behaviour modification.
Meeting the owner and their pet:
A video call consultation:
After the pre-consultation information is completed by the owner and I have reviewed the information I meet the owner and their pet via video call. I conduct the consultation giving them the insights as to why the problem has established, what may be reinforcing it and how they can modify their pet’s behaviour or avoid running into further problems.
The video link allows them not only to show me their pet in its normal behaviour state, by showing me them via the monitor, but also they can show me the environment their pet lives in – their home and garden. Seeing the pet’s natural behaviour and normal environment can be very important.
The other main advantage of a video call consultation is that they can be done at a time that is convenient to the owner allowing a lot more flexibility. This is very important as it is extremely beneficial to have all main care takers of the pet involved in the consultation. This rarely happens if the consultation needs to be conducted within clinic hours, as someone is always working or not available at the appointment time.
It no longer matters where you live. As long as you have a mobile phone, iPad or laptop you can get help! The help you receive being of no lesser standard. There aren’t many places in Australia where you are unable to get the internet nowadays, so this method works virtually anywhere. Some people may be put off initially as they don’t understand how a video call works, but it is so, so, easy. It can be easily explained to them and their mind put at ease. If necessary we can guide them through how to do it.
A live face to face consultation:
I meet with the owners and the pet in a clinic or home visit. The pet’s behaviour is changed from its normal state due to the abnormal situation of either being in a clinic or having a visitor to the home; so, I have to ask a lot more questions of the owner to ascertain normal behaviour, I also don’t get to see it for myself.
It can be quite distressing for a pet to be brought into a clinic, especially if it has a behaviour problem. I sometimes have to spend time encouraging the pet into the consultation room and then calming them down (and sometimes their owners too!). This time could be better spent understanding and modifying the behaviour. The owner will be more receptive if they are at ease too and will get more value out of the consultation.
I do get to see how the pet interacts with me and this can sometimes be helpful. However, the helpfulness of this is often offset by the negatives of the meeting environment.
Some people prefer a face to face meeting. The only people who get this option are people who live close to me and can attend a clinic that I run. The dates of these are not flexible and the times may not be suitable. This kind of consultation is not readily accessible to everyone across Australia.
Evolution is key:
I have, therefore, accidentally modified my process through necessity. A video call enabled a consultation to be conducted which provided me with the ideal information to be able to help the owner and their pet. It provided for efficiency and superior results. Much to my surprise.
Using new age technology we are making advancements in all fields, so I do not know why I thought animal behaviour would be any different! The new method of working is not only more effective but it means I can now help anyone, anywhere in Australia. This is great news for pet owners and their pets.