First Do No Harm – How to Choose a Vet

“The physician must … have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm” - Hippocratic Corpus

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Clients frequently ask me for advice with regard to their dog’s health, and I will answer them honestly (the biggest of which is that yes, your dog is overweight.  Now do something about it.) However, I have a very limited knowledge base of most things having to do with a dog’s physical health.  It’s not my area, and there are plenty of well-qualified individuals who can answer questions beyond “How do I clip my dog’s nails?”.  That’s where your vet comes in.

Choosing a Vet

Choosing a doctor or vet can be a very difficult thing.  It’s almost as dramatic an undertaking as choosing a pediatrician.  You are placing the health and welfare of your dog/child in the hands of someone else, essentially asking them to Pilot your dog’s/child’s health.  It can be scary handing over control.  So take your time when choosing your dog’s doctor.

Sometimes it can take ten tries before your get the perfect doctor.

Sometimes it can take ten tries before you get the perfect doctor.

Use your resources and referrals.  Do you like your dog’s groomer?  Ask who they recommend for a vet.  Did you adopt your dog?  Ask the shelter who they like to use. Don’t forget to ask your friends, or even post on Facebook to get some recommendations.  You may notice a trend of vets whose names frequently pop up, either good or bad.  Choose wisely.

Just kidding...you can change

Just kidding…you can always change vets if you need to

So you’ve got a recommendation, and you’ve made your first appointment.  Think of it as a first date.

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Things to look for:

  • Clean offices.  No, I don’t expect the floors to be spic and span, but if there is anything other than dog/cat hair on the floor (is that dried blood?!) step away from the reception desk.  Keep stepping.  Right out the door.
  • Friendly staff.  If reception makes you feel like a jerk for just checking in for your appointment, then how do you think you’re going to feel when you call them later asking a “dumb” question about your dog’s symptoms?  Yes, they may be very, very busy, and you may have to wait to have your question answered, but you should never be made to feel stupid for caring about your dog’s health.  Expect respect, for both you and your dog.
The staff here is a joke

The staff here is a joke

  • Easy set-up.  For those of you with dog-reactive dogs, you know what I mean.  It can be difficult working with your dog’s reactivity while out on a walk and another dog is across the street.  It can be very difficult in a crowded waiting room.  If the waiting room is over-crowded, approach the staff and ask if there is another option (waiting outside, or even better, a small room where you can wait).
  • Good communication.  Ask your vet a question, you should get an answer.  Note I did not state you should get the answer you are looking for. However, you should not feel shamed or stupid for asking questions.  You and your vet are a team both working together to keep your pet happy and healthy.  So if you don’t understand a procedure, or a medication, or symptoms, ask your vet.  They should give you an answer in terms you can understand.
  • Good “dog-side” manner.  Yes, your dog is scared, and perhaps you are, too.  Your dog might not like the vet at first.  Allow for some time to get a good relationship between your dog and your vet.  Watch your vet: do they seem comfortable working with your dog?  Do they take safety precautions when necessary (such as a muzzle or another person to assist)?  Those are good signs.
  • And sometimes “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer.    If your vet knows everything, know that they don’t.  It’s okay for them to say they aren’t sure, or don’t feel qualified to make a diagnosis.  Remember, first do no harm!  Knowing your limits (even as a vet) is a good thing.

And makes for wonderful BBC mock-umentaries.

Finally, be aware that any vet can be subjected to biased reviews, undeserved slander, and malicious attacks.   The very nature of their practice unfortunately includes taking animals to the Rainbow Bridge.  Understand the difference between a poor practice and poor circumstances.

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Damnit Jim, he’s a doctor, not a time traveller!

Choosing a vet is a very personal thing. You are asking someone else to care for the health and well-being of a very important part of your life:  your pets.  It’s okay to take a pass on a vet just because you got a “strange vibe”.  Listen to your gut, don’t be afraid to speak up if you have questions, and trust your instincts.  Your pet will thank you with a long, happy, healthy life.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Worst Four Words and How They’re Impeding You and Your Dog

“The meaning behind the words, the feeling is more significant than the words themselves, so listen.” Anonymous

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I use a lot of strange lingo here in my blog posts.  Words you might not think belong with a dog training site.

