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The role of the pet behaviour counsellor is to advise owners whose pets have developed inappropriate behaviour. This is different from standard obedience training offered by dog trainers. Behavioural problems include such things as aggression towards people, dogs or other animals, destructiveness, toileting problems, inappropriate vocal behaviour and phobias.
Bona fide pet behavioural counsellors work on referral from veterinary surgeons. Where necessary there will be close liaison between the counsellor and the referring veterinary surgeon.
To become a pet behaviour counsellor, you will need an academic knowledge of the theory of behaviour and solutions to problems, practical handling skills and experience, and an empathy with, and an ability to communicate and motivate owners. The ability to run a professional, financially sound and accountable practice is also essential.
There is no single recognised route for study, but there are an increasing number of courses related to pet behaviour counselling on offer. A degree in behavioural studies, veterinary medicine, psychology, or one of the biological sciences can provide the best background. There are also degree courses run specifically on animal behaviour. It is also advisable to read as widely as possible and attend as many lectures given by APBC members and other specialist in the field of animal behaviour as you can.
In addition to academic knowledge, it is essential to acquire a thorough understanding of companion animals and one of the best ways of doing this is by gaining practical, hands-on experience. Working in a kennels, cattery, stables, at a veterinary surgery, or one of the animal welfare societies for several years is an ideal way to do this.
There are very limited career opportunities for pet behaviour counsellors in the employment field. Some of the larger welfare charities now employ a small team of counsellors, but vacancies will be few and far between. Most PBCs are self-employed and run their own practices.
Case Studies: Working as a Pet Behaviour Counsellor
A day in the life of … Sally Jones.
It's a dog's life... Reproduced with permission of iAfrica.com
Full APBC member Sally Jones (45) is an ex-accountant and IT consultant who swapped the world of economic figures and computer workstations for, well… a dog's life really! Instead of briefcase-clutching suit-clad individuals, her new clients are furry, yelping, slobbering, excitable, smelly-breathed pooches of all shapes and sizes.
How long have you been involved in dog training and how did you get started?
I have been a dog owner for a very long time but I didn't start teaching others until 1991 when the agility club I belonged to became desperate for volunteer trainers.
Sally lives in Devon, south-west England with her husband Steve and their 10 rescue dogs. Her company is called 'Dogs R Dogs', aptly expressing her philosophy that dogs are not human, and so should not be expected to behave and respond as such. She chats to us about her job as a dog behaviourist and trainer.
As for where I trained, I learnt most of it at the coal face. Our second dog, Boogie, was a real challenge and I had to employ the services of a professional dog trainer just to be able to live with the great oaf. This trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour so I started reading everything I could and started to seek out the people who I admired in the competitive obedience and agility world for private lessons.
In 1996 I reached a watershed. A new dog, Venn, challenged all my previous methods by remaining un-trainable even after six weeks of intensive effort. It was then that I discovered clicker training (based on the behavioural science of operant conditioning). This was a revelation and Venn went from the worst to the best dog in the obedience class in the space of a week.
So impressed was I with this technology that I travelled to Arkansas in the US to study with the pioneers of the method, Bob Bailey and the late Marian Breland Bailey. I trained chickens for two weeks! In the same year I embarked upon a post-graduate diploma in companion animal behaviour counselling at Southampton University.
Is it emotionally and financially rewarding?
Wow, talk about opposite ends of the spectrum!
- Emotionally it can be the best job in the world, but it can also be the worst. Imagine how I feel when I have to support pet owners through the trauma of having to part with their troubled pet. Sometimes there is nothing anyone can do because the animal has a deeply entrenched problem, possibly with a medical cause. Sometimes people take on a dog that is just not suitable for their situation. This is heart rending.
Then there are the days upon end when I witness clients strengthen the bond with their dog. Only yesterday I was helping a lady train her deaf dog for agility. I have a secret signal for this dog to let him know just how clever he has been (backed up with a hefty treat) and after a particularly brilliant performance yesterday he gave me a beaming grin when I used it.
- As for financially rewarding, I live in the wrong country. My job is highly skilled, potentially dangerous, requires an education to Masters level and yet my hourly rate is less than that of a car mechanic. Given that it is a physically and mentally demanding job, I simply cannot work long hours and keep up my standards. I am able to do the job because my husband has a decent job and my career up until now has been well paid.
What is the potential for career growth
Diversification. I started as an agility trainer and then branched out into obedience, pet training, puppy socialisation and behaviour consultancy. I have written for various magazines since 1995 and one day they might start paying me. I have a book in the process of being written and I am hoping it will do very well. I am also starting to organise unaffiliated (non-Kennel Club) agility shows designed to attract the beginners to the sport. I do not want to employ staff because I am too demanding. I would love a larger premises but that is long way off.
Then again, if I moved to the US it would all be different. I have taught there on many occasions and I am always invited back because, amongst other things, I am not expensive. Yet the fee they are prepared to pay for one day’s training is often more than I earn in two weeks in the UK.
What skills are important in this career and how does one go about becoming a dog trainer?
First and foremost:
- You have to have genuine people skills. If anyone thinks the job is about training dogs, they are wrong. I teach people to teach their dogs. Most clients consider their dog to be a family member and are very sensitive about how outsiders perceive this relationship.
