Ryan Neile is our Senior Animal Behaviourist at Blue Cross. Many pets arrive in our care with behaviour issues that they need a helping hand to overcome before they are ready to go to their new homes. At Blue Cross, we also offer lifetime behaviour support for pets rehomed from us, so owners never have to face their pet's behaviour problems alone. Ryan heads up our team of behaviourists who help pets to get back on their paws using modern science based techniques.
Q) Tell us about your own pets
I have a two-year-old border collie called Tok. He’s my training buddy and my best friend. He teaches me how to be a better dog trainer.
I also have an elderly 15-year-old shih tzu called Truly, she’s not so fussed about training and enjoys the finer things in life!
Q) What is an animal behaviourist?
An animal behaviourist specialises in the understanding, resolution or modification of problem behaviours in pets. This will often require a holistic approach, taking into account the animal’s genetics, history, present circumstances and environment, together with the use of science based training techniques.
Q) How did you get into animal behaviour?
I gravitated towards studying animal behaviour because of my desire to change and improve the way we trained and rehomed rescue pets. A greater understanding of how and why animals behave in the way they do really helped me to figure out how to communicate with challenging pets, how to help them overcome their problems and how to put them in the right homes. Animals speak to those who listen, and when you start listening it’s impossible to stop!
Q) What skills and talents do you need to become a behaviourist?
Obtaining the right qualifications by studying animal behaviour is very important, but it’s also just as important to acquire and constantly improve your practical handling skills. A combination of both of these things will certainly set you on the right course to becoming a great animal behaviourist.
You’ll need to be a good listener and an even better observer as some animals can convey so much with subtlest of movements, such as flick of the tail or a tilt of an ear. Patience is essential as not all animals learn in the same way, and some might find the simplest things very difficult to overcome.
Compassion and kindness are essential qualities, and in my opinion make the difference between a good behaviourist and a great behaviourist.
Q) What do you love about your job?
That I get to meet, work with and help so many wonderfully special and unique animals, all of whom teach me something I didn’t know before.
I love helping an animals overcome a problem that has caused them to be frightened or scared, or that’s prevented them from enjoying the freedom of life that other pets enjoy. The feeling I get when this happens is amazing, and no matter how many animals I help, that feeling never goes away!
Q) What’s the toughest part of your job?
That sometimes I can’t help an animal I the way that I’d hoped. I work with lots of animals that, due to neglect and abuse, have developed extreme behavioural issues, and despite my very best efforts will never be happy or safe to live in a home. When this happens its very, very tough, but it always makes me more determined to improve my skills and to study harder so that in the future I’ll be able to help the animals I’m not able to today.
Q) What advice would you give to anyone who wants to become an animal behaviourist?
Study hard, spend years working directly with animals, particularly those that you want to specialise in. Find the right mentor, watch them, listen to them and ask as many questions as you can. Resign yourself to the fact that you’ll never learn enough in one lifetime.
Above all, always be kind to animals and people no matter how they might behave towards you!