OK people, in the first place, it's not "vetinarian", it's not "veternarian". It's vet-er-in-ar-ian. Yes, 6 syllables. Actually it pretty much rolls off the tongue when said correctly. And if you've been mispronouncing it, don't worry. I've worked for vets who called themselves both of the above! Now that you know how to say the word, what makes a really good vet?
I've taken my pets to a lot of veterinarians over the years. Some were fabulous. It was as if they had a sixth sense that allowed them to zoom right in on whatever the problem was. Many were good, in a pedestrian sort of way. They got through their days diagnosing and treating, didn't make many mistakes, but they lacked that spark that separates the true stars from the rest of the bunch. Some were bad, a few, luckily a very few, were just plain incompetent.
Many people are surprised to learn that most vets aren't "dog people" (those that show, train, and sometimes live with large numbers of dogs. Those that "get" what makes a dog a dog and realize they aren't little people in fur coats). Most grew up with family pets, liked them, and decided to go into veterinary medicine. Some don't even have pets. Some like cats; dogs, not so much. Last summer, I had a client with a new rescue dog who had started obsessively eating grass. I felt it was behavioral, but before we started a modification program, I wanted to make sure there wasn't a physical reason that needed to be addressed. So, off they went to their neighborhood vet, a cat person with modest experience in practicing veterinary medicine. His solution? Anti-anxiety drugs. The reason? He doesn't really know much about dog behavior, and that was the only solution he had. Does that make him a bad or incompetent vet? Not necessarily. Just an inexperienced one. One you might not want to ask questions of regarding dog behavior because he's not really going to know the answer, he's going to punt, and that's not acceptable.
So when it comes to picking your vet and mining them for information regarding dog behavior, I can give you a few pointers:
- It's a personal choice, but I tend to steer clear of vet clinics that are part of a chain. They generally charge more, have less control over how they price things, and may even have their nursing staff on commission. That's why you get the hard sell on products you may not really want.
- Make sure you and your vet are on the same page - if you feed a raw diet, find a vet who supports it, if your dog suffers from a particular medical condition, ask your vet about her experience with this type of disease. Find a vet whom you get along with. You shouldn't feel intimidated
- , pressured, or as if you're imposing on the vet's time. On the other hand, veterinary clinics schedule a certain amount of time for each dog, usually 15 to 30 minutes. A good clinic does everything it can to remain on schedule and not keep you and your dog waiting. An occasional wait is no big deal. Emergencies show up, a minor problem becomes major, but if my clinic routinely kept me waiting well beyond my scheduled appointment, I'd be looking for a different vet.
- Let's say your dog has suddenly begun chewing, urinating in the house, or exhibiting some other odd behavior. The first step, of course, is a trip to the vet to determine that it's not a medical issue. Then what do you do? That depends. If your vet is an experienced dog hand, has lots of dogs, has trained them, really knows dog behavior, you might ask how she would handle it. If not, ask for the name of a trainer. Most dog trainers are not veterinarians. Most veterinarians are not dog trainers. You don't ask a plumber to rewire your bathroom. Don't ask a vet to train your dog. Becoming a competent dog trainer requires years of experience. Unless you find a veterinary behaviorist drugs are the very last option.
- That's really all it takes, although it can be incredibly difficult to find just the right vet for you. Don't be afraid to stop by a clinic and talk to the receptionist to get a feel for what the clinic experience will be like. Don't be swayed by a vet who is charming yet talks over your head in technical terms to hide a lack of experience. Don't worry about finding a new vet if you just don't mesh with the one you're currently using. People switch vets all the time, your current vet won't take offense!
I hope this helps you in your quest for finding the very best care for your dog. I would love to hear about your experiences or help you with individual behavior problems, just drop me an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org