Who Can See Behavior Cases?

Some vets want to be the only ones.
By Karen B. London PhD, July 2009, Updated June 2021

In the human world, people have long ago worked out their separate roles in helping people with behavior problems and mental illness. Different groups of professionals acknowledge the expertise and boundaries of their own and others’ fields. The result is that in the best scenarios, people needing help may have a team of professionals including teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and members of the clergy who work together to achieve success. The ultimate winner is the person they are all helping.

In the world of animal behavior, the debate about who is allowed to work with pets with behavior problems continues. There is a subset of veterinarians who believe that only veterinarians should legally be able to see behavior cases. Some veterinarians have taken the official position that all behavior problems are medical issues and that therefore only veterinarians can work with pets having behavioral issues. Many people, including PhD behaviorists, take issue with this, especially in light of the fact that many veterinarians have never had any training or classes in behavior. Thankfully, not all veterinarians feel this way, and many are very respectful of trainers’ and behaviorists’ expertise.

Naturally, there are behavioral issues that are due to medical problems and these medical issues must be resolved before changes in behavior can be effected, and clearly medical issues are the domain of the veterinarian. But I don’t believe that all behavior issues are medical issues. It’s a shame to think that a legal move could result in cutting off many avenues for people to get help with their pets’ behavior.

What do you think of the idea that only veterinarians should be allowed to work towards solving pets’ behavioral issues? (To read comments on this same topic, check out the blog “The Other End of the Leash.”) Have you had success resolving behavior issues with your dog or other pet, and if so, what types of professionals helped you?

Photo: iStock

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life