Do your clients bring you dogs with behaviour problems looking for advice or help and at times the problem may be outside of your experience?
Totally understandable, I have had dogs all my life and know quite a lot about dog health, but that does not make me a vet.
It is a tricky place to find yourself in when asked for help, and you can’t help. But in reality, you can!
We see a lot of people who have had issues with their dog displaying aggression and have been to their vet for help.
It is a great idea to make sure the dog is not in any physical pain or is ill, so this can be a great first step.
When it comes to complex behaviour diagnosis and treatment though, this is a very complex and complicated area of expertise.
It is very risky to give advice that may not be effective, at times we will see the owners try this and when it does not work, lose all hope.
If they don’t lose hope, the problem may escalate or just remain the same for a longer period of time, further reinforcing the undesirable behaviour and the risk increases on whomever or what ever the aggression is directed towards.
When people have a dog like this, they are often worried, frightened, and lost and they need very accurate and specific advice that gives them the best chance of relief.
We have a lot of vets both in NSW and other states that refer to us, it may be a phone consult to start so we can get a feel for the size of the problem and make risk assessments, and then we can give advice based on a lot of experience working with dogs like this and much worse successfully for over 30 years.
So, when a client comes to your vet surgery and asks for help, what can you do?
- If it is safe for you and the owners, conduct a thorough physical examination and explore any health concerns.
- Advise on the dog perhaps learning to wear a muzzle.
- Advise on avoiding situations and environments which may cause reactions.
- Research trainers and or behaviourists in your area that have proven track records and refer your client to them.
What we see a lot of that vets could do better
- Vets giving training and behaviour advice when they do not really have the experience with dogs like this.
- Prescribing medication when it is not the correct solution for this dog.
- Telling owners, the dog needs to be euthanised without exploring all above options.
- Not referring to behaviour specialists but trying to work through the problem.
- Telling owners what they did wrong, that won’t help now.
- Blaming raw feeding, lack of vaccines or not desexing, none of these are true causes of problem behaviour.
- Don’t make any permanent changes like desexing aggressive dogs, this can and does increase aggression in some cases, yes, I have data to prove this.
These are just my opinions and I base these on my own experiences.
When a dog comes into your surgery, the dog may be nervous and not in a good place to add stress, so now is not the time to fit a muzzle.
If you do, this can cause the dog to reject the muzzle and have a meltdown every time you show the dog the muzzle, so better off to have the owners work on this at home, perhaps with food in the muzzle etc.
Use and recommend basket muzzles over fabric muzzles that pull the mouth shut. Mouth closing muzzles add a lot of stress and dogs find it restricting their breathing and ability to remain cool through panting. (https://k9pro.com.au/search.php?search_query=jafco§ion=product)
As people whose aim is to help people who own dogs, we need, we, being all professionals in the animal industry, need to focus on what is best for the dog in this particular case.
I know so many vets who have been put in that tricky place, being asked to help a dog owner who has a problem dog, and they have explained that they are health professionals and the best advice I can give you is to go and see Steve Courtney.
They did a wellness check and physical examination on the dog and sent me an email referral.
The next they heard is that the owner came in for a regular check up and the dog is behaving very well, they thanked the vet so much for their help.
This is how you do good, no risks.
We get dogs come to our board and train programs and it is not uncommon for these dogs to be behind on vaccinations, have not had a vet check for some years due to behaviour problems and may have a questionable lump or rash somewhere.
I can hazard a guess and rub some cream on it, but I don’t. We help the dog gain trust in us and then we take the dog to our vet for professional diagnosis and treatment.
Around 3 in 10 dogs that we have stay with us see our vets by request of their owners and 3 in 10 see out Osteopath for muscle soreness etc.
This is all carried out as part of our holistic approach.
I want to help dog owners as best as I can as I am sure the vast majority of vets do, so I refer on as soon as something is outside my specialty field.
Egos need to be left out of professional services if we are truly focussed on helping dogs and their owners.
Dog behaviour problems can be soul destroying for a dog owner who loves their dog, we as professionals need to help in the best way we can.