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January Is National Train Your Dog Month

Did you know? Less than 5% of all pet dogs are intentionally trained

Consider your canine patient population. In particular, ask your front desk team about their observations of dog leash manners. Then ask them to select a number from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) to describe their level of agreement with the subtitle.

Between 30 to 60% of dog owners do not walk their dogs because the dogs pull on leash (1). Dogs pulling on leash are the most common behaviour problem reported to veterinarians (2). Beyond a dog behaviour problem, dogs pulling on leash compromise human health.

From 2001 to 2020, an estimated 422,659 individuals presented to emergency departments across the United States from injuries related to leash-dependent dog walking (3). Within the same time frame, 1 in 5 injuries treated at USA emergency departments involved a dog pulling on leash (4). Nearly 90% of the injuries happened to individuals aged 18 and older. A common injury reported was traumatic brain injury (TBI) from falling as a result of a dog pulling on the leash (3). Canadian data will likely be comparable–maybe even more so given that we have universal health care.

What does that mean for your clients and patients?

Let’s assume some of your clients or their immediate family members have been injured from a family pet pulling on its leash. This means your practice can expect to be contacted by clients asking for referrals to pet dog trainers.

After experiencing a fall from walking a pet dog, clients may immediately turn to quick-fix methods for changing the dog’s behaviour. Unfortunately, many quick-fix methods involve using positive punishment which simply suppresses the leash pulling rather than teach the dog how to walk politely on a loose leash . Additionally, positive punishment used in the name of training often results in negative impacts on the human-animal bond and compromises dog welfare (Hiby, 2023)

Prioritising Patient Welfare

Note that dog training remains an unregulated profession globally. However, this is not common knowledge to the general public. This presents a wonderful chance for your team, where client education can be provided regarding positive reinforcement pet dog training methods. Ideally, one team member will have expertise speaking about positive reinforcement pet dog training and even demonstrating some of the mechanics involved for teaching a pet dog to walk on a loose leash, offering a short coaching session to the client. This may occur as part of the patient’s appointment, or scheduled as a separate visit specifically addressing common behaviour challenges. In addition to the leash-pulling, complaints from pet dog owners include dogs running away or foreign body ingestion. If you have a team member who happens to be an accredited pet dog training instructor holding membership with the following associations (Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Pet Professionals Guild), wonderful!

Game Plan

Considering some of the physical injuries on humans, some immediate strategies your practice can offer would be equipment:

-harnesses[1]

-head halters[2]

Please let your client know these tools simply manage the dog’s behaviour, so training still needs to occur. Additionally, the relationship still needs to be repaired–which is where positive reinforcement methods can help, because quick successes will keep the client engaged with educating their pet going forward.

Sources cited:

  1. Cutt, H., Giles-Corti, B., & Knuiman, M. (2008). Encouraging physical activity through dog walking: why don’t some owners walk with their dog?. Preventive Medicine, 46(2), 120–126.
  2. Townsend, L., Dixon, L., & Buckley, L. (2022). Lead pulling as a welfare concern in pet dogs: What can veterinary professionals learn from current research?. Veterinary record, 191(10)
  3. Maxson, R., Leland, C. R., McFarland, E. G., Lu, J., Meshram, P., & Jones, V. C. (2023). Epidemiology of Dog Walking-Related Injuries Among Adults Presenting to US Emergency Departments, 2001–2020. Medicine and science in sports and exercise.
  4. Forrester M. B. (2020). Dog leash-related injuries treated at emergency departments. The American journal of emergency medicine, 38(9), 1782–1786. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajem.2020.05.082
  5. Hiby, E., Rooney, N., & Bradshaw, J. (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare, 13(1), 63–69. doi:10.1017/S0962728600026683
  6. Todd, Z. (2018). Barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 25, 28-34.
  7. Knights, H., & Williams, J. (2021). The influence of three working harnesses on thoracic limb kinematics and stride length at walk in assistance dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 45, 16-24.
  8. Blake, S., Williams, R., & Ferro de Godoy, R. (2019). A systematic review of the biomechanical effects of harness and head-collar use in dogs. bioRxiv, 759258.

[1] Not all harnesses are made equal, and fit is very particular for each dog’s body type. Measurements to gather from the dog are neck and chest width. Harnesses should permit non-restrictive movement to a dog’s forelimbs (7)

[2] Head halters may not be appropriate for all breeds. Consider your patient’s breed before recommending this for leash-pulling (8)

Using The Power of Permissions For Successful Pet Dog Training

Many of us have dogs that are simply stealing things they want

I’m sure most of us are familiar with this conditional probability statement:

if x, then y.

