Q: What exactly is Applied Animal Behavior?
A: The profession of Applied Animal Behavior is a relatively new field (25-30 years) made up of veterinarians, psychologists, and other professionals with advanced degrees in animal behavior and other behavioral and biological sciences. We specialize in applying scientific principles learned from the study of behaviors in the wild (ethology), psychological learning theory, and counseling skills to help people deal with their pet’s behavior problems. Humane methods, often involving various behavior modification techniques and sometimes medications, are used to help the owner solve the behavior problem. Only veterinarians who see behavior cases can legally prescribe behavioral medications (along with other important behavior modification tools) that may help many behavior problems in your pet. Veterinary Behaviorists (the term reserved for board-certified diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists) have the additional benefit of specific training in psychopharmacology and the medical aspects of the health of your pet and how this affects behavior.
Q: What are some examples of behavior problems in dogs and cats that are treated?
A: Common behavior problems for dogs include aggression, barking, destructiveness, fears, and anxieties, digging, house soiling, jumping-up, compulsive problems, ingestion of inappropriate objects, eating disorders, and unruliness as some examples. For cats, house soiling, spraying, scratching, aggression, excessive grooming, fighting, suckling, and kneading are common problems. These are just a few of the many behavioral problems treated in cats and dogs.
Q: What typically happens during a behavior consultation?
A: During an appointment, Dr. Melese meets with the family and pet(s) either at his veterinary office in Kearny Mesa, San Diego or by house-call. During the appointment, a thorough history of the behavior problems is taken (e.g., at what age did it start, how did it progress, when does it occur and with whom, etc.). The pet(s) is evaluated as appropriate, and the doctor arrives at a behavioral diagnosis. The final phase of the consultation involves developing a treatment plan and explaining it to the family. The doctor and staff then discuss the plan with the household and, as appropriate, demonstrates how to carry it out, provides handouts, and recommends behavioral aids and follow-up help. A referral letter summarizing behavioral findings and plan is later sent to the family veterinarian if identified by the owner (general practice veterinarians refer most cases). The techniques, procedures, and medications used (if any are indicated) are safe, humane and as effective as possible for your pet’s particular behavior problem(s). The prognosis for success is also discussed at this time if appropriate. Note that it is the pet’s owners who are responsible for carrying out the treatment plan. Ultimately, only the people living with the pet can effectively change an unwanted behavior.
Q: What are Dr. Melese’s credentials for treating behavior cases?
A: Dr. Patrick Melese is a board-certified Veterinary Behaviorist. He is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and former founder and head clinician of the behavior program when it was at UCVMC-SD, a San Diego satellite of the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Melese is currently still the only board-certified Veterinary Behaviorist with a private specialty practice in Southern California. Candidates for Board Certification must already be experienced both in general medicine and surgery, and have advanced training and experience specifically in clinical animal behavior. They must have substantial experience and possess very specific qualifications before being allowed to take an extensive set of examinations. Dr. Melese brings over 24 years of experience with behavior cases here in San Diego, along with cutting-edge material from the global field of Applied Animal Behavior, to your pet’s specific behavior problem. Dr. Melese works directly with your family veterinarian as needed to help you solve the problem.
Q: What services are offered and what is the charge?
A: Dr. Melese meets with his clients and their pets by appointment only. These meetings are at his San Diego office, or, in some cases, in the client’s home. As is the case with other professional medical specialists, the doctor’s fees are determined by the time spent applying his expertise toward finding a solution to each person’s problem. Fees are charged at an hourly rate, and the amount of time required varies from case to case. Some fees can be viewed on the “policies” page on this site. The initial visits typically last between 2.5-3.5 hours but may need even more than 3 hours depending on the case. We also offer a time-limited “lite” (1.5 hrs.) behavior consult suitable for those with very tight budgets or that simply need an assessment rather than our “standard” full behavioral consultation. During our full/regular appointment, we can also teach the owners how to start a customized behavior treatment plan and then provide a written summary and custom hyperlinks & handouts along with some e-mail support In the majority of cases, one consultation is sufficient to work up, diagnose and initiate a treatment plan to help clients solve their pet’s problems. However, since most behavioral problems are of a chronic nature, follow-up consultations are usually critical for successful long-term changes and to assist the family as they learn and carry out the treatment plan. If medications are part of the treatment plan, follow-up visits are required to monitor and continue that aspect of therapy. To be successful with treatment, pet owners should be ready to invest some time and financial resources to solve their problems, just as would be the case for the pet’s possible medical or surgical problems. Specific hourly fees should be discussed with the staff member when making your appointment to see Dr. Melese.
Q: How is Dr. Melese different than the many dog trainers that now market themselves as “behaviorists”?
