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Pet Behaviourist – Pet Practitioner –
Animal Behaviourist –
Pet Counsellor –Pet Therapist

Who are they? What are they?
by Colin Tennant

Well, they are people who are referred to as all of the above, as there is no universally accepted generic title. I am the chairman of the CFBA, The Canine & Feline Behaviour Association of Britain and all our members are known as Canine and/or Feline Behaviour Practitioners - this helps the public to identify what we are. The interest I receive each year from would-be practitioners is growing all the time.

Historically the very best trainers and people who understand animals and their behaviour are those who train and care for them. The very best stock farmers, horse trainers &, dog trainers in Britain are those people who passionately enjoy the species they work with. They do have a ‘degree’ of devotion and knowledge, which is often unrivalled and through the time spent in their chosen field many become experts.

Of course, that begs the question - where does trainer end and behaviourist begin? They are, on the whole, one and the same and in my view levels of knowledge are the determining factor. I have specialised as a Dog & Cat behaviour practitioner for many years and have trained more than 12000 dogs and hopefully, during that time, I have accrued knowledge, the most important of which concerns about the psychological owner perceptions and expectations of their dog’s behaviour.

Understanding the psychological needs of the client and the relationships between people and dogs teaches one to utilise particular skills and specifically, to be a pragmatist and to offer training and behaviour advice which is workable within the client’s lifestyle. Lack of this consideration is the major factor in badly behaved dogs - having seen an expert - failing to improve. The necessary knowledge is not obtainable in a classroom or on a course. To me this is a very important aspect of the work. It is wrong to offer people idealised and theorised training or behaviour advice which has little chance of success because the imparter has not gained the hands on experience of implementing the same training time and time again. The bottom line is that if YOU the advisor cannot implement the training proffered to clients and with all types of dogs then you should not be in this work.

The definition of a practitioner can be quite complex depending on whom you speak to but in brief I define it thus: A practitioner is an expert who helps people solve their pet’s problem behaviour.

So how does one set about being a Behaviour Practitioner? Can I get a Government recognised qualification in Animal Behaviour?

Yes, you can. Southampton University runs courses. These are general animal care courses but I would not consider a person who was successful in such a course thereby qualified to see and advise my clients, though it would certainly be a great benefit for beginning the long learning curve.

The ACC, Animal Care College, based in Berkshire also runs thirty or more correspondence courses in many pet disciplines, of which some are NVQ recognised. All correspondence courses, which are well written, help with knowledge but do not qualify you to operate as a canine behaviourist.

Contrary to some people - having a degree in Zoology, Biology or other similar disciplines does not equip you to practise as a behaviour practitioner in dogs any more than my having a degree in law equips me to practice as a veterinarian or person with a degree in sports science to claim to be a top athlete.

The True Route of Qualification with Dogs

At present the only route which would provide the very best of behaviourist training is to work alongside a known expert as their assistant for many years. My current associate has completed his training, a three year course specifically written by me for this work. He has observed and taken part in over 650 behavioural consultations with dogs and cats to date.

He also operates the local Dog Training School which is an incredible asset in the learning curve. His previous experience in dog husbandry was also taken into consideration. That is the only true way to learn, practically and at the side of the expert. There is no short cut.

I cannot name any one Canine Behaviour Practitioner in Britain today, who is well thought of as competent, who did not previously train dogs. Dogs which are well trained rarely give people problems. Therein lies the answer, for prevention is the key word. Dog trainers who endeavour to acquaint themselves with canine behavioural psychology are the undisputed champions of the pet dog owner because they ‘do’ as well as ‘say’. The best Canine Behaviour Practitioners, without doubt, are those who have come from the Dog Training disciplines. Around 96% of all cases brought to my centre are dogs and we are one of the most successful centres in Britain today.


Cat behaviour is a grey area and more difficult to define. I learned my cat behaviour knowledge and skills from several highly respected experts and therefore like canine behaviour it is a case of learning from an experienced expert.

But it is more of a twilight zone, a very vague area. First I think it is unlikely that any person in Britain could make a decent living only seeing cats for behavioural problems. There are simply too few owners who need, or feel the need, to see a specialist - or are cats just a better behaved species? This is now changing and we have noticed a slow but significant increase in cat behavioural problems presented to this centre. Also cats’ behavioural problems are generally not as serious in the same way that dogs’ can be. Dogs usually need remedial help more quickly and their behaviour can affect all parts of society’s social interaction. Of course cats simply don’t do the things dogs get up to like chasing sheep, horses or the postman, although I did once deal with an ‘attack cat’.

Cats are definitely more hands off and the advice is normally more psychological. Dogs are definitely hands on. Cat knowledge, in all its forms, is essential and some ACC courses address this matter. If you have experience in cat behaviour specifically then CFBA will assess you in just that capacity if you wish.

New Methods. Dog Training - Dog Behaviour

Most behavioural techniques used, especially on dogs, are only refined or ADAPTED Dog Training techniques. Most techniques I use came from my Dog Training tutors as a young man. The names of the training have changed and the new jargon, as always, has fulfilled its role of keeping the public mystified. Words like inter specific aggression simply means dogs that don’t get on. Bored and lonely dogs now suffer from ‘separation anxiety’, boisterous and badly behaved dogs are termed ‘dominant’, but most of these dogs change quickly with a good training course.

