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© Amy D. Shojai, www.shojai.com

Dogs barking, parrots screaming, cats clawing, horses cribbing, pets chewing and critters biting, urine marking and feather-picking . . . When the furry (or feathered) love of your life drives you batty, what’s a caring pet parent to do?

Call an IAABC consultant for help.

Pets and their caretakers need all the help they can get, and IAABC (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants) has stepped up to the plate. Founded in 2003 by Pittsburgh dog trainer Lynn Hoover, the IAABC offers continuing education, resources, and certification to experts in the cat, dog, parrot and horse behavior fields.

Animal behavior problems seem epidemic compared to the “old days.” But in bygone times, bathroom etiquette wasn't an issue when the whole outdoors served as the pet potty, and wide-open spaces reduced territorial arguments between pets. People who kept animals at arms’ length never noticed--or cared--about behavior issues.

Today we share a more intimate bond with companion pets and want them up close and personal. Many critters now live within the confines of a fence or house. They share our meals, our love, and sometimes our pillow but remain alone with little interaction for hours each day while owners work. The cutting horse confined to a paddock, the border collie hotwired to herd, cats forced to share tight quarters and frustrated parrots develop a host of destructive or self-damaging behaviors that can lose them that caring home, and often their life.

Animal behavior specialists study the relationship of animals to their physical environment as well as to other animals. They are concerned with understanding the causes, functions, development and evolution of behavior, and they use that knowledge to help owners and pets build positive relationships.

“Most [pets] live in relationships with humans, so we can't help them without going through their families,” says Hoover. A clinical social worker with post-master's training in marriage and family therapy, she began training service dogs for autistic children in the mid-1990s. “My ability to assess and intervene in family systems increased my effectiveness at helping dogs,” she says.

But as a Clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, Hoover felt surprised there was nothing comparable for dog behavior consultants. “There were no credentials to be had.”

The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) developed a certification program (certified applied animal behaviorist) in 1991, and the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) was established in 1993. But an individual must have a professional degree such as a PhD or veterinary degree to qualify for certification. There are only a relative handful of these specialists--about 80 throughout the world--not nearly enough to address the growing needs of pet owners and their problem fur-kids.

In addition to frustration over the lack of qualified behavior specialists, Hoover knew a wealth of experience, education, and expertise was overlooked. Rather than dismissing non-degreed professionals, she sought a way to have their background validated through a professional certifying body.

Certification also would address the fact that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or behavior expert, even those who don’t know what they’re doing. “There are dog trainers who serve competently as behavior consultants,” says Hoover, herself a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). “But it’s difficult for pet owners to sift the wheat from the chaff, and I started to think, where are the standards? Aren't animals worthy of standards?”

Hoover felt certification would expand the behavioral help options available to needy pets, provide professional credentials to qualified experts, and offer a comfort level--sort of a quality control--to pet lovers seeking behavioral advice.

And so, IAABC was born. The organization declares, “Your pets wouldn’t give up on you. You don’t have to give up on your pets.” The stated mission is to assist companion animals and educate their humans to interrupt the cycle of inappropriate punishment, rejection, and euthanasia of animals with resolvable behavior problems. And to do so with the least intrusive and minimally aversive (LIMA) method possible.

Some IAABC members have already achieved certified status, having “grand fathered” into the IAABC based on past performance that may include publication, research, teaching, and/or hands-on qualifications. The organization’s Board of Directors, following review of an individual’s animal behavioral consulting history and the recommendations of colleagues, must approve each applicant. Several IAABC-certified members are also veterinary behaviorists or PhD-behaviorists who hold dual certification as ABS or ABCV members.

Members may also apply for “associate” status with an eye toward participating in required continuing education to ultimately achieve certification. Dedication to the well being of companion animals has thus far attracted nearly 300 members. Several are based in North Texas or nearby states.

