When you need help with your cat’s behavior, finding the right professional is important. There are several terms that behavior professionals use, like trainer, behavior consultant, and behaviorist. You will want to figure out which of these has the right skillset to help reach your goals.
What Do Different Types of Professionals Do?
Trainer: Trainers specialize in teaching an animal new skills. A trainer can help teach your cat basic behaviors, tricks, agility, or cooperative care.
Behavior Consultant: Behavior consultants focus on solving problem behaviors like inappropriate elimination, destructive scratching, or aggression. Consultants will identify the cause of the problem, create a plan to modify the behavior, and help the owners execute the plan. They can also help with training cats new skills. To be effective, a behavior consultant needs education in the science of animal behavior to understand how to best modify behaviors. Highly qualified consultants will have certifications through professional organizations like the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).
Behaviorist: Anyone can call themselves a behaviorist, but professional Applied Animal Behaviorists have upper level degrees (bachelor’s or doctorate) in the science of animal behavior. Some go on to earn additional certifications like CAAB (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist). These behaviorists are experts at understanding a species’ behavior and can help solve behavioral problems.
Veterinary Behaviorists: Veterinary behaviorists are veterinarians with additional education in behavior and are certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. If your cat’s behavior problem is very complex or may need medications to manage, a specialized veterinary behaviorist can treat the physiological causes of behavior.
How to Choose the Right Person
It is also important to evaluate whether these professionals will use the right tools and methods with your cat. The animal behavior industry is not strictly regulated. That means that anybody can themselves a trainer or behaviorist. Just because someone has lived with cats for 20 years or volunteers at a shelter doesn’t mean that they are qualified to dole out appropriate advice. Let’s take a look at how to determine a person’s qualifications.
First, look at their education and certifications to make sure they are trained in the modern science of behavior. They might list different types of certifications with varying degrees of notability. A certification of completion or attendance means they simply attended a class or webinar. A certificate program consists of educational courses completed with graded exams or demonstrations of knowledge. Certifications are earned through organizations that require an application process that demonstrate the person’s education, training, and experience. A certification through IAABC, for example, requires several years of experience in behavior consulting and an intensive application to judge the applicant’s knowledge of behavior modification.
Other qualities to look for in a qualified animal behavior professional can include:
- Ability to provide specific information on the methods they use for behavior modification.
- Utilization of reward-based methods that enhance the human-animal bond. This might include mention of LIMA (Least Invasive Minimally Aversive) principals.
- Recent and ongoing education in animal behavior and current best practices.
- Ability to recognize their own limits, and able to tell you who they refer to when a case is not progressing.
- Positive references from previous clients.
Keep an eye out for red flags, as well. Indications that this person might not be right for your cat include:
- Inability or unwillingness to describe specific training methods, or giving vague answers.
- Use of methods that are not backed by science like use of punishment or aversives, focus on owner dominance, or discouraging the use of food to reward your cat.
- Guarantees that they can fix your problem.
If you need a certified cat behavior consultant, contact me at Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training to find out if I’m the right person to help with your cat’s behavior.