Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What does it take to become a veterinary behaviorist?
A: After finishing a four degree in veterinary medicine (DVM or VMD), a veterinary behaviorist has treated hundreds of complicated behavior cases during 2-4 additional years of specialty training under the close mentorship of a behavior specialist. A veterinary behaviorist has also demonstrated their academic skills in graduate school classes such as ethology, evolution of social behavior, developmental biology, neurobiology of behavior, learning theory, animal cognition, psychopharmacology (study of medications that affect the brain and emotions), and statistical analysis. A veterinary behaviorist is also required to publish research in a peer reviewed journal and write several case reports to demonstrate their competence in the field prior to taking a 16 hour board certification exam. By the time a veterinarian is board certified in behavior, they have typically dedicated anywhere from 7 to 10 years to studying the medical and behavioral issues that can affect companion animals as well as many other species.
Q: How many veterinary behaviorists are there?
A: There are currently fewer than 60 board certified veterinary behaviorists in the entire United States. Dr. Pachel is currently the only veterinary behaviorist actively seeing cases in the Pacific Northwest. Click here for a current list of board certified veterinary behaviorists.
Q: How is a veterinary behaviorist different from a trainer?
A: Dog trainers are wonderfully helpful with things such as puppy socialization, house training or teaching foundation behaviors such as “sit”, “down”, or “drop it”. They can also help to change behaviors such as jumping up on visitors, getting on furniture, or dashing out the front door. Some dog trainers have additional experience and education and may be able to help with mild cases of separation anxiety, house soiling or mild fears or anxieties. Fewer trainers still are in a position to help with aggression issues or have the qualifications to tackle more complicated problems. While “training” is often a large component of addressing more serious behavior problems, a trainer may not have the experience to assess a new problem, to create a behavior modification plan or to rule out other potential factors such as underlying medical issues of pain, hormone imbalances or neurologic abnormalities.
Q: I met someone who also calls themselves a “behaviorist” – what does that title mean?
A: There are two types of behaviorist credentials. One is the “veterinary behaviorist” – that is what you get when you come to the Animal Behavior Clinic. The other type of “behaviorist” is someone who has completed either a Master’s or a PhD degree in a behavior related field and has used this education to become an “applied animal behaviorist” (for more information on this process, click here). Individuals with this second credential generally do not have a veterinary degree or specialized medical training but can be an incredible resource for pet owners. Aside from these two categories, many of the other people who call themselves a “behaviorist” are using the title incorrectly and may not have the credentials to support its use.
Q: How do I know if I need to see a veterinary behaviorist with my pet?
A: There isn’t an easy answer to this question. Problems relating to basic training or household manners may be best handled by a qualified trainer who can help teach your pet new behaviors and also help you to learn the skills you need to continue the training process after the training session is finished. More complicated behaviors such as severe anxiety, compulsive behaviors, aggression problems, or phobias, or problems that do not respond quickly to other training recommendation should be evaluated by a veterinary behaviorist if possible. Veterinarians are trained to ask the right questions to get to the bottom of a problem quickly and efficiently; this training carries over to the behavior field too!
Q: I’ve already seen a trainer with my pet and we still have a problem, should we give up hope?
A: Absolutely not! The majority of the pets that we evaluate at the Animal Behavior Clinic have already completed socialization or obedience classes and some even compete at high levels in canine sports or athletics. Many owners have already worked with a trainer or their pet’s regular veterinarian but specific behavior problems may still exist that need to be addressed. In some cases, the pet may need the support of supplements, dietary changes, or prescription medications to respond well to treatment. These options and many others can be explored during an assessment by a veterinary behaviorist to determine the plan that is most likely to work for your pet.
Q: We’ve been dealing with this problem for years, is it too late to seek help?
A: No! Dogs and cats are typically very responsive to behavior modification exercises even when behaviors have been happening for long periods of time. Long standing problems may take longer to change, but this shouldn’t prevent you from seeking help.
Q: Do you see cats too?
A: Absolutely. We see cats at the Animal Behavior Clinic for a variety of issues including house soiling, aggression, destructive behavior and compulsive disorders. While many of the treatments for cats may focus more on environmental changes at first, most cats are capable of being trained and can respond very well to behavior modification exercises too.
Q: What happens during an appointment?
