Unless your veterinary hospital is laser-focused on behavior issues, youre leaving problems unfixed and client questions unanswered. Your technicians can help.
Sherrie Yuschak, RVT, VTS-Behavior, KPACTP, CPDT, remembers when it happened, a “stir within her soul” that inspired her to focus on behavior and eventually become a behavior technician at North Carolina State University's veterinary hospital.
“Shortly after graduating, I heard a behavior lecturer state how more pets die in the United States from behavior problems than almost anything else,” Yuschak says. “I recalled my formal education as a technician and realized I was ill prepared to truly help patients. And I felt disappointed with the lack of behavior emphasis within veterinary medicine.”
She became the change she wanted to see in the world. Yuschak is now a member of the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians, a graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy training program and a certified professional dog trainer. We asked her to explain to practice owners and managers what she and other behavior-focused technicians do and how it can fit into any veterinary practice.
What can technicians bring to the table in behavior cases?
In general practice, the technician can be the manager for a behavior case in a number of ways:
> Discusses issue with client and gathers initial history
> Schedules behavior consultation with veterinarian
> Communicates a low-stress plan for the pet's visit
> Provides safety recommendations for the client's home and support until the consultation appointment.
> Helps create a low-stress experience for patient
> Collects laboratory specimens requested by veterinarian
> Discusses with veterinarian patient's observed behavior.
> Communicates the treatment plan with client
> Reviews medication or product instructions with client
> Guides client through initial behavior modification and management techniques.
> Provides follow-up support via email or phone to help enable success
> Prescribes behavior modification sessions with technician and/or practice-approved trainer.
Getting started with behavior consultations
Want to start building a behavior program in your practice? Use these resources to get a jump start on helping your clients and patients work on their behavior issues.
How do your technician-only appointments with behavior cases work?
The appointment focuses on specific behaviors prescribed by the veterinarian and those determined by me (after working with the patient and client). I demonstrate training steps, coach the client through the steps with the pet, and provide a plan for at-home learning-including goals for the next session.
I've found that shorter, focused sessions are best for stressed patients. I‘ve done 20-minute sessions, which include my taking brief, written notes and outlining steps. Most clients choose a package of three sessions (at a small discount for the package) as most clients and patients need multiple visits to change behavior.
An example of a prescribed treatment would be desensitization and counter-conditioning for a dog diagnosed with fear aggression toward unfamiliar people to learn to calmly accept a new person in the home. Sometimes when problems aren't pathological-like puppy play biting-the technician can create and execute a plan without a veterinary diagnosis.
How do you charge for behavior technician appointments?
I suggest basing it on the technician's hourly rate and hospital overhead per hour. Include the cost of any additional supplies or products.
What training do these technicians need?
It depends on the level of care they'll provide. I believe even technicians with minimal knowledge can help improve behavioral care in the practice. They just need commitment and a science-based approach when choosing behavior information. I recommend:
> Studying from, and becoming a member of, the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians
> Attending behavior CE
> Reading science-based behavior books, such as the recent textbook Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014)
> Shadowing a local reputable trainer
> Helping to create a culture of compassionate, low-stress care for every patient
What about basic training courses and puppy/kitten socialization classes?
Technicians can teach puppy and kitten socialization classes, basic manners training classes, health and husbandry skills classes and more. It depends on the facility and the technician's knowledge. Puppy and kitten classes sound simple, but the fact that the pets are at critical developmental stages, an instructor must be highly competent with behavior problem prevention, body language, learning theory, normal and abnormal behavior, physical and mental development, classroom management and client communication. One online course I can recommend is the Puppy Start Right Instructors Course.
How do you charge for basic training and socialization classes?
Again, I'd base it on the technician's hourly rate, including hospital overhead for the time involved. Include the time it takes to develop lessons, homework and advertising materials; to set up and clean the classroom; and to cover supplies. In large classes, a veterinary assistant might be necessary.
But I argue that the return on investment is not in the profit per class or per client, but rather the overall improved behavioral health of the practice's patients. Puppy and kitten class participants learn how to be calm during normal veterinary procedures, including physical exams, restraint, medicating, etc. Compliant patients decrease exam and treatment time, minimize staff injuries and improve morale. Well-socialized pets are also less likely to have behavior problems and become a patient-loss statistic. Clients bond with the instructor and the practice during class participation and become even more committed to the practice.