A degree for good behaviour

13 October 2014

James McEwan

Clinical animal behaviour: Dr James McEwan with a well-behaved Romsey (named after a town in the south of England).

The pet business is big business. New Zealanders spend $1.5 billion a year on companion animals and Australians spend $8.4 billion, and as well as feeding and immunising their animals and addressing health issues, many pets also need behaviour therapy.

From next year the University of Waikato will be offering postgraduate qualifications in clinical animal behaviour.

Dr James McEwan from the School of Psychology at the university says while there are veterinary science qualifications available in New Zealand and Australia, no university in the southern hemisphere offers a qualification in clinical animal behaviour.

Sought-after qualification

“We know from vets and other professionals working in the sector that they need graduates who understand clinical practice and the science of behaviour,” says Dr McEwan.

TV One’s Purina Pound Pups to Dog Star trainer and animal behaviour consultant Mark Vette says a qualification like this is well overdue.

“Animal behaviour problems are the number one cause of euthanasia in dogs,” he says. “A proportion of these can be dealt with by every day dog trainers, but more serious problems like phobias, separation distress, serious aggression and the like need an in-depth understanding of the causes, functions and prevention of these behaviours. A thorough understanding of ethology and psychology is absolutely critical for an animal behaviour consultant.”

The University of Waikato’s School of Psychology already has a Learning, Behaviour and Welfare Research Unit and the new qualifications, a masters degree, a postgraduate diploma and certificate, will build on existing expertise and research.

Available worldwide

The qualifications will be delivered entirely online, and therefore accessible to students all over the world.

Dr McEwan says the certificate programme would suit those working in various animal-related industries such as zoos, conservation work, the animal care sector, and would be a stepping stone to the diploma and degree where employment prospects might include animal behaviour consultant, advanced animal training and animal research work.

“Students who complete the masters degree will graduate with an in-depth understanding of animal behaviour, animal health and welfare and animal-related ethical and legal matters,” he says. “They’ll know how to make clinical assessments, identify factors that contribute to problem behaviours and develop behaviour modification programmes.” The qualification will be aligned with the British Animal Behaviour and Training Council standards.

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