By Bradley Phifer CBCC-KA CPDT-KA

As a member of the veterinary medical team, your clients view you as an expert. With this comes the obligation to promote a culture where patients experience less stress during their visit to the veterinary practice, and where we triage minor behavior problems prior to them developing into more serious issues.

Unpleasant experiences in the veterinary practice can have an impact on the patient’s association of unfamiliar people. Each negative experience while in our care will create a patient who is more defensive, and difficult to handle during exams, and can lead to fearful or aggressive behavior with unknown people at home.

Set your veterinary practice apart by incorporating these simple, and effective, patient-friendly practices:

  • Ask the jumping dog to sit! When he does, approach him. If he jumps, step away.
  • Seat patients in a room as soon as possible rather than allowing them to wait in the lobby. This will decrease stress, and prevent undesired behavior.
  • Become fluent in body language![i] When you see a patient who is stressed and avoiding interaction, do not move closer to them in an attempt to make them feel better. Turn your attention away from the patient for several minutes while you finish your admission.  Give them the time and space needed to relax and approach you on their own.
  • Begin incorporating counter conditioning and desensitization techniques when handling for examinations[ii].  Less restraint is typically best!
  • Identify potential behavior problems early on and direct clients to resources where they can find solutions.
  • Create behavior tip sheets for commons problems such as jumping up, digging, and raising a puppy or kitten.
  • Develop a service for “Happy Visits”. This value-added service offers patients the opportunity to visit the practice in between appointments and build rapport with the staff. These services can create additional revenue, and can be scheduled with a technician, or well-trained member of the support staff.

A love for animals and the desire to make them well is the reason many of us became involved in the veterinary profession. Traditionally, the primary focus of a veterinary practice has been to treat the physical needs of our patients. However, we play a vital role in the behavioral wellness of the animals in our care, and should strive to address both the physical, and behavioral, needs of our patients.  Placing an emphasis on your patients behavioral wellness not only enhances the relationship the client has with their pet but will also make our jobs easier!


[i] Sarah KalnajsThe Language of Dogs

[ii] Sophia Yin, DVM, MSLow Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats:  Techniques for  Developing Patients Who Love Their Visits

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