Piloting: The act of answering your dog’s questions; guiding their voyage through life.

Rapunzel Syndrome: A dog who hasn’t been acclimated to a set of stimuli; for example,  a puppy mill dog who is finally get out of a cage for the first time, or simply a dog who isn’t walked very much and hardly leaves their own back yard. Overwhelmed, terrified, excited, terrified, excited….

Yo Bitch:  A certain unsavory behavior some dogs give.  Read about it here.

Paris Paw: As in, Paris Hilton’s dog.  The most frightened dog in the world.  Always has his paw up by his chest, denoting his level of terror and uncertainty.  We humans do it when we aren’t sure or aren’t wearing our Piloting uniform.

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There are a few words you will never hear me utter, because they have absolutely no place in dog training.

Dominant/Alpha Male

I see on tv all the time, or hear from people, “You just need to show him who is alpha male of the pack”.  Probably some of the dumbest words I’ve ever heard uttered.

David Mech coined the term over 50 years ago when describing behavior of captive animals. In his book published in 1970,  “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” he describes how fights among the wolves determined who would control the pack, thus making them Alpha Male.

In 1999, Mech published a paper recanting his original term, and describing it as incorrect.  Based upon more evidence, he realized that the proper term should be “breeding pairs”, if anything, and that his original observations were based upon wolves kept in unnatural circumstances.

So the gentleman who coined the phrase no longer uses it, and claims its an obsolete notion; why are you still using it?  There is no concept of “alpha” in your dog.  Same goes for “dominating” a dog so they “know their place”.  Their place is asking questions, of you or of themselves, and you Pilot them by answering their questions.  “Can I bark?” No. “Can we play fetch?” No, not right now.  “May I please have a treat?” Yes you may.  At no point is domination needed.  The more you answer their questions, the more questions you look for them to answer.

Think of it like a contractor.  I recently discovered water dripping from my ceiling in my kitchen (!).  Obviously, I knew I needed to ask someone about that.  So I called the gentleman who had laid the tile on our entire first floor of our house last year. He also did a lot of other work for us through his contracting company.  Could he handle this issue?  I don’t know, but the fact that previously he had answered questions and handled other situations for us made us want to speak with him again regarding this.  And yes, he is able to handle the situation.

So you don’t ever show your dog that you’re alpha/dominant.  You prove to them that you can Pilot them. You have to earn that ability, just like anything else.  Read how here.

Bad Dog

Good grief.  By whom’s standards are you judging your dog?  Because your dog is not bad.  They’re a great dog!  They just reallllllly suck at being human.  See, it’s right there in our tagline, at the top of this page. So rather than trying to train them and declare what behaviors make them “bad dogs”, let’s work on communication.  Helping them live in this alien world we call suburbia.  Pilot, don’t berate.

You’re Doing it Wrong/You’re a Bad Owner

Oh my…didn’t we just address this?  Yes, you agreed that your dog isn’t a bad dog, but rather a mess of a human.  You’ve shown them sooooo much patience for their lack of humanity, and are working towards communication with your dog. 

And then you go and lay an egg like that.

My dear, you aren’t a bad owner.  You aren’t doing it wrong.  You are a perfectly wonderful human….who really sucks at being a dog. You’ve cut your dog some slack for not being human, now how about a little patience for yourself as well.  Your dog has already moved past any faux pas paws you may have made.  Now forget what has been going on in the past; as long as you were acting through love and concern for your pet, I already forgive you for not being a good dog ;).  And get frustrated.  You have my encouragement.  Just do it appropriately.  Read here about How Not To Kill Your Dog Through Frustration, Even Though He Chewed A Hole in your Sofa, a guide to surviving your bad dog.

Punish

Right along with the last two terms I hate, “punish” has no place in working with dogs.  No matter what your dog did, they acted as a dog.  They don’t need punishment; they need answers.

