Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are you still seeing cases during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?
A: Yes! We are still providing patient care via virtual direct-to-client consults, virtual behavior modification training sessions, and vet-to-vet phone consults. We have suspended all in-person appointments until further notice, however, we remain committed to applying the same high standard of care we have always held to our expanding virtual services. And yes, our veterinarians ARE able to provide diagnostic assessments over video conference (see more on this below).
Q: Who will evaluate my pet at the Animal Behavior Clinic?
A: We operate using a team approach for our patients. Drawing from the combined knowledge of our clinicians, each brings their own unique assets to the practice and ensures our patients receive well-round care regardless of which veterinarian performs their assessment. Our doctors collaborate weekly to discuss their current cases and share insight and treatment approaches among themselves, our trainers, and support staff. All of our patients will have access to the benefits of each team member, such as the knowledge base within the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists through Dr. Pachel and Dr. Pankratz, Dr. Pierce’s work with fearful patients for desensitization to veterinary procedures, and Dr. Krug’s animal emergency experience – as well as the numerous insights which all of our staff have gained through their individual behavior cases over the years.
Your pet will remain with the same attending veterinarian for follow-up care unless appropriate to refer among the team. If you have a preferred doctor for your initial consultation, please feel free to request them upon booking your appointment.
Q: How is a veterinary behavior consultation different from working with a trainer?
A: Dog trainers vary in skill level and accreditation, and while many are well suited to assist in puppy socialization, manners, or teaching foundation behaviors, a lack of standardization in the field makes it difficult to discern what training methods are being employed by an individual, and whether those methods are backed by scientific research in behavior. Some trainers are equipped to help change problem behaviors, and have additional experience and education. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers has a guide to discerning the difference between various dog training credentials and who may be able to help assist your pet at this level. Most trainers, however, lack the additional comfort level and/or qualifications to tackle more complicated behavior problems. While training is often a component of addressing behavior problems in dogs and cats, a skilled veterinarian is better suited for assessing a new problem, creating a comprehensive treatment plan (including behavior modification and management strategies), and ruling out other potential factors such as underlying medical issues of pain, hormone imbalances or neurological abnormalities. Veterinarians are also licensed to prescribe medication that may address behavior concerns.
Q: I met someone who also calls themselves a “behaviorist” – what does that title mean?
A: Animal behavior comes with a lot of semantics! The title “veterinary behaviorist” describes a veterinarian who has been board-certified in the field of behavior (like Drs. Pachel and Pankratz; see below). A behavior consultant or applied animal behaviorist may also be accredited, but are not necessarily veterinarians (though they can be). Often, veterinarians or specialists who work in behavior-related fields have completed a Master’s degree or a PhD program in a behavior related field (like Dr. Pierce). Aside from these categories, many of the other people who call themselves a “behaviorist” are using the title incorrectly and may not have the credentials or education to support its use.
Q: What does it take to become a board-certified veterinary behaviorist?
A: After finishing a four-year 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 (the 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. There are currently fewer than 80 board certified veterinary behaviorists in the entire United States, Drs. Pachel & Pankratz among them.
Q: How do I know if working with a trainer will be sufficient for my pet’s needs?
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. More complicated behaviors such as severe anxiety, compulsive behaviors, aggression problems, phobias, or problems that do not respond quickly to other training recommendations should be evaluated by a veterinary behavior specialist if possible. Veterinarians are taught to ask the right questions to get to the bottom of a problem quickly and efficiently; this schooling carries over to their behavior work. For cats, you may find it difficult to locate a trainer experienced in working with our feline friends, but our staff members are well-equipped to work with both dogs and cats.
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 behavior problems may still persist that need to be addressed. In some cases, the pet may need the support of supplements, dietary changes, prescription medications, and/or specific behavior modification exercises to respond well to treatment. These options and many others can be explored during an assessment by one of our veterinarians 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: Yes, about 15% of Animal Behavior Clinic patients are cats (and the number is growing!). We see cats for a variety of issues including house soiling, aggression, destructive behavior and compulsive disorders. While many treatments for cats may focus more on environmental changes at first, most are capable of being trained and can respond very well to behavior modification exercises, too.
