Keeping tabs on your pets mental health is just as important as its physical health, according to local vet and advanced animal behaviour specialist Dr Ashleigh Hargreaves. Dr Hargreaves has been a member of the Warrnambool Veterinary team since graduating from the University of Adelaide four years ago and is a certified practitioner of Fear Free, promoting the reduction of fear, anxiety and stress in pets. "Behaviour plays a part in every consult we see in a way because the first thing that might notify a person that there's something wrong with their animal is how they're acting - they might be off colour or changing their behaviour," Dr Hargreaves said. "Any sort of behaviour that could be annoying people or is not quite normal, generally there's an underlying issue. "There are what we call training problems versus behavioural problems; if a dog hasn't been taught not to jump up that's just a training problem, but if it knows not to do it and is still doing it there might be a sign that there is something else going on." She said specialists in her field generally took a 'multi-pronged' approach to animal behaviour, "If it's a true anxiety issue then generally there's three parts to the treatment: modifying the behaviour, modifying the environment and there's often medication involved." Veterinary behaviour is a fast-growing field of veterinary medicine, although there are only two registered specialists currently in clinical practice in Australia, and less than 50 veterinarians with the same qualifications as Dr Hargreaves. It looks at the mental health of pets and the evidence-based study of 'why they do what they do'. "Behavioural problems can weaken the bond between pets and their human companions", Dr Hargreaves said. "Often, people don't realise how much their pet or they themselves have been suffering until after we start addressing the underlying issues causing the behaviour. The benefits to the pet and the family can be huge." The new approach to animal health debunks outdated tactics still used widely by animal owners to train their pets. "There's so much misinformation out there, people are still going off things believed to work in the last millennium such as dominance, and that you have to be the alpha dog in the relationship, which it's been long known now that's really not the case," Dr Hargreaves said. "It's about encouraging the public to learn more about it and getting the right information out there." Dr Hargreaves is the first to offer behavioural consultations in the south-west and can be contacted on 5561 2255. Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.