Jesse Miller on August 26, 2016
Trainers teach key skills to animals, their focus is on giving pets and their guardians the tools they need to live happily, and perform well in sports, in service or assistance roles, or as family companions. This goes a long way to immunize against behavior problems further down the line, but when problems do develop, responsible animal guardians need extra help.
Animal Behavior Consultants are called in—either by contacting them directly or by referral from their veterinarian —when an animal’s guardian has noticed a problem with how they’re behaving. The job of an animal behavior consultant, in a nutshell, is to help identify what is causing the problem, to develop an intervention plan to change the problem behavior, and to help the owners learn how to execute that plan.
To be successful, an animal behavior consultant needs a thorough education in the science of animal behavior. They need to know about how animals learn and what kinds of tools will be effective in changing their behavior. They need to be able to gather data and use it to measure whether their plans are effective, and to know when to refer to veterinarians or veterinary behaviorists for extra help. This education doesn’t have to be a college degree, but it does have to be comprehensive enough to allow the consultant to deal with complex, multifactorial cases that may not respond to the most obvious strategies.
Solid interpersonal skills are also critical to success as an animal behavior consultant, as they are often only called in when pet guardians feel like they have failed. Moreover, often the consultant’s planned intervention will directly contradict popular wisdom about what animals need in order to behave well, so having skills in conflict resolution and co-decision making are a huge advantage.
Animal behavior consultants are usually self-employed or work with a small team. Although there are an increasing number of different strategies for how to work productively with clients, the majority of consultants start each new client with an initial session where they learn about the problem they’re being tasked with, and then go away and develop an intervention plan that they present to the client. Most consultants charge hourly for a small number of sessions with follow-up. In many regards, animal behavior consulting is like other kinds of consultancy work; each client’s animal is a project, and consultants’ practice survives by promoting themselves to the right target market.
Marketing and promotion, as well as business skills, are part and parcel of animal behavior consulting as a career. Establishing relationships with local veterinarians and training schools is also a key component of business success; these places are where many pet guardians will first find out that their pet has a behavior problem that needs expert help, and where they are likely to ask for referrals.
Although “animal behavior consultant” is not a protected title like “veterinary behaviorist”, meaning anyone can practice animal behavior consultancy with no legal obstacles, certification is highly recommended for anyone considering becoming a professional in the field. Certification demonstrates that you have the key skills and experience in the field that clients should be looking for, and allows you to market yourself in professional lists like the IAABC Behavior Consultant Locator. Applying for a certification is also a chance for you to check your skill and experience level is high enough that you won’t be overwhelmed or risk harming clients when you start taking cases.
If you’re considering a career as an animal behavior consultant, our Animal Behavior Consulting: Principles & Practice course gives you a thorough grounding in the key skills you’ll need to be successful.