When To Call An Animal Behaviourist

Many pet owners are unsure about when to phone for professional help when it comes to their beloved pets’ behaviour problems, or even where to begin finding a dog or cat Behaviourist.  

When is too soon, and when too late?  What happens if you leave the problem for too long, and does that affect the chances of successful rehabilitation? The answer is “it’s never too soon”!    

When a pet’s behaviour changes or a new (and often unwanted) behaviour starts to appear, it may be tempting to think that if you leave it, it’ll go away.

Unfortunately that’s seldom the case, and the longer a behaviour is present, the more difficult it becomes to change it.  

Why are entrenched behaviours are so tricky to change?

Think of a new behaviour as a footpath leading from one village to the next. In the beginning, it’s a dirt trail, but the more it’s used and the more people walk on the trail, the more prominent it becomes until eventually the footpath is a single dirt road, and then later on, a paved road, a double lane highway and eventually, if used often enough, the autobahn!  

The longer a behaviour is present, the more rehearsed it is, the more difficult it is to change.  

When behaviour is reinforced or rewarded in any way, it will continue to exist. Now this is usually where owners tell me that they’ve been ignoring the bad behaviour but it still exists.

Unfortunately, attention is only one of many, many forms of reinforcement. 

Dogs and cats do things because they enjoy doing it, it feels good, it relieves boredom, it gives them relief, it’s habit or simply because they can!  And this is where you need the help of a suitably qualified Behaviourist.  

Why is the behaviour happening?

Part of what we do is to find out exactly why behaviours are happening, how they started and why they are still happening. We also look at routine, lifestyle, diet, and so on to try and get a holistic overview of your dog or cat’s behaviour.  

Each companion animal is different, and it’s so important that your Behaviourist has the ability to look at your pet as an individual.  

What does that mean to you, as a pet owner? 

When you notice your pet’s behaviour has changed, or you notice new things happening that you can’t see yourself living with for the next ten years, don’t hesitate. Call your vet or have a look at www.capbt.org.za* for a referral to a qualified Behaviourist. 

Often, depending on the case, your behaviourist will ask you to take your pet for a veterinary check up to rule out any physiological problems that may be contributing to your pet’s behaviour so please don’t be worried if this happens.  

When you contact the vet, tell him or her exactly why you need to see them, and once you get the all clear, get in touch with your Behaviourist again so behavioural work can be started.  

The bad news is that it often involves work to fix or manage and may take some time, depending on how long the problem has been happening. 

So when in doubt, get help sooner rather than later! Not only will you save lots of time and effort (and money) if the problem is easy to resolve, but it’ll also mean that your relationship with your pet won’t suffer any negative consequences.

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