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Article from Dog Friendly Britain website - August 07

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A day in the life... of a dog behaviourist by Clare Atkinson (née Clare Lang)

When people ask me what I do for a living, I usually get one of two responses: the first (and thankfully most common) response is that the person does not really know what a dog behaviourist is but is interested to learn more; the second, which usually comes from my parents’ friends, is to laugh and ask what happened to my proper job! This is because behaviourists (sometimes also referred to as behaviour consultants, behaviour consultants or dog psychologists) are still relative newcomers to the world of dogs. With this in mind, I decided to jot down some thoughts on my typical day to try to shed some light on what I actually do.

The first point to note is that there is really no such thing as a typical day for a behaviourist. Both dogs and owners are so varied in their temperaments, personalities and outlooks that no single case will be the same as another. There will certainly be similarities between some cases but it is important not to make early judgments based on the assumption that a new case is the same as a previous one.

For example, tomorrow I could do a consultation with a couple whose dog chews household objects when left alone. Following discussion with the owners and having watched videos of the dog when left alone, the conclusion could be that the dog is anxious when left and chews to relieve his anxiety. In this case, I would help them to teach the dog to be more relaxed when left.

The next case that I see could be another couple whose dog destroys household objects when left alone. It would easy to assume that this dog is also suffering from separation anxiety. However, further discussion with the owners and video footage of the dog could reveal that the dog is actually very relaxed when left alone, he just gets bored. When he gets bored he make his own fun by finding things to chew! In this case, the problem could be solved by giving the dog more exercise before he is left and then leaving him some food toys to entertain him when he is alone.

On a normal day, I usually see two separate clients for behaviour consultations. People come to see me for advice on a wide range of issues including:

  • Aggression towards dogs
  • Aggression towards people
  • Inappropriate toileting
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Chasing joggers, cyclists or livestock
  • Obsessive / compulsive behaviours

Phobias and anxieties (including the fear of thunder, fireworks, traffic, car travel, open spaces…the list goes on!).The consultation takes place in the client’s home and usually lasts about two hours. During this time I take a detailed history of the dog and its behaviour. I will also observe the dog and its interaction with the owners, and sometimes watch any video footage that has been taken. This will help me to understand what is driving the behaviour and to plan how to improve it. I also work hard to understand what the owners are hoping to achieve so that the recommendations I make are suitable for them.

The rest of the consultation is then taken up with explaining how they can work with their dog to improve his behaviour and giving them the chance to practise any new techniques. All my training is done using positive, motivational methods as I firmly believe that both dogs and owners learn more when they are relaxed and having fun.

The end of the consultation is not the end of the process. I send each client a follow-up report and also phone them at least twice during the first month after the consultation. This allows them to ask advice if things are not quite going according to plan and to celebrate if they are! They can also phone me at any stage if they need to – it’s all part of the service.

So there you have it, a typical day in the life of a dog behaviourist. I will leave you with a quote that I think of daily, as it reminds me not to try to change a behaviour that the client does not want to be changed. “A behaviour problem is only a problem when the owners think it is!”

August 07