Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the behavior problems commonly treated by Pet Behavior Change?

The most common behavior problem among dogs is aggression. Aggression in dogs comes in the form of barking, growling, lunging, showing teeth, snapping, or biting directed toward other dogs, people, vehicles, or small animals. Although aggression presents many very serious challenges to pet owners, there are treatments that have been used successfully to reduce or manage it. Other common behavior problems among dogs include destruction, separation distress, fearfulness, jumping, excessive barking, and housetraining difficulties. Less common behavior problems, such as rock-eating or tail-chasing, also have been treated successfully by Pet Behavior Change. 

The most common behavior problem among cats is urinating or defecating outside of the litter box. Other common cat behavior problems that we regularly treat include aggression (toward other cats, dogs, or people), inappropriate scratching (e.g., on furniture or carpets), excessive howling or meowing, over-grooming resulting in hair loss, and fearfulness.

Common behavior problems in parrots include excessive squawking, self-mutilation (feather-plucking), repetitive behavior (rocking), fearfulness, and aggression. 

What are the strategies that Pet Behavior Change endorses in its training and behavior modification?

Trained primarily as behavior analysts, Dr. Maxwell and PBC's pet behavior consultants emphasize empirically-driven methods that have been tested and refined in and outside of the learning laboratory. As responsible practitioners, we often re-evaluate and modify treatment plans if the pet's response is not satisfactory. As applied scientists, we rely on objective measures of a pet's behavior to make decisions regarding treatment. We may ask you to record your pet's behavior in a chart or log so that any changes in the behavior plan can be based on these measures.

We place a strong emphasis on environmental enrichment and an understanding of pets' species-specific needs. We incorporate ethological explanations of those behaviors that are unlearned or reflexive and we employ all four kinds of behavioral consequences as needed - positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment - to address learned behavior. At all times, we operate under the ethical guidelines of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Behavior Analysis International, and the Animal Behavior Society in deciding which strategies are most appropriate and effective while being least intrusive and minimally aversive.

The specific treatments selected will be based on the behavioral history, the details of the behavior problem or problems, and owners' ability and willingness to implement various behavior change techniques. Each plan is individualized to meet your pet’s behavioral needs. Treatments are selected based on a functional assessment of the problem behavior or training needs. That is, we assess the triggers for, and consequences of, the problem behavior. Identifying the consequences that maintain problem behavior is necessary before a treatment plan can be developed.

Does my dog need basic obedience training?

We at Pet Behavior Change often work with families whose puppies or adult dogs are generally well-behaved but require basic obedience training around the house and in public places. We teach families the best ways to train Sit, Down, Stay, Come, Leave It, and other important basic obedience commands using positive reinforcement in the form of praise, treats, and access to other valued items. Both puppies and adult dogs can learn these skills. Beyond simply teaching basic commands, regular in-home training establishes and reinforces the leader-follower bond between owner and dog. Basic obedience also is often part of the treatment for behavior problems such as aggression and other attention-seeking behaviors. 

These private sessions can be immensely helpful. Private sessions allow for the training plan to be individualized to meet your pet’s needs and your family’s needs. Attention can be paid to basic obedience training and also treatment of any behavior problems exhibited by your pet. Such individualized attention is unavailable in most group training classes. On the other hand, a group class - in particular a puppy kindergarten class - can provide your dog with important socialization opportunities. Practicing basic obedience commands around other dogs is ideal for building responsiveness to commands given in the presence of distractions. We recommend that all families find a local puppy kindergarten class with an instructor who uses positive reinforcement training practices and provides pups with the opportunity to play with one another and be handled by other pet owners in a supervised and safe training environment.

What role will my veterinarian play in behavioral treatment?

Most clients find out about Pet Behavior Change on referral from their veterinarian. Veterinarians often play a very important ongoing role in the treatment of pet behavior problems. This is especially true in cases where medication is suggested. Pets are being prescribed psychotropic medications for anxiety and other behavior problems at increasing rates in recent years. If medication is deemed appropriate for your pet, we will work in collaboration with your veterinarian to ensure that behavioral treatments and medical treatments are working together to best resolve your pet’s behavior problem. Even in cases where medication is not prescribed, we keep your veterinary hospital informed of behavioral treatments in place for your pet, so that we can work as a team to ensure that your pet is not only physically healthy but behaviorally healthy as well.

Is there a guarantee that my pet's behavior will improve?

Over the last 10 years, we have had a high rate of success treating pets with behavior problems. However, we provide no guarantee of behavior change or problem resolution. In fact, making such a guarantee is a questionable practice for professionals dealing with behavior. A pet's behavior (like our own) is a function of many different variables, some of which families may be unable to control. Factors that are correlated with a successful response to treatment include the family's ability, inclination, and availability to conduct treatment, how long the behavior problem has been going on, the history of reinforcement for the behavior, and many others. These are variables impacting behavior that are outside of any professional's control, and thus guarantees are not offered in psychology, whether in work with humans or pets. We will provide you and your pet with high-quality, humane, and data-driven approaches to treating your pet's behavior problem. You will learn a lot about why your pet behaves as he or she does, and about how to interact with your pet so as to engender positive behavior and reduce problem behavior. 

How are services with Pet Behavior Change arranged?

Contact Us! You may email Pet Behavior Change directly or you may contact us by phone.

What is a CAAB?

Many people may be unfamiliar with the term CAAB. In fact, many pet owners encounter pet professionals with all sorts of letters after their names and it can be difficult to make sense of what is what. 

A Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, or CAAB, is someone with a Ph.D. in a field related to animal learning and behavior. Largely considered one of the most stringent certification programs, the Animal Behavior Society serves as an independent certification board for those professionals who meet educational and experiential requirements for certification. In addition to the doctorate degree, experience working with animals is required for certification. Most CAABs have examined animal learning in the laboratory or in field settings, and many contribute to the research literature in this area. Most CAABs have a deep and broad understanding of animal ethology, operant and classical conditioning, and behavior analysis.

Because the requirements are rigorous and the necessary training and experience are extensive, the group is an exclusive one, with less than 50 CAABs nationwide. For a complete list of CAABs nationwide, visit The Animal Behavior Society’s CAAB Directory

For more information on what a CAAB is, and how you might choose between different pet behavior professionals, visit the ASPCA’s link to Finding Professional Help.