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Canine Behaviorists’ Top 10 Issues
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8. Upgrading certification programs. Unfortunately, anybody can hang out a sign and call him- or herself a behaviorist, and there are certification programs with alarmingly low standards. The most stringent certification program is the one that leads to the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) designation. To become a CAAB, a person must have substantial coursework in both ethology and psychology, five years of experience in applied animal behavior practice, and either a PhD in a field related to behavior (such as biology, zoology or psychology), or a DVM, in addition to two years in a university-approved residency program in animal behavior.

9. The demand for more qualified behaviorists. There are very few truly qualified behaviorists, so it is hard for people whose dogs have behavioral issues to get the help they need. Training new behaviorists is a big challenge because the two kinds of experience needed—academic and practical—are not linked by any structured program that helps interested people transition from one to the other. Few opportunities exist in academia to pursue research in applied animal behavior, because most people with expertise in this area are working as applied animal behaviorists, not as professors. Therefore, despite there being many people with advanced degrees in ethology or psychology, few have significant practical experience in applied animal behavior, including the actual experience of working with dogs.

10. The importance of using humane, positive training and treatment methods for dogs.No matter how popular abusive and aversive techniques may be in the media, or how they are marketed to the public as the quick fix everyone wants, they are not the best choice for us or for our dogs. Better, safer options are out there, and behaviorists take very seriously their responsibility to educate the public about the difference between techniques that help dogs and techniques that harm dogs. This list includes some of the hot topics of concern and controversy that we discuss (sometimes heatedly, but always cordially) when we get together at conferences, seminars and workshops. But truth be told, there is a good chance that, at this very moment, your local behaviorist is doing what we all enjoy doing more than anything, which is talking about our own dogs. After all, as dog behaviorists, we are not just experts on canine behavior, but dog lovers of the highest order.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 43: Jul/Aug 2007

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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