A: Prior to the appointment, you will complete a history form. This allows you to provide background information about your concerns and tell me what you’ve done already to address the problem. I will review that information prior to meeting with you so that I already have a good understanding of what you hope to accomplish during the session when you arrive. The initial assessment is typically 1 1/2-2 hours long and may include additional questions and discussion as well as demonstration or practicing of specific exercises that we will use to address the problem. Each appointment is different from the next; some are almost exclusively “talk” while others are almost entirely “action”. The structure of the appointment will depend on what appears to be the best way to address the problem at hand.
Q: What is the cost of an appointment?
A: Diagnostic appointments are billed at a rate of $260/hr. This includes the assessment itself, written instructions (provided shortly after the appointment) and phone and/or email support for the established treatment plan. If diagnostic tests, training equipment or medications are recommended, this will be in addition to the consultation fee. If a sufficient time has elapsed between appointments or if we need to work through additional treatment recommendations, a phone or in-person recheck appointment may be recommended in lieu of additional phone or email follow up. Follow up appointments are billed at a rate of $220/hr.
Q: Do you do house calls?
A: Absolutely! Home or “on site” appointments are available throughout the Portland metro area (within a 15-20 mile radius of the clinic address). There is an additional $65 fee for a house call appointment but the additional cost is well worth it, especially for specific problems such as house soiling in cats, territorial aggression in dogs, or for pets who may respond very differently in the home compared to the clinic environment. If you live outside this radius but within the state of Oregon, it may be possible to make special arrangements for a house call assessment for your pet. Contact us for more information and for availability. House call appointments are not currently offered for clients living in Washington state.
Q: Can you provide an initial assessment for my pet over the phone?
A: Unfortunately, no. The Animal Behavior Clinic is a veterinary practice which means that we follow the legal requirements of the Veterinary Practice Act. This requires a valid veterinary – client – patient to be established in person before a diagnosis or treatment recommendations can be given. It is often possible to conduct follow-up or recheck appointments by phone for clients who live a substantial distance from the clinic.
Q: I’ve been watching dog and cat behavior shows on television; is it true that the problem is always the owner’s fault?
A: It may make for good television to put all the blame on a person for their pet’s behavior issues but that is rarely the full story. Every pet has their own unique temperament and behavior patterns, and so does every owner or family member. Problems can be caused or exaggerated by miscommunication or a lack of understanding of the relationship between the pet and the owner. Even though a person may have raised or trained many pets in the past, the current pet may require something different from the relationship. Addressing problem behaviors may require a bit of change from the owner and the pet to be successful.
Q: Will we be able to fix the problem in one appointment?
A: Some problems can be solved quickly and efficiently and may not require any additional follow up or recheck appointments. Other problems need to be tackled in stages and may require a longer period of treatment or perhaps one or more recheck appointments to address the problem. We are generally able to provide a better estimate of the number of visits that may be required after we complete the initial assessment.
Q: Will you help me with every step along the way?
A: We will create a plan together, something that we feel will address the problem behavior and something that you feel you can implement successfully. We will be available to answer any questions or concerns that come up as you implement the plan. If we determine that the plan will be more successful with the support of individual coaching or group training classes, I can put you in contact with qualified individuals who can help you to implement the recommendations successfully.
Q: Is medication a required part of treatment when my pet sees a veterinary behaviorist?
A: Absolutely not! One of the advantages of working with a veterinary behaviorist is that we can use specialized medications that can help to create lasting behavior change. However, many problems can be addressed with a creative combination of management strategies and behavior modification exercises. If we determine that your pet might benefit from the use of supplements or medication, we will discuss that as part of the assessment and we will decide together whether this is an appropriate route to take for your pet.
Q: I would like to schedule an assessment for my pet; what are the available appointment times?
A: We are available for appointments Monday through Thursday with appointment times starting from 9am to 3pm. If you are unable to make it to the clinic at these times but would like to schedule an appointment, let us know your availability and we will make every effort to accommodate your schedule if possible.
Q: Do I bring my pet to the appointment?
A: Yes, you should any and all pets who are involved in the problem to the appointment. If you have any concerns about your ability to transport your pet(s) safely, please touch base with us to discuss your concerns.
Q: What methods of payment are accepted?
A: We accept major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover) as well as checks and cash as payment. Payment is due at the time of the appointment.