Jill Nugent teaches and coordinates undergraduate biology lab classes in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton. Nugent has a special interest in dog and horse behavior, and can be reached at jnugent@unt.edu. After hearing good things about the organization through other professional affiliations, she recently joined IAABC. “I was impressed by the resources, publications, and breadth of knowledge and experience of the IAABC membership,” she says.

While completing her studies, Nugent became “hooked” on learning about animal behavior, and studied both feral horses and wild canids in their natural environments. “I started to see new ways I could communicate, handle, manage, and train,” says Nugent. She learned how behavioral enrichment programs and species-appropriate housing helped these animals show fewer signs of stress, boredom, and vices.

Another North Texas dog trainer, Mira Jones (www.TailLightsRanch.com) has a degree in psychology and graduate level work in applied behavior analysis from UNT. She’s participated in equestrian sports and horsemanship studies for the past twelve years, and been training dogs professionally for ten years. “My specialty is working with people and their family dogs,” says Jones, who teaches group classes, workshops, and offers private consultations at her ranch in Flower Mound. 

Jones joined the organization because she was impressed with Lynn Hoover. “When I learned she had founded IAABC, I wanted to know more,” she says. “The environment of any organization is largely dependent on the outlook and character of the person or people at the top. The IAABC practice guidelines and code of ethics attest to the dedication of the membership.”

One of the early pioneers of companion parrot behavior management, Mattie Sue Athan’s award-winning books, lectures, and consults have offered help to bird lovers for more than two decades. “I joined the IAABC in 2005 with the hope of participating in the development of a certification program for companion parrot behavior consultants,” says the Tulsa-based expert (www.positivelyparrots.com).

“Parrots probably require less physical care than most other companion animals,” says Athan, “but they can be more invasive…if they acquire screaming and biting behavior. They can be set up for failure within the first three weeks in the home.” Athan explains that owners can accidentally reward inappropriate behaviors--or instead learn to guide their birds to do the right thing. “It's all a matter of knowing what to do and when to do it,” she says.

According to Hoover, animals respond quickly to the right interventions. “It's a whole lot easier to get animals to adapt than to effect change in humans,” she says. Hoover and other IAABC members are passionate about interrupting the cycle of misunderstanding. “For heaven's sake, animals are being punished and euthanized for the simple sin of being afraid, and growling to let us know they are afraid!”

Although Michele Crouse of Denison has only been training professionally for a relatively short time, she’s in for the long haul. Crouse not only educates herself but also hosts behavior and training seminars for colleagues by top-notch experts in the field such as Brenda Aloff, Terry Ryan, John Rogerson, and Turid Rugaas.

“I joined IAABC to learn more about dog behavior,” says Crouse. “It’s important to belong to organizations that give you support, and expect you to keep up with continuing education.”

Prior to joining IAABC in 2005, Crouse enrolled in the Animal Behavior College and was mentored by an experienced dog trainer who introduced her to clicker training, a popular and effective reward-based technique. She began dog-training classes at Petco in Allen in 2003, but now serves as the Canine Education Instructor at the Sherman Petco. Her private business offers group classes at Fairview Park as well as private instruction and she can be reached at either 903-465-0069, or michele@super-k9.com. “I really promote the Puppy Program to help prevent aggression and other problems,” she says. “It’s much easier to prevent than to change a behavior.”

When pet owners engage an IAABC member, they gain access to much more than a single consultant. “Sharing of information and ideas between IAABC members, for the greater good of society, is fundamental to the organization's philosophy,” says Jones.

“We network with colleagues,” Hoover explains. “We are never stumped for long because our members are some of the top experts in the world, and are generous about sharing their expertise.”

In the best of all possible situations, our companion animals understand us, we understand them, and all live peaceably together. But when the fur (or feathers) flies, take comfort in knowing help is available. Visit www.iaabc.org for more information and a listing of members and certified consultants.

Amy D. Shojai, a member of the IAABC, is a nationally known pet care specialist, and author of more than twenty pet books including “PETiQuette: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multipet Household.” She can be reached through her web site www.shojai.com



Copyright 2001 Susan Bulanda. All Rights Reserved.