Detective Work In Solving Problems

More often than one may expect, I apply and advise practical tasks around the home by, for example, altering the geography, the furniture of the clients home, their routines and general lifestyle, building fences, designing door panels to prevent dog destruction – in other words being very innovative in each individual circumstance. One dog which could open doors of many handle types was stopped by my spraying each door knob daily with lemon juice and placing small bolts at the door top and on every door in the house. Placing Perspex sheets on valuable antique doors is a way of ignoring a dog which scratches for attention, but which we are trying to ignore simultaneously. This is what I mean by being pragmatic.

Knowledge and Essential Skills

In the majority of cases CFBA members have proven their dog training ability by competing and winning in dog training competitions or have professionally trained dogs for a living. That means proven results, person to person or dog, not just regurgitating advice from a book.

To train dogs very well one has to learn a range of communication skills, breed specific behaviour traits and drives and motivation skills above all. This critical knowledge, learnt over thousands and thousands of interactions between the dog and trainer, is what understanding dog behaviour is about and that is the crux of the problem today. Too many people assume otherwise, backed up by their pieces of university note paper. Obsession with paper and memorising useless self serving jargon is not a substitute – never will be. Reading about dog behaviour is good for us all but it cannot replace experience or learning from an experienced teacher.

Has the person been a successful dog trainer?

Qualifications are KC Test A B C Obedience, Beginners and Novice standards. KC Working Trials CD UD TD PD WD. Without doubt this proves an understanding of the dogs mind and how to redirect instinct into training which the critical part of much behaviour modification is.

Has the person qualified in any human interpersonal skills or obtained an NVQ? Do they have to know how to operate a business?

Most practitioners operate from home and visit the client. This is because they do not have a centre of operation. We all have to start somewhere and making visits to owners and their pets is fine. Cats, especially, are better dealt with on their own territory anyhow.
The Canine & Feline Behaviour Centre operates a professional system which has evolved over a period of more than 20 years. And while this may sound like trumpet blowing it is really intended to illustrate that it is a long term affair with pets and not something that can be cobbled together from a few quick courses over a year or two.

Intuition & other personal skills

An ability to converse with any type of personality, shy or extrovert is essential. Understanding how to convey complex information in short periods of time and remould a person’s attitude to their pet is a part of this work. Understanding human psychology and how people perceive, read, see or access their pet’s mind is also critical to being a competent practitioner. I learnt a good deal about these matters in the Police force and added more from courses in Psychotherapy and Hypnotherapy. They have all helped me personally. I would suggest that any prospective practitioner should learn these human communication skills in addition to canine or feline behaviour.

Tips on running a good practice

At my centre all enquiries are taken down on a form listing the pet and owner’s details. The average telephone enquiry is 15-20 minutes whether you eventually see the client or not, a very time consuming part of the work.

Stage 2 is the Canine & Feline behavioural psychology profile forms containing about 150 questions per pet. This is sent out to the client with a three page letter outlining - clearly - what they should expect from a consultation. That stops any misunderstandings.

Use answering machines only after hours (there are exceptions) Nothing bugs people more than an answering machine when they wish to contact an expert during working hours.

Respond to an enquiry the same day (most people regard their problem as urgent and you should respect that viewpoint)

Don’t try to persuade a client to see you. Explain your work and let them decide after the telephone conversation and your letter outlining procedure and expectations

Your consulting room(s) should be comfortably furnished and spacious with appropriate lead restraints for the dog or cage for the cat - and escape proof.

Always explain again at the beginning of the consultation what will happen over the following two hours or more. This removes uncertainty and relaxes the client.

Record (with permission) on audio or we may use video, in all consultations for later reference and to prevent misunderstandings.

Make notes of the main points the client imparts during the consultation
Be insured third party.

Don’t be mean with time - an extra 30 minutes free of charge could make the difference between success and failure

Write a thorough report reflecting the client’s points and your advice. The average report is about 3000 to 5000 words.

Follow up ALL cases within 3 - 9 days by letter and telephone this helps you ascertain your success and the client’s progress.

The internet and email accounts for about 20% of our continuity correspondence with clients and a good source for new enquiries. I believe web sites will become more important during the next few years. It also save a lot of telephone time.

Except for emergencies, where time does not permit, allow the person to read your letter and information package in the quiet of their own home before deciding on whether they wish to see you with their pet.

Telephone manner - Many people use your line as a Samaritans free phone and thereby block your clients from contacting you. However, we do try to help, allocating on average about 200 hours free a year for genuine cases. You do have to learn the skill of handling this type of call, otherwise business can come to a halt. Have some free contact numbers available if possible. When dealing with people on very low incomes in desperate situations try and allow for a small charge, it really does make the difference to the entire business and feel good factor for all concerned.

Well I am now preparing for a filming trip to South Africa about the wild Dogs of that continent and for new videos and a TV series next year. Learning about our wonderful dogs continues.

Colin Tennant is based at his Centre in Hertfordshire, England and is Chairman of the CFBA. He also is director of BT Productions one of the worlds largest Pet Education & Video makes. He is a writer and broadcaster on television and regularly works for the BBC & ITV. He has just published through InterPet, a new book on Dog behaviour – BREAKING BAD HABITS IN DOGS.

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Canine & Feline Behaviour Centre: 01442 842374
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