An Interview with Dr. Wayne L. Hunthausen


This practitioner, behavior consultant, lecturer, and author thinks television shows such as Dog Whisperer may give pet owners unrealistic expectations about the time and commitment needed for behavior modification.

Wayne L. Hunthausen, DVM, is the director of Animal Behavior Consultations in Westwood, Kan., the owner of Westwood Animal Hospital, and a Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. He has written numerous articles and book chapters and is the coauthor of Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat. In 2002, he received the Nestlé Purina PetCare Award from the American Animal Hospital Association.

What is the most exciting change you've seen in veterinary medicine?

Veterinarians have always been sensitive to the special relationship humans have with the animals we share our lives with. But in the past 20 years, I've seen the appreciation for the bond between people and pets deepen and broaden.

Dr. Hunthausen with his poodle, Bob, and his receptionist's Jack Russell terrier, Pip.

Who inspired you most in your career?

Dr. Ian Dunbar. Early in my career, he taught me that you can shape a pet's behavior using a nonphysical, common-sense approach and that the most important method for reducing the incidence of aggression and other serious behavior problems is teaching owners the correct way to raise puppies and kittens.

What was the best professional advice you ever received?

Work hard to be the best doctor you can be, but don't sacrifice quality time with those you love.

What would you advise a new graduate?

Keep your skills up-to-date with regular continuing education. Treat every case as if the family and pet want the best care possible—and deserve it. Polish your communication skills; the ability to communicate distinguishes great veterinarians from good ones. And don't keep how much you care about your patients to yourself. Tell the family; they will take great comfort in knowing.

What would you have liked to do if you hadn't entered veterinary medicine?

Photography. I've enjoyed photographing landscapes, pets, and animals in natural settings since the 1970s. [To view Dr. Hunthausen's photography, visit]

What book would you recommend?

For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend by Patricia McConnell. It's a fascinating exploration of the workings of the canine mind. McConnell is well-aware that the subject of emotions in animals is controversial, and she provides sufficient scientific information to support her points. I found it to be an enjoyable and engrossing book that celebrates the wonderful bond we have with our dogs.

What book are you reading now?

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell. It's a companion book to a PBS documentary broadcast in the 1980s of conversations between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers during which they explore comparative mythology and the ongoing role of myth in human society.

What favorite musicians would you include on your personal jukebox?

Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Walter Trout, B.B. King, Willie Dixon, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Band, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and a variety of classical and jazz pieces.

What do you think of the televised animal behavior programs such as Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel?

Dog Whisperer is an interesting show, but I'm concerned it may promote unrealistic family expectations—serious behavior problems typically take much more time and commitment than the show suggests. Cesar Millan has an engaging personality, but some of his methods are more physical than those I would use and could be dangerous when tried by inexperienced pet owners. He tends to be confrontational and uses tools and techniques that most behaviorists consider archaic at best. In addition, his information regarding dominance, pack behavior, and behavioral motivation is frequently incorrect.

Which animal health needs are currently unmet?

Adequate medical and surgical care for stray and abandoned animals and for pets in economically depressed families.

What changes in veterinary medicine do you hope will occur in the next 100 years?

More options for noninvasive diagnostic and treatment procedures.

What part of your work do you enjoy most?

Hearing someone say, "I was devastated because I thought I had no choice but to euthanize my pet, but now I see there are changes I can make to save my pet's life."

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