Choosing A Veterinarian

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Sam Basso
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
OR, if you are out of this area, inquire about a telephone or e-Lesson
Email: [email protected]

I believe that almost all veterinarians are dedicated, hard working professionals that really care about their patients (the dogs) and their customers. I think that many veterinarians will bend over backwards to make your experience a positive one.

The average person, and the average veterinarian, believe that dogs should fit the following profile:

* Companionable
* Enjoyable
* Predictable and consistent behavior
* A dog that prefers human company
* A dog that other people like as much as they do
* Relatively “direct-able” even without training
* Affectionate
* Able to be banged around, by kids and clumsy humans
* Comfortable indoors and outdoors
* Doesn’t require a lot of exercise
* Low drives
* Low initiative
* Low fearfulness
* Submissive
* Low other-dog aggression
* Quiet
* And for some, the image of a guard dog without the actual follow through

However, dog owners sometimes want or have a dog that is different from this profile. Not all breeds fit this ideal pet profile. Some are working dogs that were bred to protect, or hunt, or do sports. When the objectives of the veterinarian and the customer clash, it can and does cause problems and frustrations for both. This article is meant to briefly discuss ways veterinarians might change the ways they work in order to make the examination experience better for their customers, patients and their businesses. It is also meant to educate people on how to pick a veterinarian.

I have spoken to many customers who were not happy with their veterinarians. I recommend that vets make the following considerations in their business practices:

Make the experience good for the owner. Most people love their pets. Be considerate of them, even if they don’t deserve it! Go above and beyond their expectations. Besides, you are in a retail business: treat the customer right. And they don’t know medicine, don’t know if you are trying to just sell them some more services, or if what you are suggesting is going to possibly save their dog’s lives. They need to trust you, and they need you to follow through. I hate it when I have to chase down my veterinarian for answers, such as the results after a series of tests. And those little holiday cards and e-newsletters just don’t impress me – they seem phony; I already get enough junk mail every day.

Make the experience good for the dog. Not all vets like all breeds of dog. Give each dog a chance to prove itself as before you prejudge the dog. Have treats available at the front desk and in the examination rooms. Puppies can be irrevocably harmed by harsh treatment. Some veterinarians become afraid of certain types of dogs, or big dogs, after they have been threatened or bitten by one. I tell students: if your dog resembles the breed or size of dog that threatened or bit them in the past, the veterinarian might be extra rough, or try to teach your dog a lesson, thus provoking your dog to bite them. The terrible part about this is that the veterinarian’s own behavior probably caused them to be threatened or attacked in the first place, but instead of blaming themselves and taking it upon themselves to learn more about behavior, they take it out on future dogs that come into their offices. I have heard of a handful of these types of cases. I heard of a vet who would take big dogs and beat them after hours. You wouldn’t think a vet would do that kind of thing, but it happens. If you suspect that this is going on with your vet, if you see your veterinarian treating your dog roughly, or talks about wanting to teach your dog a lesson, find another veterinarian. I love veterinarians, and I have the greatest respect for them and their profession, but they are also people, and sometimes you will run across one that should retire and go into another field of work. Some of these “bad apples” will harm your dog, possibly permanently. Make the experience one where the dog looks forward to coming back. It is extremely harmful to pin a dog to the floor in order to administer yearly vaccinations, clip nails, or to administer other treatments. Find a better way. Such methods can cause dogs to become biters. If you need ideas on dealing with difficult dogs, then give me a call.

People safety first. Protect yourself, your staff, the customer and the public. There are professional quality muzzles that can protect you, other people and animals. When in doubt, refer the problem to a professional dog trainer. I also see dangerous set ups in the lobbies of most vet offices. Why is that? It’s not all about the medicine and operations. Sick dogs are more likely to bite people, and it isn’t the dog’s fault or the owner’s fault. I also find most staff, and most owners, not watchful enough of what’s going on in the lobby, and in the examination room. People get hurt.

Animal safety second. Make sure that you consider the safety of the dog, and other animals in your office. Dogs get attacked in vet offices. No one talks about it, but that’s the truth. And dogs get hurt on those slippery floors and examination tables. You’d think more care would be taken by vets to prevent injuries in their own operations, but they don’t. Dog owners need to be warned, and owners need to be much more watchful of what is going on. Even a friendly dog will fight if it feels sick enough, or threatened enough.

Make sure puppies are properly socialized. Many vets make the mistake of telling customers to not socialize puppies until they are finished with their puppy vaccinations (after 16 to 20 weeks of age). This is WRONG and it wrecks many a good puppy. Customers need to balance the need to keep the dogs healthy with the need to properly socialize them so that they don’t turn out to be fear biters or aggressive as adults. Give them ideas, show them how to do it. I can’t believe how many times I hear from customers who tell me that their vets advised against early puppy socialization! This is foolish advice. If you want to learn more about proper socialization, then please call me and set up a seminar for your office.

Don’t give out behavioral or training advice beyond your expertise. Leave this to qualified trainers and behaviorists. Much of what you learned in school and in books is WRONG. I mean, seriously, how many problem dogs have you rehabilitated? Probably none. Make a referral instead. I have had to undo many problems caused by improper advice from veterinarians. This makes you look bad to your customers when, eventually, they have to hire someone to fix what went wrong, and the finger of blame clearly points to YOU. This will cost you a paying customer! Instead, take a behavioral profile of each dog you bring in as a customer, and on each subsequent yearly visit. Then, if you see problems, you can avoid them in the exam, and refer your customers on for more help. Many pets are given away because of behavioral problems. Every customer you don’t help is potentially a lost customer the next year.

