Clinical supervision: what to expect

What is a clinical animal behaviourist?

On veterinary referral, a clinical animal behaviourist works one-on-one with an animal and their caregiver, often in their home environment, or in a clinic.  They take a detailed case history and diagnose the reasons behind the animal’s behaviour problem.  This leads to a behaviour treatment plan, which the clinician then helps the animal and their caregivers work through over a period of time, which can range from a few weeks to several months.

How do I become a clinical animal behaviourist?

There are lots of different routes available for becoming a clinical animal behaviourist –practitioners have come to the job through many different paths.  Essentially though there are two sides to the job that you need to develop in order to practise as a clinical animal behaviourist: academic knowledge and practical experience.  I personally followed the ASAB CCAB route (asab.org/ccab) because I found it to be very structured and transparent and it is currently the only independent accreditation scheme in UK for vet and non-vet behaviourists. 

I do encourage my students to work towards CCAB too, but it is not essential requirement for being mentored by me.  If you’re just starting out, I can talk through the different options that would work specifically for you, depending on your background, what’s going on in your life and what you’re aspiring to.  

Whatever you need or whatever point you are in your career, then I can brainstorm with you and point you in the right direction.

I’d like to start seeing cases today – can you help me?

Generally I expect my mentees to have some academic knowledge of the field before I allow them to sit in on my cases or shadow my work.  It is generally recommended to have attained ‘CCAB Pre-Certification’ or graduated from a course that is recognised by ASAB or ABTC before considering any form of clinical practice yourself.  That doesn’t stop you from working on gaining any of the important practical handling and training skills needed for any work with animals, such as through helping at training classes, or at a local rescue centre.

Once you have gained the academic knowledge necessary for the job, I offer two key forms of clinical supervision to help you then gain the required practical knowledge: either you can sit in on me, or I can sit in on you!

If you have just graduated and are starting out, then I would recommend that you sit in and observe me conduct a range of cases first.  Then you can start leading on certain cases under my supervision at a rate commiserate with your abilities.  When you start leading, I may well pipe up and join in the consultation with you quite a bit, but as your clinical skills grow, I’ll gradually take more of a backstep and eventually just give you feedback at the end of the consultation.

Professional conduct

All my mentees are expected to adhere to the following rules at all times:

  • Accept the risks and be prepared:  you may well get bitten!  Although we try to minimise the likelihood, working with animals carries risks of injury and unexpected behaviour.  You are responsible for your own actions and advice given to others.  I ask that all my mentees are fully insured, even if they are just virtually and silently observing my cases.
  • Ethical practice:  Although you are not one yet, you are expected to follow the CCAB Code of Conduct (asab.org/ccab-code-of-conduct) at all times.

It is very important to only ever work on written veterinary referral and never to practise outside the limits of your competence.  If you’re ever in doubt about your ability to take on a particular case, then either refer it onto a more qualified practitioner, or see it under their supervision/mentorship.  If you’re not sure about what any of this means, then give me a buzz!

  • Absolute confidentiality:  Never record a case except by anonymised written notes.  Any case information released to you must be stored securely and then deleted within three months.
  • Support each other:  respect, trust and care for your peers, including each other’s professional and personal development, intellectual property and business interests.  Let’s grow together.

Picking my brains

As well as direct case supervision and shadowing, I offer more general mentoring support, including with your cases I have not observed.  Clearly my remote assessment will be limited, so I will only be able to provide more general advice around certain case types, but it should give you some food for thought for your own case management.  Pick my brains on any questions you may have.

We can also discuss other issues, such as how to design treatment plans, dealing with the human side of CAB work (i.e. owners, vets and paraprofessionals), professional and ethical conundrums, business strategies, interesting research papers, or figuring out how to make this fascinating yet tricky work we do work for you and your life.

Sourcing cases

I am happy for students to sit in on cases that have been referred to me.  However suitable cases for mentoring for all the students who have an interest, with permission from referring vets and clients can sometimes be few and far between. So you may also wish to source cases yourself. If a case has been referred to you, you will need to contact the referring veterinary surgeon to ask for their consent for the case to be seen by me as the supervising clinician and contact the client to ask for their permission. I am also happy to speak to the referring vet and/or client prior to the consultation.

Observing my cases

You will be provided with any clinical history and behaviour questionnaire about a case before the consultation.  We would have a brief chat about the case before the consultation.  Please dress smartly but practically, bearing in mind we will be dealing with often reactive animals and may spend part of the session outside in any weather.  Leave food and valuable items hidden and locked away (i.e. in your car).  During the consultation you can take notes, but you will play no part in the consultation itself (please turn off your cameras and microphones if ‘sitting in’ virtually).  Generally, a consultation is split into history-taking at the start, establishing a behaviour diagnosis/assessment, then developing a treatment plan.  We may take a brief break in the middle after the history taking to discuss the next stage.  At this point, I may give you the opportunity to ask a few questions of the client.  After the consultation is ended, you can ask me questions and we will discuss the case to check your understanding of key points relating to the case.  There will also usually be a follow-up session with you to discuss what the treatment path of the case may take, as well as the relevant scientific literature. 

Leading cases under my supervision

  • If the case is one that has been referred to you and you use a veterinary referral form and/or client questionnaire. I will require a copy of these completed forms prior to, or at the time of the consultation. (However, if your normal practice is to complete a client questionnaire at the time of the consultation, I will just need a copy of the uncompleted form.) I will also need to see a copy of the animal’s medical history if it has been sent to you.  Please request that any animals are shut away prior to our arrival.
  • We will meet immediately before and after the consultation.  This will be an opportunity for you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with me, as well as for us to debrief.
  • I will then start the consultation, introducing you and myself and explaining to the client the CCAB accreditation system and mentoring process. 
  • I will then hand over to you to commence history-taking. Once you feel you have competed history-taking, I may then ask the clients a few questions myself if I feel that anything has been missed.  I may also intervene if I ever see a potential safety or unethical issue developing.
  • Once all history-taking is complete, we will discuss (away from the clients if possible) your understanding of the behaviour, its aetiology and possible means of behaviour modification. 
  • I will then hand back to you to advise the owners on the behavioural assessment and treatment plan. I will only interrupt if I feel that any advice is inappropriate or needs further explanation. If I feel any further advice is required, I will speak to the clients only once you have completed giving your advice. 
  • If there is any point during the consultation where you are not confident with a particular issue or with how the consultation is proceeding, you are welcome to discreetly hand-over at that point to me.  This is nothing to be ashamed about and it is normal part of the learning process.  I will try to encourage you to take back up the reins at an appropriate juncture.
  • After the consultation you will provide the client and referring veterinary surgeon with a full report, which will be reviewed by me first.  This can be drip-fed to the owners in stages if you prefer.  Following that, you are expected to provide some form of follow-up support for at least three months, as well as keep the vet updated with the animal’s progress.  I do not need to involved directly in all the stages of the follow-up support, but I should be kept in the loop, particularly on any written correspondence.  If you ever have doubts about how best to proceed on a particular issue, then do give me a buzz.

Group support and peer mentoring

In many aspects of my mentoring services, I encourage some form of group mentoring or peer support.  I like to foster a safe space in which all can voice their queries and issues about various cases, the wider clinical animal behaviour field, or general mentoring and business topics.  I believe we are each individually greater if we collaborate and work together.  The group environment is understandably not for everyone and you can choose not to partake in it.  However, when you choose to become part of one of my mentoring groups in some way, then I expect you to fully embrace the ethos of a supportive fellowship.


To get an idea of the different options on offer have a look at the mentoring services table here.

Give us a buzz now.