Veterinarians on the Front Lines
Greetings from Oregon. I just finished up with two talks at UC-Davis and a day long seminar in Corvallis, Oregon, sponsored jointly by OSU and Wonder Dogs. The participants and hosts could not have been more delightful, and I thank everyone for making the trip enjoyable and more than worthwhile.
All three events had a large number of veterinary students attending, and it was such a joy to see them there. So many bright, energetic people… truly is inspiring, and especially good to see so many of them interested in behavior.
One of my talks at UC-Davis, specifically for vet students and veterinarians, was on Canine Aggression. I appreciated the opportunity to speak about such an important topic, and thought I’d convey a summary of one of the points I made, which was what can vets do in their clinics if they don’t have the time or interest in becoming a behaviorist or trainer and treating “aggression” problems directly? (I use the term “aggression” broadly, in the sense that the general public does.)
Here’s some thoughts, not just for vets, but also for anyone to ask themselves about the “behavioral wellness” of their dog. (Behavioral wellness is a term coined by CAABs Suzanne Hetts and Daniel Estep) and it is such a good one I’ve incorporated it into my vocabulary.) Here is what I wish vets would do in their clinics, understanding how limited there time is:
1) Ask questions related to behavior, but make them specific! “Any behavioral problems?” is just as likely to get a “no” from someone whose dog has bitten them as from someone whose dog is an angel. Here are some examples of questions I wish vets or vet techs could ask:
~ “How is house training going?” or better yet, “Are you giving your puppy a treat every time he goes potty outside?”
~ “How is your dog doing with normal handling? Any growls or tooth displays when you clean her paws or examine her mouth?”
~ “Is your pup getting out and about without being overwhelmed by places.. (like a crowded farmer’s market) that are too scary?”
~ “Can you leave your dog alone during the day without any problems? Need any help there?”
~ “Is your dog comfortable with strangers coming into the house? Does he get along well with other dogs, either the others at home or dogs he meets on the street?”
Etc… There is an excellent list of questions on Hetts and Esteps’ website, check it out and mention it to your veterinarian if you get a chance. The biggest challenge here is to be specific: one person might say a dog is just “fine” with visitors, even though he’s hiding under the table and growling. The more specific the question, the better, as in “Any growls, for any reason?”
2) Alert owners to problems that you see in the clinic. A vet friend recently told me about a 4 month old pit cross who stood in the corner, stiff and whale-eyed when she entered, and then bark/charged at a vet tech who came into the room during the exam. The owners thought it was normal behavior, and had no clue that it was a sign of potential serious trouble.
3) Have posters and charts up to help people learn to read their dogs. Dream Dog Productions has a great set of posters that should be in vet clinics along with signs of gum disease. Many owners simply don’t know the signs of fear in a dog, unless the dog is cowering like a cartoon character, and the more we can get the word out, the better.
4) Educate owners about treatment when you can. Most behavioral problems are NOT “dominance” problems, and suggesting those methods can cause more harm than good in many cases. (More on that in subsequent posts!)
5) Have resources easily available. Have books, booklets in the clinic to help with behavioral problems (we have a Beh’l Rx form for vets to use to mark the resources they think would help a client); know who to refer to in the area if you see potential behavioral problems and know what training centers and classes use positive methods that are based on solid science rather than opinion; make contact with Veterinary Behaviorists, CAABs and progressive trainers who have a sterling reputation.
I’d love to hear your thoughts: Any vets, vet techs like to chime in and add what trainers and behaviorists could do to help vet clinics prevent behavioral problems?
Meanwhile, not on the farm (but missing it a lot): Even though I’m not there, here is a photo from last week, when friends, Jim and I went in search of apples. It was a great success, and before I left for the west coast I got two huge batches of apple sauce in the freezer. I’ll turn them into apple/wild plum butter when I get back. We also found a wild grape vine (these are truly wild, a native wild plant in Wisconsin) that was groaning with fruit. I couldn’t pass it up, and ended up with about a 1/2 gallon of grape juice in the freezer. Not sure what I’ll do with, might add it to the carrot bread muffins waiting to be made from the mounds of carrots I have in the frig!
Here’s a bushel basket brimming with apples, and a wonderful old tool for harvesting the apples directly off the tree (cider can’t be made from apples that land on the ground, at least not safely).