To help understand this, you need to understand that dogs live in the here and now.  (I’m envious, actually).  They have no concept of always, never, nor forever.  It’s literally “yes” and “no”.  Meaning Fido can ask me if he can jump on me.  I give him a negative.  He accepts that negative.  Whose fault was that?  Nobody’s, right?  It’s just a question, and I answered it for him.  What happens if he jumps on me again, though? Then whose fault is it?

Nobody’s. (I set you up for that one.)

It’s a brand new question.  Each and every time.  Remember, dogs don’t understand always, never, forever…they understand “yes” and “no” in response to their questions.  Does that make them stupid?  No, it makes them perfect and guileless.  However, dogs are extremely intelligent (yes, even yours).  And what they do understand (after a bit of repetition) is that the same question will yield the same answer.  So for instance, it took my Sparta about 6 times of answering her question, “Can I hang out in your walk-in closet?” (she’s weird), but now she anticipates that the answer will be “no”, and she rarely, if ever, has asked that question since.  It took only a few times of me answering my Orion’s question, “Can I go on the couch?” before he realized that I’ve been saying “yes” every time, and now doesn’t ask permission anymore. However, when he asks about my bed, the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no, so he knows he has to ask every time, and not just jump up there.

So you can teach your dog a rough translation of always, never and sometimes by answering their questions.  Just keep your eye on the ball and answer the important questions.

Learn how to answer their questions while maintaining your sanity here.

That handles all of the words that I abhor.  The ones that should be stricken from the dog-dictionary, if you will.  The way to start communicating and working with your dog is to start by jettisoning those words from your vocabulary.

I’m sorry… I have no idea how that got there!!!!!!!

Movingrightalong…..let’s talk about  an iffy word. A word that I don’t hate, but I don’t love.

Training

This is a weird one, isn’t it?  Wondering if you’ve stumbled on the wrong site?  This is dog training after all, right?

Well….yes and no.  “Training” is a word that is over used. Let’s go over the mantra again, and perhaps you’ll see where the problem is.

“Your dog sucks at being human.  And you aren’t the best dog.”

So what exactly are you “training” your dog to do?  Let me put it this way: do you “train” your kids?

Um, hopefully not.

What do you do with children, though?  You answer their questions. Big, little, easy, difficult… you answer them to the best of your ability.  Just today, these were the questions I answered from my kids:

Mom, can I have a Klondike bar?

Mom, what time is it?

Mom, can I play on my 3DS?

Mom, why did Aunt Donna get cancer?

 

Yes

3:30

No

holyshithowdoIanswerthat?

Just like with kids, you do the best you can.  The more you answer their questions, the more they look to you for answers, and the more they start to trust your answers as solid, even if they don’t like your answers.

So you aren’t really training your dog any more than you are training your kids.  You are helping to Pilot them through life with big, little, and difficult answers.  The difference between kids and dogs, however, is that you will be Piloting your dogs for the rest of their lives.  Children we start to back off the answers as we encourage them to find their own answers so we can finally let them go as fully functioning adults.

And finally, let’s talk about words that I love.

Anything positive.  Seriously.  If you see a behavior your dog is giving, and you like it, give it a positive.  Catch as many as you can, be it through words, affection or an occasional treat.  I want you to be the positive-fairy, spreading positives where ever you go. Spread it like glitter.

There’s a saying about not saying something you will regret, but I think the reverse is true as well.  Make sure you say something you will regret not saying.  Because a day will come, and you won’t realize it, but it will be the last time you will ever tell your dog that you love them.  The last time you scratch them behind the ears.  Or the last time you say, “Good dog!”.  Catch up on the positives, and if you find yourself  crying at the other end of the rainbow bridge, when asked when you last gave your dog a positive, can you honestly say it was today? Or would you have to struggle to remember the last time you let your dog know how good and wonderful they are?  Because he lets you know each and every day. Every minute.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training Communicating in Cleveland