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 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.


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.


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


Helpful Hints for Your Dog’s Dry Skin


Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Happiness is having a scratch for every itch – Ogden Nash

You know those Head & Shoulders commercials where the dashing man in the black suit has to brush the dandruff off his shoulders?

Or the girl, who’s at a fancy restaurant dinner, is suddenly pretending that she dropped her napkin so that she can scratch her scalp on the corner of the table?

Well, if there was one for dogs, mine would be the star. Porter, as you know, is all black. And his skin is very sensitive. So sensitive, that when we first got him we had to condition his skin to get used to wearing a collar. His neck would be rubbed raw just from simply having it on for more than a few hours.

So, when the winter hits, all bets are off. He doesn’t end up looking like a black dog, because now he has patches of dusty white where his skin is too dry. He gets itchy and uncomfortable.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

This isn’t anything new to us. Most of us have a hard time with dry skin in the winter. It itches, it hurts, it cracks and it’s zero fun.

So here are a few tips on how to help your pup’s skin this winter if you’re facing the issue of dry skin:

Good Quality Shampoo

If your dog goes to the dog park or decides he needs to roll around in the mud (we’re hoping that it’s mud …we’re going to go with that it was just mud) you may feel the need to give him a bath after his lovely adventures. If you do, make sure you’re using a good quality dog shampoo. Check to see if it will help moisturize the skin. If you’re not into spending a lot of money on dog shampoo, Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo works well too and won’t dry out the skin too much.

Grab a Humidifier

So, we’re going to pretend this is for your dog, but really it’s for both of you. You can find reasonably priced humidifiers online. We have ours set up in the bedroom where Porter sleeps with us at night. This helps put some moisture back into the air and will help your skin out along with your dog’s. 2 for 1 deal!

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Olive Oil

You can give your dog some Olive Oil with his food 2 to 3 times a week. Start with about a ¼ of a teaspoon at first to slowly introduce your dog to this new additive. You can slowly increase it and if you have a large dog you can get up to 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil. Don’t start out with a lot first. Go slowly and then gradually increase it. When you can start to see the difference, then just stick with that amount.

Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil has the same premise as Olive Oil, but it has some added benefits. It helps with digestion and it could help prevent diseases down the line. Most importantly though, if you ask Porter, the best benefit is that it tastes amazing. When first giving Coconut Oil to your dog, start with a very small amount with their food. I started with less than ¼ of a tspn for Porter. I slowly worked my way up to ¼ tspn and now we’re at about 1 tspn. Which for him is plenty.

Again, start off slow so that you can make sure their stomach is okay with the new additive. Every dog is different. If there seems to be an issue, then stop using either of the Oils.

You can add this to their food 2 to 3 times a week just like the Olive Oil. Now, a disclaimer for all of you who haven’t tried Coconut Oil yet: It’s a solid. You can add it to your dog’s food as a solid if you’d like or melt it down to a liquid.

You can also use the Coconut Oil on your dry skin too. Just rub it in! Another 2 for 1 deal!


Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

If you’re using enrichment feeders during meal time for your dog, first of all you’re awesome, secondly you can either drizzle the Oil over the food before it goes into your enrichment feeder of choice, or you can pull a small amount of food out of the enrichment feeder and let them eat that on their own with the new additive. The rest of the food would be in the enrichment feeder. You could even be an awesome owner and let them eat the small batch of food with the Oil on it as a little treat or snack.

If you have any more tips or helpful hints please feel free to share! These are just some of the things I have taken advantage of to help out Porter. If your dog’s skin is extremely dry and they seem to be in any discomfort then it’s time for a vet visit. Use your best judgement!

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH