Each veterinary visit should include routine screening questions for any behavioral complaints and whether there has been a change in behavior from previous visits. In addition to enabling the veterinarian to assess the health and welfare of the pet, this initiates a dialog with clients about behavior and lets them know that behavior is central to good veterinary care. Recording responses to behavior questions at each visit allows a baseline to be established for future comparison.
The use of a basic behavior screening questionnaire offers a simple means of collecting information. Questionnaires should be standardized so that no topic is left uncovered and so that data can be compared from visit to visit. When used continually from the pet's first visit, these tools allow for early detection and intervention. Addressing behavioral concerns early provides the best chance of managing the problem. If problems are identified during the visit, the veterinarian can determine if the signs (eg, barking, growling, lunging, etc) meet specified diagnostic criteria (eg, fear aggression, protective aggression, etc).
Behavioral services can be offered using an integrated team approach. Staff can help with behavioral screening (questionnaires) and provide pet selection advice and preventive guidance for new pet owners. Veterinarians or staff with sufficient skills and training can offer classes to help pet owners socialize and train their pets and educate them on how to prevent and manage undesirable behaviors. A good set of resource materials and links to web sites that provide appropriate and sound behavioral guidance can supplement the advice provided.
A veterinary behavioral technician can oversee the preventive counseling and training services offered by a veterinary hospital. They can also play an integral role during behavioral consultations by taking the history, demonstrating behavior modification techniques and products, and conducting case followup and ongoing support. Information sources for veterinarians, technicians, and staff interested in veterinary behavior are listed in see Behavioral Medicine Introduction: Behavior Resources for Veterinarians and Technicians.
Veterinarians also have a vested interest in how clients train their pets. Trainers should have a sound background on species-typical behaviors, as well as how behaviors can be shaped and modified through the principles of learning that apply to all species. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), the American Humane Association, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior have published guidelines for appropriate and humane training and behavior modification. The APDT offers certification from the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (ccpdt.org). Having an active discussion about training with each dog owner can help the owner to understand the principles of learning and how to differentiate those trainers who use undesirable techniques from those who use modern, humane, reward-based techniques.
Last full review/revision March 2012 by Gary Landsberg, BSc, DVM, MRCVS, DACVB, DECVBM-CA