10 ways any team member can help improve animal behavior

Every member of the veterinary team can contribute to patients' behavioral wellness. In fact, you're the first line of defense in preventing the progression of behavior problems. By emphasizing behavioral wellness, you'll not only enhance clients' relationship with their pets, but also make your job more enjoyable and safe. Here's what you can do.
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May 01, 2010

1. Rather than allowing patients to bark, growl, or hiss at other animals while waiting in the lobby, get them into an exam room as soon as possible.

2. Learn animal body language. A little studying can help you recognize signs of patient stress, so you can change your approach as needed.

3. Encourage pets' good behavior. For example, ask a jumping dog to sit. When he does, approach him. If he jumps again, step away.

4. Show pet owners how to teach their pets to be tolerant of routine grooming, teeth brushing, and nail trims. For example, tell owners to place their pets on their lap or in between their legs and when the pets relax, praise them, treat them, and let them go. Then move on to such things as touching their feet and giving a treat, and opening their mouths and giving a treat.

5. Encourage owners to teach their pets to sit patiently as the default position to gain access to what they want. This discourages unwanted behavior such as jumping up, mouthing, and door darting.

6. Encourage clients to bring their pets to the clinic for "happy to see you" visits in between regularly scheduled medical appointments.

7. Don't ignore dogs' unruly or fearful behavior. Talk with clients about the importance of training and direct them to a professional dog trainer. Fearful behavior, especially in puppies, often will progress into defensive, aggressive behavior as adults.

8. Post pet-behavior tips or articles in your lobby and on your social media sites, and encourage clients to read them.

9. Build relationships by offering puppy and kitten socialization classes in your clinic.

10. Be cautious of heavy restraint methods. You may be doing harm long-term by incorporating muzzles and other heavy restraint methods to help patients get through a procedure. (See resource No. 3 below.)

Brad Phifer, CPDT-KA, is director of Pet Behavior Services at Broad Ripple Animal Clinic and Wellness Center's Bark Tutor School for Dogs in Indianapolis. 

Resources
1. Kalnajs S. The language of dogs [videotape and DVD]. Wenatchee, Wash: Dogwise Publishing, 2006. Available at: www.bluedogtraining.com/videos-dvds.html.

2. The Certification Counsel for Professional Dog Trainers. Available at: www.ccpdt.org.

3. Yin S. Low stress handling, restraint and behavior modification of dogs and cats. Davis, Calif: CattleDog Publishing, 2009.