Teaching Behavior Is Good For Pets, Vets

Educating proper behavior benefits both pets, vets.

Veterinary behaviorist Nicho-las Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVB, is touring the U.S. to teach veterinarians, vet techs and trainers about animal behavior.

“When clients lose their patience, vets lose their patients,” he said at a recent event.

Dr. Dodman isn’t just talking about his fellow professionals losing business, either. For him, getting the word out on the importance of veterinarians being knowledgeable about behavior is a matter of life or death.

As director of Animal Behavior Clinic and a professor of clinical sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Dodman is guided by empirical data, and he doesn’t hesitate to cite facts in support of his argument.

He noted that 20 percent of a veterinarian’s time is devoted to behavioral issues, whether or not she is educated about them. Sadly, he said, 25 percent of all dogs and cats are euthanized or abandoned within the first year of their lives because of unwanted behavior. Among animals in shelters, 50 to 70 percent are there because of behavioral issues, he said, and many of them are ultimately euthanized.

So incorporating behavior into one’s practice can not only save a client and that client’s relationship with a pet, but also save the pet’s life, Dodman said.

“Owners expect vets to know about behavior, but most vet schools don’t even teach it,” Dodman said after a seminar at Purr ’N’ Pooch, a grooming, boarding, daycare and training facility in Tinton Falls, N.J. “As ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher [Dodman hails from Great Britain] said to me when I was introduced as a behaviorist, ‘Oh yes, behavior. That’s what it’s all about, really.’ She’s right, and we need to know about it.”

Dodman planned his seminars, of which there will be five this year, to get the word out to veterinarians and veterinary technicians about the importance of offering help with animal behavior in a practice.

“The biggest misconception [about behavior problems] is that nothing can be done, when in reality most behavior problems can be addressed,” he said.

In some cases, animals may require pharmacological interventions—in which Dodman specializes at Tufts, having begun his career as a veterinary anesthesiologist—and in others, behavior modification is sufficient, he said. Some dog breeds are more susceptible to certain behavioral issues and medical conditions that manifest as behavioral issues, so being aware of those connections can be especially helpful for veterinarians and other professionals.


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Continuing education credits will be available when Dr. Nicholas Dodman talks about dog and cat behavior during workshops in Boulder, Colo., and Pittsburgh.

A one-day cat workshop Aug. 27 in Boulder and Oct. 22 in Pittsburgh will cover social behavior and aggression; causes and treatment of fears and anxiety; litter box strategies and furniture scratching; compulsive behavior problems; and medical problems that present as behavioral problems.

The workshop is approved for six CE units through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the American Association of Veterinary State Boards/Registry of Approved Continuing Education.

The first day of a two-day dog workshop—Aug. 28 in Boulder and Oct. 23 in Pittsburgh—will cover dominance versus conflict aggression; fear, territorial and predatory aggression; fear-based behaviors; phobias and post traumatic stress disorders; and compulsive disorders such as spinning, sucking and snapping.

Presentations Aug. 29 and Oct. 24 will go over medical causes of behavioral problems; the psychopharmacology of behavior problems; raising a well-adjusted dog; and case studies.

The dog workshop is approved for 13 CEUs through IAABC, AAVSB/ RACE and the Certification Council for Certified Pet Trainers.

More information about Dodman and his seminars is available at www.thepetdocs.com.

Research in these areas is ongoing, Dodman noted, particularly with regard to whether some problem behaviors may be related to seizure disorders or are symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder.

The New Jersey event drew a handful of veterinarians and technicians, with mostly trainers and a few dog owners attending.

“I feel like I’m going to be a better trainer from coming to this,” said Debbie Kaikaka of Aloha Canine Training in Woodbridge, N.J., who noted that Dodman’s discussions on phobias would be particularly helpful with a skittish labradoodle she trains.

“The poor thing was living in fear,” she said.

A number of trainers at the event noted the uncomfortable relationships between trainers and veterinarians in general. Kaikaka said she sometimes refers clients back to veterinarians for problems she can’t solve or if she suspects a particular medical problem, but said, “You have to watch stepping on toes.”

Another trainer, Renee Premaza of Berlin, N.J., enjoyed Dodman’s presentation on pharmacological treatments for behavioral issues. “It helps me understand veterinarians’ decisions about medication,” she said.

With so many responsibilities involved with running a practice or being a member of one, some veterinarians wonder how they can add behavioral expertise to their services without losing time and money.

“Vets should put in the extra time, especially at vaccination, to advise clients how to prevent behavior problems. That is as important as vaccination in terms of saving lives,” Dodman said. “Charge for behavior consultations. Engaging in more behavioral repartee with clients and their dogs will strengthen the bond with the owner and make veterinary life more interesting.”

Behavioral consultations can involve many members of a practice and make work more satisfying, Dodman said.

“It’s said to prevent burnout,” he said. “Vet techs would love to help. That’s something they can do. You can make money by having them teach programs.”

Dodman recommends both having clients fill out behavior questionnaires before each annual visit and welcoming clients for consultations about specific problems. He also said veterinarians should discuss potential issues with new puppy and kitten owners at their first visit.



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