A companion animal with a behavior problem is a serious issue for most owners. You need to find help, and you want to find qualified help. The first recommendation is to consult with your veterinarian. Your vet should always be the first person with whom you discuss a behavior issue. All too often, the behavior problem is part of a larger set of health issues. An example that we see often is aggression in dogs caused by arthritis or other source of pain. So take any behavior problem to your veterinarian first.
If your vet recommends that you see a behavior specialist, and does not make a recommendation of their own, you should look for professional certification. There are many people out there that “practice” animal behavior, and even a number of organizations that provide online training to become an animal behaviorist, but we recommend only the following professional certifications for the field that we now call “applied animal behavior”: board certification in veterinary behavior, certification as an Applied Animal Behaviorist, certification as a Training and Behavior Counselor, and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant.
The first of these, obtained through the American College of Veterinary Behavior, requires a veterinary degree and two additional years of coursework, but especially hands-on training with a board-certified veterinarian. There are about 40-45 ACVB certified vets in the United States right now. If you’d like to find one, you can search the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists web site. This site allows you to search their directory or use their interactive map functionality.
The second form of qualification is certification by the international professional organization of research animal behaviorists, the Animal Behavior Society. ABS provides for two levels of certification: Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (ACAAB) which requires a Master’s degree in an appropriate field, several years of practical internship experience, and evidence of professional activity (research or instruction), and full Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), which is similar but requires a PhD in an appropriate field (generally Biology or Zoology). There are also about 40-45 certified applied animal behaviorists in the US and Canada at this time. If you’d like to find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, you can search the ABS Directory.
A relatively new program through the San Francisco SPCA is producing some very well-trained and qualified specialists, individuals who are not at the ACVB and CAAB level but who are well-prepared if one of these experts are not available. This is a six-week program on-site in San Francisco which leads to a Certificate in Training and Counseling (CTC) certification: one well-known behaviorist has referred to this program as the Harvard of dog trainer programs, and while as an academic, I would suggest that it might be the University of Washington, or even the Stanford (to stay Pac-10), of dog trainer programs, I would agree that the graduates of this program are “the next best thing” to ACVB and CAAB-certified professionals. Search for a dog trainer with a CTC certification in the SF SPCA Academy Referral Lists.
If you don’t have a veterinary behaviorist or certified applied animal behaviorist near you, look for someone certified through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. This certifying body issues the Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) credential. Greta Kaplan at Companion Animal Solutions in Portland, Oregon has earned this credential. The IAABC also certifies cat (CCBC), horse (CHBC) and parrot (CPBC) consultants; individuals with multiple species certifications are Certified Animal Behavior Consultants (CABC). To earn this credential, consultants must demonstrate a substantial amount of hands-on behavior consulting practice as well as learning in five core competencies. Counseling of owners as well as animal behavior and learning is emphasized. To find a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant outside of the Seattle, Washington or Portland, Oregon area, visit: https://www.iaabc.org
Finally, there is a certification program for dog trainers to become a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT). This is a less rigorous program which emphasizes qualifications for basic dog training but does not require extensive knowledge, training and experience in dealing with specific behavior issues. As a CAAB, I frequently refer my clients with serious behavior issues in their pets to a CPDT-qualified trainer for help with basic obedience issues, or to help provide stimulation through training like fly-ball or agility training.
So hopefully this review of acronyms, a veritable alphabet soup, helps you to choose a qualified professional to help you solve a serious behavior issue with your companion animal, whether it is a dog, a cat, a parrot, or something even more exotic.