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The study of animal behaviour (ethology) is a sub-discipline of zoology that looks into how all animals behave and how, if at all, their behaviour can be changed. Applied animal behaviourists and pet behaviour counsellors specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of animals with behavioural problems. The majority of work is done with pets, although some behaviourists do also specialise in captive animals.
Applied animal behaviourists, or pet behaviour counsellors, will work with a client on the referral of a veterinary surgeon. Veterinary surgeons will refer an animal owner to an applied animal behaviourist if their animal is displaying abnormal or extreme behaviour, which is either damaging to the animal, the owner or others.
Types of behavioural problems that applied animal behaviourists are likely to work with are:
Applied animal behaviourists will examine an animal and its history, usually taking details from the owner and the veterinary surgeon. They will then observe animals' behaviour in reaction to different situations and conditions, establishing a cause of behavioural problems. This may require handling the animal, or simply watching from afar, particularly when in zoos.
Once a problem has been diagnosed, the animal behaviourist will come up with a treatment plan, and handling advice for the owner. This may involve regular check-ups and sessions with the behaviourist, or could be left in the hands of the owner. The behaviourist will write up a detailed report, sending a copy to the vet and the owner, keeping in touch with the owner after consultation to assess any progress.
Animal behaviourist and pet behaviour counsellors are responsible for the health and safety of pets, owners, and themselves when handling animals. This is important because some animals can be aggressive, particularly when in captivity. In some cases animal behaviourists may choose to offer separate training services for pets, and are generally self-employed.