Re-design your offices to be more dog friendly. Many vet offices are just designed to do check in clients and do medical work, not and taking into account how the dog feels about being there. For example, many dogs just don’t want to be picked up by a stranger (the vet or vet tech) and put up on a slippery examination table. It scares them. It would be a good idea to have a ramp installed to walk dogs up on exam tables instead of wrestling them up there. In addition, some vets are better equipped to board dogs than others. This should be taken into consideration when designing your facilities. I have other suggestions, but they are too detailed to go into here. Again, if you want some advice, then please call for a paid consultation.

Here is my advice to my customers

Not all veterinarians are created equal. I’ve learned this over the years when dealing with my dogs and with my customer’s dogs. You will probably not find a veterinarian that meets all of these recommendations, but you should try to find the best veterinarian you can. Most veterinarians are very good. A good vet is worth their weight in gold.

Here’s what I look for when picking a veterinarian:

Location. Ideally, you want a vet that is no more than a 10 to 20 minute drive from your house. You also should investigate who they will refer you to in case of emergencies if your pet needs medical attention on the weekends or in the middle of the night. You should research the emergency vet just as thoroughly as your regular vet.

Find a vet that likes your dog. Not all people like dogs, or like certain breeds of dog. Vets are people, too, and they will sometimes have a bias against a certain breed of dog, or they might not like your dog. Now, if your dog is dangerous to be around, then no vet can be faulted for not wanting to get hurt. You need a trainer to straighten out your dog. Nevertheless, if your dog has a good temperament, then you should not be made to feel like a bum.

You want a vet that makes your visit a pleasant one for you and your dog. The staff and your vet should be friendly to you and your dog. Treats should be readily available at the front desk, and in the vet’s office to desensitize and calm your dog down. You should also be greeted promptly and professionally when you enter the office. And why is it that most vets don’t personally give you a follow up phone call after treatment to ensure things are going well? That’s not very professional, and makes me think they are just in it for the bucks.

Look for cleanliness. Whether the building is new or old isn’t much of a concern. But, a smell and look of cleanliness should be evident. Does the vet have clean hands when examining your dog? Are the parking lot and facilities clean and well maintained, or run down? Are the kennels clean and is everything orderly and picked up? Look for pride of ownership. Every new customer should given the grand tour of the facilities and all they have to offer, and a new tour each year along with annual vaccinations.

Is the staff welcoming when you visit? You don’t want to be greeted by someone with a glare and a stare. If they remember you and your dog, that’s a good sign, too. There are so many vet offices, if you are going to pay your hard earned money, then you and your dog should at least be treated well. I visit lots of vet offices. Most are very friendly and welcoming to me and their customers. But a handful are not. I want to be greeted in a friendly manner and I want to be put at ease when I bring my pet in for an examination. It is especially stressful for customers when they are sitting there, worrying about the welfare of their dog. You want a friendly greeting. Besides, vets are in business. It is always a good idea to have customers that like and respect you. If I”m just another paycheck, then I don’t trust you to treat my dog.

Do they recommend unnecessary procedures? If your dog has less than 1 month to live, then you don’t want your vet recommending a huge battery of highly expensive experimental procedures that won’t do any good, or won’t prolong the life of your dog, or won’t minimizing the dog’s suffering. You want a vet to recommend several care options, with the prices and chances of success. You need to be the one making the decisions for your dog, after consulting with the vet about what might be done. Years ago, I had a vet recommend $600 worth of tests on a dog that only had a month or two left to live. The tests wouldn’t have done a thing to change what was happening. The previous old veterinarians had sold their practice to  these new vets, and I think they were looking for ways to soak new customers to pay for their new practice. I’m not stupid, I asked what good the tests would do. She said, “well, nothing really”. Huh?! I thanked her, paid my bill, and switched vets.

You want a vet that will refer you to a behaviorist or trainer. Vets are trained to deal with medical problems, not behavior. Some vets try to do both, and end up giving horrible behavioral advice. As a trainer/ behaviorist, I don’t offer medical advice. A vet is usually not well-schooled in behavior, but knows what is necessary about medical issues. We are better off working as team mates to deal with behavioral problems. Sometimes a behavioral problem has a medical cause. These things need to be sorted out. I work with many vets on behavioral issues.

Get references. Ask people if they are happy with their vet. Lots of people aren’t. A good vet builds a good reputation in the community for good service and for solving problems. They want your business and they will go out of their way to get and keep it. You can also ask other vets outside your area for a local reference. You want someone that is respected by their customers as well as by their professional peers and associates.

You want someone that will refer you to a specialist when they aren’t best qualified to handle a specific situation. Whether it’s a referral to a trainer/behaviorist or a canine eye specialist, the vet that will refer specialty cases out should get your respect as a person of integrity that is looking out for your dog’s best interests.

The vet should consult with you on your dog’s problems, not belittle you or berate you. You want a vet that has good people skills in a crisis so that you can make a good and rational decision. If you come away from an appointment feeling like two cents, then it’s time to find another vet.

The vet should belong to credible professional veterinary organizations. Look for awards, plaques, degrees, membership certificates, etc., then read them and research them. You want a vet that is involved in the profession, that can heal your dog.

You should receive up-to-date information from your vet on how to improve the healthcare of your dog. You want a newsletter or mailings or handouts on new procedures, new medicines, micro chipping and tattooing, foods, parasite control products, etc. If you aren’t kept current on what can be done to improve the life of your pet, then you aren’t getting the full benefit of working with a vet. If your vet doesn’t offer this, then ask them. Almost all vets are enthusiastic about what they do and want the best for you and your dog.

NEED A REFERRAL? If you live in the Phoenix / Scottsdale, AZ area and you are having difficulty finding a good vet, please contact me. I work with many vets and I can often recommend someone near you that you will be happy with.