Q: What happens during an appointment?
A: Prior to an initial diagnostic assessment, you will complete a history form. This allows you to provide background information about your concerns and convey to the doctor what you may have already done to address the problem(s). The doctor will review that information prior to meeting with you so that they already have a good understanding of what you are experiencing with your pet and your goals for treatment. During the assessment, the doctor will review pertinent medical and additional history details with you while observing your pet. This discussion will lead to possible treatment options and information specific to your pet’s diagnosis or behavior patterns. When applicable, recommendations for additional diagnostic testing will be provided and may be performed.
The next step, should you decide to pursue treatment with us, will take place at a separate appointment within ~2 weeks of the assessment. The focus of this follow-up appointment will be creating a plan that outlines the doctor’s recommendations, which may include a combination of management and safety strategies, behavior modification (specific exercises that we will use to address the problem), and the use of supportive therapies such as supplements, nutritional therapy, or prescription medications, when appropriate. Other training materials, reading recommendations, or additional referrals may be included as well. Some behavior modification exercises may be demonstrated or practiced during the appointment to get you started on your “homework” after the session. A written report detailing the doctor’s recommendations will be provided.
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, and you and your pet’s learning styles.
Q: What is the cost of an appointment?
A: The doctors’ hourly rate is $360/hr, and is prorated to the length of your appointment(s). Diagnostic assessments and treatment consultations average 90 min (ranging between 1-2 hrs), and recheck appointments average 30-60 minutes. All appointments include written instructions (provided shortly after the appointment) and phone and/or email support with our office for the established treatment plan at no additional charge. If diagnostic tests, training equipment or medications are recommended, this will be in addition to the consultation fee. If significant time has elapsed between appointments or if we need to work through additional treatment recommendations, a recheck appointment may be recommended in lieu of additional phone or email follow-up. Appointments are all billed at the same rate, regardless of type or location (video chat, telephone, or [when permissible] in person).
Q: Do you do house calls?
A: Not currently. When pandemic concerns subside and stay home orders are lifted by government officials, we may return to offering home or “offsite” appointments throughout the Portland metro area within a 15-mile radius of our clinic’s address. A travel fee of $120 applies for home visits, which are particularly beneficial for problems such as house soiling in cats or for pets who may respond very differently in the home compared to the clinic environment. If you live just outside of this radius, it may be possible to make special arrangements for a house call assessment for your pet.
Q: Can you provide an initial assessment for my pet virtually by phone or video chat?
A: Yes! Currently, all ABC appointments are conducted virtually. Initial assessments must be by video chat, and follow up appointments may be by phone in most cases. We utilize Zoom video conferencing for our virtual appointments, and we recommend clients familiarize themselves with the platform prior to their first appointment with us. This service is free and secure to use.
Note: previously, the Animal Behavior Clinic, like all veterinary practices, was mandated to establish a valid veterinary-client-patient-relationship (VCPR) in person before a diagnosis or any treatment recommendations are provided to a patient. Ordinarily, a VCPR is valid for one year since the date of the last in-person visit.
Additionally, our veterinarians are able to consult with other veterinarians on their cases remotely. It may be possible to conduct a vet-to-vet phone call between one of our clinicians and your pet’s primary vet to discuss your concerns should you not wish to book a consult with ABC directly, provided your vet is comfortable with this option. Details on this service are found here.
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 as well as the pet to be successful. Additionally, genetic factors, medical conditions or abnormalities, or socialization experiences early in a pet’s life are often acting on a pet’s behavior and how it develops or is expressed.