In other words: given some event x occurs, y event will follow.

Come again?

Is this about math, Nanette?

Well, there won’t be number crunching.

But that is how I use permissions to successfully teach pet dogs pretty much anything.

A few weeks ago, these two dogs stayed over at my place as boarders while their family was away.

They are both on my bed, which they earned from doing incredibly simple tasks: I simply wanted them to touch their noses to my palm.

I held my flat hand open and waited for their choice to drive their nose into my hand. When they did, then I gave them permission to hop onto my bed.

That was it.

I didn’t verbally cue them, to avoid them ignore the cue or risk myself repeating the word.

I simply held my hand flat. I set each dog up for success by having my hand about 6 inches away from their noses, so that there was just one option for them to succeed. Had either dog displayed body language indicating discomfort with my flat hand being close to their faces, I would have increased the distance from my hand or reinforced their comfort by using super high value rewards applicable to each dog. I relied a lot on my prior observations about what each dog valued, from food to toys to interactions with me.

Fortunately, both dogs quickly grasped the conditional: if this person holds her palm flat, then we poke our nose into her palm, and then we can go onto the bed.

No bribes with food or punishment or even verbal intimidation.

Just clarity.

I do that often with many of my pet sitting charges.

Similarly, my personal dogs are educated the same way.

Before I open my front door to let my dogs go outside, they learn that the choice they make in front of the door is the Open Sesame.                  

In particular, the dog’s choice of offering a stationary position (a sit, down, or stand) initiates the door opening. For the door to open, the position must be held. Once the dog holds the position, they may then receive permission to cross the threshold of the open door, which is the release cue (word).

Photo credit: author

In my humble opinion, dogs’ behaviour reflects their trainer’s familiarity with reinforcement. Certainly, there are dogs that have been educated using verbal intimidation and physical punishment. Those dogs have learned to be afraid. In psychology, the resulting behaviours indicate learned helplessness, where a dog learns nothing but to give up because of repeated punishment (Maier & Seligman, 1976).

Research and social change demonstrate increasing awareness of dog emotions and welfare (Todd, 2018; China et al., 2020). Given the veterinary industry having so much influence on companion animal welfare, I hope this field continues driving the change towards regulating the dog training industry.

Sources cited

China, L., Mills, D. S., & Cooper, J. J. (2020). Efficacy of Dog Training With and Without Remote Electronic Collars vs. a Focus on Positive Reinforcement. Frontiers in veterinary science7, 508. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.00508

Maier, S. F., & Seligman, M. E. (1976). Learned helplessness: theory and evidence. Journal of experimental psychology: general105(1), 3.

Todd, Z. (2018). Barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 25, 28-34.

5 Reasons to Attend Veterinary Conferences – Especially if They are in Your Own Backyard

If you are anything like me, I am inundated with offers to attend veterinary conferences across the globe. And all of them seem to offer some great and interesting features and benefits for sure. But they are literally across the globe.  Why not consider something a little closer to home?

Conferences are an essential part of the veterinary profession, but with staff shortages, escalating prices, and a very busy schedule, it’s no wonder that many of you put off attending any conferences.  This, however, should not deter you, there are countless great reasons to attend a conference! Here are just 5 ways conferences can change your life. I’ve been doing a bit of a dive into the various benefits of conferences that I could share with the VET community and found some interesting benefits from ConferenceMonkey.org.  I’d like to paraphrase a few of these with you.   

Get to know, personally, the other people in your field.

Networking is very important for job hunting, obviously, but having a big network, benefits you in other ways too. Maybe you will need advice from an expert in another field, or you will want to ask a veterinary supplier about new technologies and industry updates. This is easier when you have a network to reach out to. It’s also helpful to have support from people who are at a similar stage in their careers to you and can empathize with the problems and struggles which you go through at work.

Hear about the latest research

If you want to know about the very latest findings in your field before they are even published in journals, then a conference is the place to be. Many researchers will present preliminary findings at a conference, or work which has not yet been published. These ideas can be great inspiration for your own quest for knowledge.

Visit a new place and have fun

Finally, it shouldn’t be overlooked that attending a conference is good fun! Although a conference is unequivocally a work event more than a leisure one, it can still be enjoyable. Travelling to a new place is a big part of the appeal of a conference, meaning that you get to see a different city, eat new food, and see some local landmarks or tourist attractions. You might even try out learning a little bit of a new language.

