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Karen B. London
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Who Can See Behavior Cases?
Some vets want to be the only ones.

In the human world, people have long ago worked out their separate roles in helping people with behavior problems and mental illness. Different groups of professionals acknowledge the expertise and boundaries of their own and others’ fields. The result is that in the best scenarios, people needing help may have a team of professionals including teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and members of the clergy who work together to achieve success. The ultimate winner is the person they are all helping.

In the world of animal behavior, the debate about who is allowed to work with pets with behavior problems continues. There is a subset of veterinarians who believe that only veterinarians should legally be able to see behavior cases. Some veterinarians have taken the official position that all behavior problems are medical issues and that therefore only veterinarians can work with pets having behavioral issues. Many people, including PhD behaviorists, take issue with this, especially in light of the fact that many veterinarians have never had any training or classes in behavior. Thankfully, not all veterinarians feel this way, and many are very respectful of trainers’ and behaviorists’ expertise.

Naturally, there are behavioral issues that are due to medical problems and these medical issues must be resolved before changes in behavior can be effected, and clearly medical issues are the domain of the veterinarian. But I don’t believe that all behavior issues are medical issues. It’s a shame to think that a legal move could result in cutting off many avenues for people to get help with their pets’ behavior.

What do you think of the idea that only veterinarians should be allowed to work towards solving pets’ behavioral issues? (To read comments on this same topic, check out the blog “The Other End of the Leash.”) Have you had success resolving behavior issues with your dog or other pet, and if so, what types of professionals helped you?

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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.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Eric Goebelbecker | July 12 2009 |

Thanks for giving us a chance to discuss this issue.

I agree that it would be a real shame to see legislation passed that limited people's choices.

Many behavior issues require in-home work that most vets do not engage in. Many clients need, or at least greatly benefit from, the hands-on and "in situ" coaching that trainers and behavior consultants provide. I think Patricia really nailed it in her followup post ( http://bit.ly/6L7Hl ) when she said "it takes a village" to do a thorough job.

Furthermore, some clients come to me convinced that their dog has a serious behavioral issue when it is really just a training problem. I'd hate to see people legally required to spend unnecessary time and money with a vet when a basic training class or one or two private sessions could be just as, or even more, effective.

Submitted by Kathrine Konetz... | July 21 2009 |

I would hate to see something like this ever reach legislation, for all of the reasons mentioned here. I totally agree with the authors of the blog and the first post, in that most veterinarians are not trained or equipped to handle extensive behavioral modification. Does the fact that almost anyone can hang a shingle on the wall and call themselves a dog "trainer" bother me? You betcha. But a knowledgeable trainer is worth his/her weight in gold, and would always recommend a complete physical exam from the vet before tackling any serious training issue. Some behavioral issues can be rooted in a medical problem but the majority are probably not. Maybe a few would benefit from short-term medication at the beginning in order to jump start the training process, but I truly worry about all the "calm this, destress that, prozac, valium, etc., etc., etc" that seems to be so readily available to those looking for a quick fix. The issue isn't black or white and there is enough fuzziness around the whole thing to warrant trainers, owners, and veterinarians all working together to get to the proper solution. Please don't think I'm beating up on the veterinary community--I was a member for nearly 2 decades and I am lucky enough to have a wonderful relationship with my own vet. But the idea that veterinarians are the only professionals who should be diagnosing and treating behavioral problems seems to me like shooting yourself in the foot--not very smart.

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