Leaving aside the original meaning of the word ‘behaviourist’ that has been adopted over recent times to mean someone who engages in the alteration of animal behaviour (it does not appear to apply to people), I want to discuss the bizarre notion that an animal behaviourist cannot be regarded as a canine behaviourist and the issues surrounding the subject.
Firstly, it has to be understood that, as with any job that demands an advanced understanding of the subject, both education and practical ability play an important part in becoming qualified to offer expert opinion and propose regimes that have a high likelihood of success. The main issue is that those who have a specific interest in dogs often do not complete their education by learning about other commonly kept species and how the interaction between them and dogs can have a profound effect on behaviour. There is an absolute need to be educated beyond the target species so that the behaviourist does not come to a problem dog with a blinkered and limited set of knowledge.
‘Canine behaviourists’ often state that they are specialists in dog behaviour problems which is all very good but it is not possible to specialise in a topic until an understanding of the whole subject has been acquired. You would be somewhat taken aback if you went to your GP with constant indigestion to be told ‘Sorry, I have only studied headaches’!
I find apparently confident statements like ‘Animal behaviourists cannot do the job of canine behaviourists because they do not have the focused knowledge required’ quite informative because it clearly shows that the writer is one of those people with a blinkered and limited set of knowledge and therefore does not understand the requirements. There is an old saying in the academic world that ‘you will never know how much you don’t know about something until you have studied it’ and I find that the people who make the most noise about how much they know are the ones who could profit from a good deal more study.
To quote Charles Darwin: Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge, it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
It is also interesting to note that on the ABTC (www.abtcouncil.org.uk) registers of animal behaviourists all except three of the highly educated and thoroughly assessed practitioners specialise in dog behaviour. This can be regarded as truly specialising.