The dog trainer has to respect the client’s views on how they want to interact with their dog. However, if the client is having leadership issues with their dog then the trainer/behaviourist has to employ the utmost diplomacy in explaining why this may be contributing to the problem.
- Then you obviously need to be dog wise. You have to be very knowledgeable about different breeds and personality types and be able to read subtle signals so that you can predict what a dog is likely to do next.
Trainer in action!
- Becoming a dog trainer is not just a matter of getting a qualification, although it is undoubtedly very useful. It is all about getting out there and doing it. Most people start by becoming the unpaid trainer at their local dog-training club. What is difficult is breaking away and turning this into a paid business. My route was through agility competition. People liked what they saw me doing and asked me for lessons. As for the other business areas, my best source is the local veterinary practices. I ran puppy parties for them free of charge and the next thing I know they are sending business my way. In fact my first few seminars in the US were done free of charge just so that I could get a toe hold.
Do you move around to your clients, or do your doggy clients come to you?
Both. If the behaviour problem is related to a particular situation then I have to see the dog in situ. There is no substitute for seeing the dog in its own environment surrounded by all members of the family. I also travel to agility clubs around the country and world to deliver seminars. But the majority of my work is done at my training barn in East Devon.
This is a collie called Molly
Describe a typical day…
There is no such thing. I am self-employed so it is up to me what time I get up. My first lesson tends to be at about 10am and I do not teach for more than 5-6 hours per day. Every client is different and during the day I may see several who want agility training but for very different standards. Some may have behaviour problems or some may want obedience training.
I have to plan each of the lessons in my head and also make sure that I get equipment set up or handouts printed out. Every now and then I get to train one of my own dogs, but it's very rare. Then there are the phone calls and emails requesting information and help. Of course there is paper work, accounts, reports, adverts, fliers. I also have a monthly column to write for the UK’s leading agility magazine 'Agility Eye' and various other publications.
What about you job gets you up smiling in the morning?
The fact that I like my clients and I love dogs. I also know that I make a difference. I get to share wonderful breakthroughs when the light bulb comes on. The owner and I exchange a glance and a grin and I punch the air in celebration. Sometimes I think that I should be paying them because I get such a buzz. I know I will get to laugh during the day because dogs never fail to do something to entertain me.
Ever been bitten by a wayward dog?
Believe it or not, only once. It was several years ago before I had learned to interpret what owners say about their dogs. This one was a small dog that was reported to jump up at the elderly visitors who came round to the house to play cards.
He was described as 'a little bit naughty' and I didn’t ask any more questions before my visit. It didn’t do much damage but it taught me a huge lesson. I am not confrontational with dogs, I am a big fan of muzzles and I am pretty good at reading body language. However, there is always a risk and I do not underestimate it.
Advice for anyone considering dog training as a career?
Don't, unless you are both wealthy and related to Mother Theresa!
Rate your job on a stress scale of one to 10.
(one being a walk in the park and 10 being ready to pull your hair out of your head.)
The higher end of the scale for much of the time, hitting the 10 a few times a year. My head is normally buzzing with something to do. My phone rings all evening and all weekend and I never get a holiday. But I love it.
A day in the life of……David Appleby MSc
“My job as a pet behaviour counsellor causes me to travel a lot. I have nine regular clinics around the Midlands in veterinary hospitals, PDSA and RSPCA clinics as well as at The Queen’s Veterinary School, Cambridge. I also consult at the Pet Behaviour Centre in Worcestershire, where I am based.
On a full clinic day I may see five or six clients, all on referral from their veterinary surgeons. I spend about an hour and a half each of them, taking a detailed history of the problem and discussing how best to modify their pet’s behaviour. After the consultation I remain in telephone contact with my clients for updates, progress reports and where necessary to modify the advice in light of the dog or cat’s response to the behaviour modification programme. I always plan to be in my office on one particular day of each week so that clients and vets know they can reach me. That day will be spent almost entirely on the telephone. On other days the phone is always manned in office hours and I am contactable if necessary.
The success of behaviour modification very much depends upon owner compliance in carrying out the modification programme. Unfortunately a few clients wish you to wave a magic wand and make everything better, but it doesn’t work like that. Although in some instances very rapid progress can be made, more often a thorough and systematic approach has to be taken which can be time consuming and involves all members of the family. It is extremely satisfying to see a family enjoying their dog again instead of it just causing them stress.
As well as consulting I give talks and lectures in the UK and overseas, which I particularly enjoy. Of course I also attend other people’s talks, and within the APBC we have regular education days so that all members are kept up-to-date with latest developments in the field of behavioural therapy. I also spend quite a lot of time writing, both articles for the canine press and also books and booklets”.
Extracted from How to Work with Dogs (How To Books), written by Pauline Appleby and
A Career as a Pet Behaviour Counsellor, published by the Blue Cross and written by Gwen Bailey.
Would you like to run puppy classes?
Gwen Bailey, APBC member, has set up a nationwide network of puppy class tutors that provide kind, effective training and socialisation of young puppies. Comprehensive training and advice will be provided to enable you to open a Puppy School in your area, along with training in animal and owner behaviour. For further details, contact:
PO Box 186
Tel 01608 676 805
gwen [dot] bailey [at] puppyschool [dot] co [dot] uk
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