Ask this question when you see clients using harmful training techniques

FirstlineFirstline September/October 2020
Volume 16
Issue 5

Bad pet training advice abounds, and when you see it being implemented by your clients it can be tricky to know what to do. According to veterinary behaviorist Dr. E’Lise Christensen, the key is to start with a question, not correction.

Jenny Sturm /

Clients with behavior headaches or queries are unlikely to wait until their pet’s next veterinary appointment for guidance. From television to Google to social media, pet owners can get near-instant answers from a wide range of easily accessible “experts.” But according to E’Lise Christensen, DVM, DACVB, a lot of this advice is presented as one-size-fits-all (which it most certainly isn’t), and much of it can be inappropriate and even dangerous for both the pet and the owner. Making matters worse, your opportunities to witness these training tips in action are sorely limited. And even if you were to see them firsthand, what could you say without upsetting the client?

If the thought of addressing a client’s bad training techniques leaves you at a loss for words, Dr. Christensen invites you to borrow a friendly question she’s devised. Instead of asking clients why they’re using a this or that technique and where they learned it, she simply asks them if they’re having fun training their pet. Because according to Dr. Christensen, training should be fun—for the pet and the family.

Approaching the topic like this is far less likely to get your clients’ hackles up and can open the door to conversation and education, so don’t let a fear of pushback keep you silent. In fact, Dr. Christensen has found that many clients respond with relief that they don’t have to continue using upsetting or scary training techniques they felt forced or guilted into following.

Thus, what seems like a losing situation can end up a win-win-win for the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. And maybe—just maybe—you’ll have trained your client to see you as the go-to source for advice about their pet’s behavior.

Editor’s note: This article is based on a video featuring E’Lise Christensen, DVM, DACVB. Watch it here!

Sarah Mouton Dowdy, a former associate content specialist for, is a freelance writer and editor in Kansas City, Missouri.

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