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Don’t You Need to See the Behavior?

I have been a professional dog and cat behavior consultant for over 10 years. Prior to that, I spent 12 years working with children with severe mental illness. Never once in that time did a parent, social worker, teacher or clinician come to me and say, “Elise, I just want you to see the behavior so you can really understand it”. Truly, the idea almost seems abusive, right? Who would ask a child to cut herself, starve herself, assault her family, or soil himself out of fear? Who would put a child in a situation where we were forcing him to relive a trauma to such an extent that he dissociated, retreating to a corner and whimpering for the bad monsters to leave him alone?

Let me ask you this. Let’s say you came to me and said you were worried about your temper and would like my help in stopping your violent attacks on strangers. What would you think if I carefully considered your concern, walked over to you, stared you up and down, saying, “Yeah? Let’s see this attitude problem of yours”.

Likewise, let’s say you came to me with the same issue. But, after describing it, you stood up and said, “Now, before I sign on for help, I need to show you exactly how violent I can get. I saw a staff party going on down the hall. We’re going there and I will inevitably beat the crap out of someone”.

What would you think of me, as a certified professional, if I allowed you to attack someone so I could see the behavior? What would you think of me if I provoked you into violence?

My job working with pets is very similar to my last profession. I am diagnosing behavior disorders, collaborating with veterinarians and other pet professionals to design plans to modify severe behavior issues, and implementing plans with the cooperation of the pet’s owners. And yet, almost every day owners are convinced they need me to see the behavior. Whether it’s a dog chasing its tail, charging the door when I arrive or lunging at cars passing by, there continues to be this need for me to see it.

I totally get how freaked out owners are when faced with a pet’s behavior issue. I know it’s scary and stressful. The emotional rollercoaster veers from feeling embarrassed and confused to frustrated and sometimes even angry. My compassion and empathy runs deep. Trust me, I’ve seen all the behaviors…I’ve lived with and rehabilitated almost every type of behavior issue out there. But, it’s important to understand that seeing the behavior means putting your dog or cat in a deliberately stressful situation and that’s unnecessary. Proper diagnosis typically doesn’t require seeing the behavior. Even better… amazing, awesome, and effective behavior mod plans don’t require seeing the behavior. Promise! So, unless we’re filming the behavior as part of a Before & After series, let’s keep that behavior out of sight.