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. Many of our clients/patients meet with our trainers regularly for ongoing behavior modification support to implement training exercises or coach you through them. We are generally able to provide a better estimate of the number of visits that may be required for your pet 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. We also offer behavior modification support for existing patients. Patients will be assigned to one of our doctors or training staff for support based on availability and the individual needs of each patient to work through the steps of their treatment plan. If we determine that the plan will be more successful with the support of individual coaching or group training classes outside of the clinic, we will make appropriate recommendations and 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 veterinarian for behavior care?
A: Medication may not be indicated or used for all behavior problems. One of the advantages of working with a veterinarian skilled in behavior 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 will decide together whether this is an appropriate route to take for your pet. Even when medication is recommended, we will be able to support the rest of your pet’s plan if you decline its use.
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 Friday with appointment times starting from 9:00am to 4:30pm, depending on availability. If you are experiencing an emergency, let us know your availability and we will make every effort to accommodate your schedule if possible.
Q: Should my pet be present for appointments?
A: Yes, for video conferencing, you should have any and all pets who are involved in the problem available at the time of the appointment for their “fifteen minutes of fame”, i.e. screen time with the doctor. Your pet need not be on the video call for its duration, but should be within range if needed during the course of the call. Our clinicians may also request supplemental video footage to be taken and sent to our office for review, when appropriate, safe, and possible.
Q: What methods of payment are accepted?
A: We accept major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover) as well as cash, checks, and CareCredit as payment. Payment is due at the time of the appointment.
Q: Do you require a deposit or reservation fee at the time of scheduling?
A: Yes, a non-refundable reservation fee in the amount of $180 is required to schedule an assessment for a new patient at the Animal Behavior Clinic. This is the equivalent of ½ hour of the doctor’s time and is payable by credit card (transaction will be performed over the phone) or by check (check must be received within 5 business days or the appointment will be released to another patient). This payment will be applied to the cost of your pet’s appointment when the assessment is completed (see “cancellation policy” below for additional information).
Q: Why do you require a reservation fee at the time of scheduling?
A: We believe that every patient deserves the benefit of a comprehensive and efficient assessment. This means that we spend a significant amount of time in advance of your pet’s appointment performing a detailed review of the medical record and completed history form so that we can spend more time during the assessment working through possible treatments and solutions.
We are also committed to helping as many clients and pets as we can, and in the timeliest manner possible, which we are better able to do by collecting a non-refundable fee to secure your appointment reservation at the time of scheduling. We understand that paying a reservation fee represents a significant commitment on your part, and we appreciate the trust that you place in our services by doing so in advance of your pet’s appointment.
Q: What is your cancellation policy?
A: We understand that circumstances may change suddenly or unexpectedly, leaving you in a position in which you are unable to keep your pet’s scheduled appointment. Refer to the details below for the cancellation policy that corresponds to each situation. Please ask if you have any questions!
For new patient assessments for which a non-refundable reservation fee was collected:
• If a scheduled appointment is cancelled (i.e. not rescheduled to another time), the reservation fee is forfeited to the Animal Behavior Clinic as compensation for liquidated damages. Scheduling an appointment confirms that you understand and agree to these terms.
• If an appointment is rescheduled more than 72 hours in advance of your pet’s scheduled appointment time, the reservation fee will be carried over to the new appointment a single time. If that appointment is rescheduled a second time, the reservation fee will be forfeited and a new reservation fee must be paid before the appointment returns to the schedule. The rescheduled appointment must be set for a date within 30 days of our next available appointment window.
• If an appointment is rescheduled less than 72 hours in advance of your pet’s scheduled appointment time, the reservation fee will be forfeited and a new reservation fee must be paid before the appointment returns to the schedule.
For all other appointments, we do not charge a fee for appointments cancelled or rescheduled more than 72 hours in advance of the scheduled time. However, for recheck or behavior modification appointments cancelled or rescheduled less than 72 hours in advance, we reserve the right to charge a fee of $180 for recheck appointments, or $80 for behavior modification appointments.