You’ll also have the chance to attend social functions as part of a conference, such as dinners, trips, or parties. With the opportunity to meet other veterinary professionals with similar interests to you, you can enjoy the company of others and you might even make some good friends.

Quality CE

Sure, you can jump on a webinar and listen to a lecture online, but it doesn’t have the same effect as a live, energetic, and passionate lecture. Make your notes, ask your questions, and hear what others are asking as well.

Trade Show floor

This is a time where you can explore the latest and greatest, the newest solutions and techniques and perhaps even negotiate better prices with existing suppliers.  This is a great time to re-evaluate inventory and equipment in your clinic. Research potential new equipment purchases, explore your options in finance, leasing or buying? Look into succession planning and look for potential new employees. 

As a Canadian veterinary professional, attending the Veterinary Education Today conference & medical exposition promises to meet these expectations and more. With 36 hours of RACE-approved CE, you can be sure that we have carefully curated the program and selected the best of the best speakers.

Join us at our networking reception, sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim. It promises to be an excellent way to meet and greet old acquaintances and new friends.

Advantage of your own backyard

Yes, whether you’re in Toronto or across Canada, the VET Conference is completely accessible. Minutes from Pearson International Airport, GO Transit, Major highways and free parking, makes VET an inexpensive, quality and fun event.

We hope to see you there!  For details on the VET conference please refer to www.VeterinaryEducationToday.ca/Toronto 

2023 Practice Management Wish List

What would make managing a veterinary practice in 2023 easier than it was 2022? Between running my own practices and helping others with theirs this has been a question I have been asking myself constantly. I guess what I am looking for is a 2023 veterinary practice management wish list.

The first is have less people get sick. Recent weeks have been brutal staffing practices with so many people off sick, getting sick again or staying home caring for sick family members. Covid keeps reminding us it isn’t gone yet and all the other viruses we kept at bay by wearing masks and keeping our distance are wanting some attention too.

Less inflation with lower interest rates would be my next wish. I’m not so worried about the impact of them on the day-to-day operations of our practices, but it is really affecting those that work with us, especially in urban areas where the cost of housing makes renting or recent mortgages so expensive. The strain on our staff is worrying when the price of a head of lettuce makes having a simple salad an extravagant treat.

Finally, I wish that some clients would remember their manners and what it takes to be par of a civil society. It is so upsetting that after all the messaging about the high veterinary suicide rate and vets and support staff leaving the profession some people still act like ogres. I’m tired of firing clients to protect my staff, but I’m glad our practices act to protect our staff at the expense of a little extra revenue. Staff comes first.

Some of the above we can’t control, so the best we can do is support our staff. Pay them as well as we can, don’t expect them to work when sick and not tolerating nasty clients can go a long way in taking the edge off of some of the larger challenges we face.

Here is to great health and happiness in 2023.

Staffing Up in 2023

2022 has been called the year of The Shrinking Veterinary Practice. I don’t know one practice owner who hasn’t complained about losing a veterinarian or key support staff this year.

When we meet at veterinary conferences or meetings, we lament that we cannot attract new staff while wishing more of our veterinary colleges would quickly increase enrollment.

Rarely, do we step back and accept that while we have a problem attracting people to the veterinary profession, our bigger challenge is that we have a retention problem.

If we didn’t lose people, we wouldn’t need to replace them. Consider it a somewhat preventable disease.

So how do we prevent people leaving our practices?

The answer is simple, the challenge is getting there.

We need to create a business culture that encourages high employee engagement and develops emotional commitment. Employees with these traits go the extra mile and take ownership.  They are no longer a number and feel the success of the practice is their own.

How do we do this? Develop internal customer service.  Our employees become our first customer.  We bend over backwards to take care of our pet owner clients, and our employees should be given the same consideration.

Just like we have loyal clients that return year by year and tell their friends and family about our amazing veterinary practice that takes such great care of them and their pets, we should try to cultivate the same goodwill with our staff.

Loyal clients visit often and brag about the amazing service they receive from your practice.  We should try to cultivate the same goodwill with our staff. Employees come first. Without them we don’t have a business. Without them we can’t take care of our clients and their pets.

If your staff are happy and engaged, they will go the extra mile.  This sense of ownership develops loyalty, and it will take a lot for them to think of leaving.