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Integrating Behavioral Services into Veterinary Practice


Each veterinary visit should include screening questions to determine whether there are any behavior concerns or any change in behavior from previous visits. In addition to enabling the veterinarian to assess the health and welfare of the pet, this initiates a dialogue 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.

A basic behavior screening questionnaire is a simple way to collect information. Questionnaires should be standardized so no topic is left uncovered and so 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 to manage the problem and prevent a minor issue from becoming more serious and deeply entrenched. If behavioral signs (eg, barking, growling, lunging, housesoiling) are identified during the visit, the veterinarian will need to determine whether there are underlying medical issues, whether the behaviors are normal and in context or abnormal and out of context, and whether they are manageable for the household, either to begin offering behavior guidance or, when indicated, to refer the client for further counseling.

Behavioral services should 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 client education about how to prevent and manage undesirable behaviors and classes to help pet owners socialize and train their pets.. A good set of resource materials and links to Web sites that provide appropriate and sound behavioral guidance can supplement the advice provided.

Veterinary behavioral technicians 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 Table: Behavior Resources for Veterinarians and TechniciansTables.

Table 1

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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. Trainers that have achieved certification can be found at and, and advocates of force-free dog training at However, even with a certified trainer, veterinarians should observe and talk with the trainer to ensure that the methodologies used are humane, effective, and appropriate for the individual owners and pets. 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 humane, reward-based techniques.

Last full review/revision May 2014 by Gary M. Landsberg, BSc, DVM, MRCVS, DACVB, DECAWBM

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