Veterinarians should pay attention to clients' words when diagnosing behavior problems.
Dr. J.C. Burcham paid close attention when a client talked about her own cocker spaniel puppy. "She growls at me when I walk past her crate," the client said. She wasn't even stating this as a problem; she was just saying it matter-of-factly. Dr. Burcham, an associate at Olathe Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kan., immediately asked whether the dog growled every time the owner walked by or only when she had food. "It turned out the dog had crate aggression," Dr. Burcham says. "It was just a puppy, and the problem would have gotten much worse with age."
Dr. Burcham believes talking to clients about behavior is essential, but listening carefully to what clients say during casual conversation is just as important. In fact, Dr. Burcham has trained a technician to handle phone calls from clients asking about behavior problems. After she or her technician discusses the issue with the client, the behavior technician sends out a behavior evaluation form, which the client fills out and mails back. (Search "Behavior assessment checklist" in Related Links below to download the form.) Then the behavior technician calls the client back, offers some advice to try at home, and sets up a consultation—$120 for a one-hour visit and three phone calls. If the client needs to speak to Dr. Burcham, it's a $25 fee for a 15-minute call. Clients who've been in with their pet for an exam in the last month get three calls free.
Once clients are in the clinic, Dr. Burcham makes sure they understand what's in store. That's important because it's usually a long haul once a pet has established negative behavior. "There are no silver bullets," Dr. Burcham says. She often cautions owners to expect at least a year's work on serious problems.