Animal Behavior And Animal Rights1

By Peter L. Borchelt, Ph.D2


            Unfortunately, animalshelters throughout the United States are full of perfectly healthy dogs andcats who find themselves there not because they are unfit companions for thehumans with whom they once lived, but because of behavioral problems the lattereither did not recognize or could not deal with, or both.  These problems include inability to becomehousebroken, rough play, destructiveness, serious aggression, and muchmore.  It has been estimated that over40% of pet owners report noticeable behavioral problems in their animals –which translates, nationwide, into something like 40 million pets with behavioralproblems.


            Itis commonly, but erroneously, believed that animal behavior problems most oftenare due to irresponsible or “crazy” owners. If that were true, however, the chances of successfully treatingbehavioral problems would be quite low. In my experience, most pet behavioral problems occur otherwise friendly,affectionate, well-behaved pets owned by the average person, people no moreirresponsible or crazy than you or me – and in my experience and that of mycolleagues, the chances of successfully solving the many kinds of problems areactually quite high.


            Forthe last 20 to 25 years, animal behaviorists, who are trained in animalpsychology, have been developing more and more ways to help pet owners preventand solve behavioral problems. Some of the background information that led totreatment techniques came from research, from the clinical application ofanimal learning techniques to human problems (e.g., treatment of fears andphobias), and from basic drug research in both human and veterinarymedicine.  Even though there are manyunknowns and much yet to be discovered, trained animal behaviorists now haveenough information to greatly improve the lives of our pets and those who carefor them.


            Atleast two things are truly exciting about the field of applied animalbehavior.  One is the possibility of apartnership between pet animals, pet owners, and behavioral scientists andother professionals.  Together, they cansimultaneously help animals, help people, and help increase our understandingof animal behavior and the interactions between animals and people.  This can be done using research methods andtechniques that harm no one and are humane for the animals, that are helpfuland interesting for the pet owner, and that advance our knowledge of animalbehavior.


            Equally,if not more, exciting is that by dealing with animal behavior problems as thepreventable and solvable situations they usually are, beloved animals canremain with their owners and enrich their lives, rather than being dumped inshelters where they are destined to perish only because they barked too much orwouldn’t use a litter box.3



1 This essay was reprinted fromthe Spring 1997 issue of the ISAR Report.


2 Dr. Borchelt, Director of the Animal BehaviorClinic at New York’s Animal Medical Center and President of Animal BehaviorConsultants in Brooklyn, New York, has for two decades worked exclusively toprevent and solve behavioral problems in cats, dogs, and other animals.  He is certified as an Applied AnimalBehaviorist by the Animal Behavior Society, and is co-author of some 60articles on that subject.


3 ISAR is pleased to publish this introductory essayby Dr. Borchelt which stresses that there is a recognized scientific field ofapplied animal behaviorism, and a small but effective group of professionalpractitioners who can often prevent and solve animal behavior problems – and inso doing, save the lives of many animals who would otherwise eventually be putto death through no fault of their own.


Information on Dogsand Cats Menu