A: That is an excellent question since recently it seems that almost every dog trainer that has perhaps taken a seminar on problem dogs (often given by Veterinary Behaviorists like Dr. Melese and his board-certified colleagues) now market themselves as a “dog behaviorist.” Some even have a veritable “alphabet soup” of letters after their names (almost never a CAAB or DACVB, which are internationally recognized applied animal behavior credentials) making it increasingly difficult for a pet owner to really know if the trainer has real academic training and experience credentials to be considered a well-trained, humane and knowledgeable professional in the field. Since, other than for veterinary doctors like Dr. Melese, there is no licensing or other similar governmental “oversight” to assure the public of some competence and ethical professional behavior, the term “behaviorist” becomes more of a “marketing claim” a trainer uses rather than a reliable indication of training, knowledge, professional ethics, and competence. Again the current exception is for currently licensed veterinary doctors who ethically should not claim to be “Veterinary Behaviorists” since that term is restricted to board-certified specialist veterinarians like Dr. Melese. By using a boarded veterinary specialist you assure the highest level of professional knowledge, licensing, oversight, ethics, dedication to “first do no harm” medical axiom, documented specialty training and staying current in a rapidly advancing field. Most pet owners already know that doctors are expected to provide a high professional standard (and held to this legally and ethically) including maintaining medical records, having an extensive knowledge of animal health including issues that affect behavior and hold various licenses (e.g. professional and premise state licenses with ways to monitor for inappropriate or negligent practitioners, DEA/prescription licensing to properly prescribe medications including “controlled” drugs often used in some behavior cases, etc.) and certifications. It is important to realize that if the provider is not a veterinarian than the pet owner must rely virtually exclusively on the actual provider (dog trainer or even PhD “Applied Animal Behaviorist”) for “self-policing” and self-regulation” of business since there is virtually no other vigorous state or professional oversight other than for veterinarians. Surprisingly, seeing a board-certified Veterinary Behaviorist like Dr. Melese for a pet’s behavior problem is often no more expensive (often substantially less) than regular payments to a dog trainer with often nothing past a high school graduation diploma. Dog trainers are typically dogmatic in their beliefs with some (“old school”) dog trainers focusing on “setting the dog up” then correcting (punishing) inappropriate behavior and consider giving a treat to reward a dog who has performed well tantamount to sacrilege. The other polar opposite growing in popularity are dog trainers that market themselves as “positive only,” which is typically more humane and progressive but can also mean they may have no options to offer the owner if the dog does not choose to do what the trainer is teaching and rewarding it for doing. When everything goes well and a dog is responsive and easy to train, just about any provider can demonstrate success. Dr. Melese and other boarded Veterinarian Behaviorists specialize in dogs and other animals where this is often not the case and special knowledge, skills, training and options (for example sometimes behavioral medications) must be brought to bear to make safe and effective progress.
Q: How successful is Dr. Melese in helping owners solve behavior problems?
A: If the pet’s owners are motivated, capable, and have a reasonably workable schedule, the vast majority of behavior problems can be improved effectively with help from Dr. Melese. Success depends heavily on the people carrying out treatment plans (compliance of owners) and on the individual pet and problem since, similar to “parenting” a small child, the process involves teamwork between your behavior clinician, owners and any other providers associated with the case. The prognosis for your pet should be discussed with the doctor at the time of the consultation when the case has been evaluated, and again during the prescribed recheck exams as indicated.
Q: Does Dr. Melese see pets other than cats and dogs?
A: Yes. Although cats and dogs currently make up the majority of the behavioral practice, Dr. Melese also sees pet birds, rodents, rabbits, pot-belly pigs and other animals and has consulted on equine and zoological animal cases as well. One test of a true “Applied Animal Behaviorist” is that they are trained to help animals other than just dogs.
Q: How do I schedule an appointment with Dr. Patrick Melese?
A: You can make an appointment by calling 858-259-6115 and leaving a message. A staff member will call you back within 8-24 hours (M-F) to make an appointment for you and answer questions you may have about the consulting services. You can speed up this process dramatically by making full use of this website. Our schedule does not allow the doctor to come to the phone to speak directly to pet owners before an appointment. It is also inappropriate to give diagnostic, treatment or prognostic advice without a valid doctor/client/patient relationship established. Your veterinarian can call and speak to Dr. Melese directly if needed before your appointment.
When you have read through this website, educated yourself about our policies, what to expect and fee structure and are ready to book your appointment, please submit a Request For Appointment Form.
Q: I do not live close to the Veterinary Behavior Consultants office. What are my options?
A: If you are not in our Southern California referral region or cannot come to our office please contact an applied animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist in your area since we are not able to initiate new cases with a telephone consultation. You can find a list of credentialed professionals at DACVB website for board-certified veterinary behaviorists or CAAB website for mostly non-veterinarian professional applied animal behaviorists. If none of these are available in your area, or you want further options you can look for a general practice veterinarian that has a special interest in seeing behavior problems that are member of the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior (not a credentialing or certifying organization with membership open to any veterinarian that joins and pays dues) at AVSAB.
If you are not able to avail yourself of professional services to help diagnose and treat your pet, you can always consult your primary veterinarian or try “self-help,” which is not suggested for cases that involve aggression.
Providing information about diagnosing and treating specific behavior problems may inadvertently mislead owners if they make the wrong diagnosis themselves and cause further problems. For this reason and others, specific treatment information is not published on our website.
If you would like a valuable dog-owner oriented reference source, we recommend the new (2014) “Decoding your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors & Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones.” CLICK HERE for information on the book and how to purchase. Older books that you may likely find helpful are “Dog Behavior and Training” or “Cat Behavior and Training” both compiled by Dr. Lowell Ackerman, published by TFH press and available to order on the web.
A website that has a number of books on behavior problems in pets (we cannot make any comment as to appropriate nature of any of the material or that some or any are appropriate for your particular case) and other pet topics is dogwise.com. National humane organizations such as ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) maintain some self-help internet information. None of these self-help options are substitutes for a visit with a board-certified Veterinary Behaviorist to diagnose and help treat your individual case.
Also, although we are not set up to provide free advice for pet owners only looking to rehome their pets, there is a good resource list of rescues that you can access by clicking on this hyperlink: Rescue Partner Breed Listing.
If you would like to schedule an appointment after reviewing our services and fees, please fill out a Request for Appointment Form. We applaud your decision to seek assistance with your pet and look forward to working with you.
If your dog is in danger of causing serious physical harm to you or others, please ask us about our muzzle training handout