Many people ask me what the difference is between a dog behaviour specialist like me, and a Vet Behaviourist. Doesn't a Vet behaviourist have more qualifications than you, and therefore is our best option to help our dog?
My reply is usually. A Dog trainer that also refers to herself/himself as a behaviour specialist, does so for very important reasons. They have spent many, many years working with dogs in the real world, have trained in a lot of cases, thousands of dogs, for many different purposes. They have a deep understanding of a dogs behaviour instincts and drives due to working so many dogs in the real world. They understand the natural instincts that motivate dogs and why they do what they do. They understand a dogs avoidance instincts, that have helped them survive over 100's of thousands of years. They have a deep understanding of these instincts because they are hands on working dogs every day in the real world.
Now a Vet behaviourists, qualifications all come from a lecture room. You will not find many, if any, that have actually spent years in the field working with dogs. They do an extra year or so, in a lecture room during their vet studies, understanding basic dog behaviour, and with a major focus on medication for behavioural problems. Many wouldn't even know how to teach a dog basic things such as calm lose leash walking in public. Sure many know how to train dogs with food in a distraction free environment like a consulting room or home, but fail miserably out in the real world. You would rarely if ever find a Vet Behaviourist accompany a dog and its owner to locations where dog to dog aggression is triggered, and then explain to the owner why their dog is reacting the way it is, and what natural training procedures need to be taken to rehabilitate their dog. Rarely would you see a Vet Behaviourist, take the lead and demonstrate how to get their dog under control that is displaying aggression. If they did, all it would be is to try and redirect the dogs attention on to a treat, and if this doesn't work, then force the dog on to a course of mind altering drugs.. A simple quick fix, that really isn't in the best interest of the dogs physiological health. They just don't have the hands on skills.
You would be lucky to find a Vet Behaviourist that doesn't prescribe psychotropic medications to dogs on more than 90% of those they consult on. Vet Behaviourists will not publish their statistics on how many dogs they use medication on and how many they work through the behavioural issues naturally. They know that people would be shocked at the number of dogs they are prescribing drugs too, and for the reasons they are prescribing them.
A Dog Behaviour specialist that has spent years working with dogs in the real world, would be lucky to recommend psychotropic drugs on more than 00.05% of the dogs they consult for. I know in my case, it would be less than 1 in a 500 dogs. Sure I have recommended dog owners seek medication for their dog to help them rehabilitate their dog, but it is very rare, and never before first trying a more natural approach. Most behavioural issues can be overcome without the reliance on drugs, if you fully understand the triggers, and are open to a more balanced approach to help the dog.
If you feel the need to approach or contact a Vet Behaviourist, the first question you should ask them, is what is their preferred training method..This question alone will inform you the most likely direction the Dr will recommend for you and your dog.
If their answer is:
- Positive only/Force Free - more likely to prescribe psychotropic drugs immediately
- A more balanced approach - will always seek out alternatives to drugs, and only prescribe as a last resort.
Unfortunately Vet Behaviourists that follow a more balanced approach, are very rare indeed.
Why am I so hard on the positive only and force free movement?
Many accuse me of being overly harsh or too hard on the positive-only fraternity. They would be right, however my focus is only on the extremist or fanatics within this demographic. They treat their philosophy more like a religious cult, and anybody that isn't in total agreement with them are the enemy that need to be destroyed at all costs, and by whatever means possible, whether it be by personal attacks on a persons character, or publishing false and misleading information to push their religious like views. I would place trainers such as Victoria Stillwell and Zak George, and most of their devoted diehard followers within this group. There are of course many others.
I have found it is extremely rare for those trainers that have a more open mind and philosophy on dog training and dog rehabilitation to have a need to push a personal agenda, via personal attacks or by publishing misleading information, as their high success rate is self evident for anyone to see. I do not attack a persons character, I voice my concerns over misleading information they publish, and answer back to personal attacks. I have been personally accused of abusing dogs, by kicking them, beating them, placing prong collars on young puppies of 10 weeks of age ,and the list goes on. None of these accusations are true of course, but these groups can say what they like to push their agenda, they have no morals. They have reported me to the RSPCA, making false claims, and not once have I ever been investigated for animal cruelty. Do you think I'd still be in business after 36 years if I didn't have a clean slate.. but yet the accusations keep coming.... There would not be one balanced trainer on the planet that has not been accused of dog abuse by these groups, that deserved these outlandish and false claims.
So yes, I voice my opinions, as if I didn't dog owners would have no opposing views to help them decide the best course of action for their dog. I am not the only balanced trainer that is working hard at dispelling all the myths about dog training and rehabilitation methods, and equipment used. There is a ground swell of trainers that believe enough is enough. If we didn't stand up to these fanatics, and become the voice of reason then dog owners would have no choice but to believe all the false and misleading information being displayed and published all over social media, and the media at large. Many within these groups will even terrorise dog owners in public to push their agenda.
Use the method that best helps your dog
I have no issue with dog owners trying any method that they feel is helping their dog, whether that be positive only, force free, or a more balanced approach. All I ask is always consider your dogs overall well being first and foremost, and don't just jump in to administering these psychotropic drugs because a Vet Behaviourist recommends them. Most recommend them to nearly all their clients, as they honestly have no other way of helping dogs, as their methodology is so limited in its ability to deal with so many behavioural issues. The majority honestly lack the experience and expertise, due to a complete lack of years of hands-on experience in the real world. They focus more on masking behaviours and management, than actually helping dogs naturally to overcome their behavioural issues. They convince dog owners with dog behavioural issues that the dog has a chemical imbalance, and medicating is the only course of action to take.. Issues such as anxiety and the coping behaviours has become a sickness that needs medicating, rather than an adjustment of the dogs behaviours through more natural means.
You decide whats best for your dog.. Remember, no Vet truly understands how these drugs are actually affecting those dogs they prescribe them too. . Unlike humans, dogs have no way of voicing their concerns, and how the drugs are affecting them. Humans can have drugs discontinued or adjusted, because they can express how they are making them feel..Dogs can't. Just because the drug masks your dogs unwanted behaviours and 'looks' happier, is not a true indication of the drugs overall affects.