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When pets and people behave badly


Sometimes pets and their owners share an uncanny resemblance-bad behavior. Use this chart to tackle both species' less favorable features.

Ready to quell the begging, barking, and all-around annoying behavior pets-and their people-exhibit at your practice? Consider this advice from pet behavior expert Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, and people behavior experts, Craig Woloshyn, DVM, and Michelle Guercio, CVT, CVPM.



Bear begs and beguiles, using his soft puppy dog eyes to bend weak wills into offering up the tasty treats his heart desires. Ms. Ntitled, Bear's owner, uses the same sneaky strategy to weasel discounts that leave your practice pinching pennies and scraping for loose change.


For Ms. Ntitled, remember practices that give discounts attract people who ask for them—and vice versa. And if you set fair and firm prices, discounting jeopardizes your immediate and future financial needs. So create a new discount policy: No discounts for anyone. Not for multiple pets, dancing iguanas, or singing Chihuahuas. Then train team members to differentiate your practice to clients and explain how your fees allow you to care for Bear and serve Ms. Ntitled better.



Barkley barks when he wants to go potty, eat, play—you name it. He's learned that's how he can get the attention of his owner, Mr. Howles. And Mr. Howles barks at team members when he thinks he hasn't received the attention he deserves.


Giving in to Barkley's barking will encourage this bad behavior. And barking back won't do any good, either—not for Barkley or Mr. Howles.

For Barkley, remind Mr. Howles to ignore the barking and encourage calmer behavior with exercise and toys.

A similar strategy will work to handle Mr. Howles. Ignore his little yips and take control of the conversation to create a calmer tone.

If Mr. Howles is disgruntled, separate him from other clients. Sincerely listen to his opinion, then respond, "We're sorry you feel that way." Then tell him how you'll handle the situation.



Fido uses the leg of your exam room chair as a toothpick while his owner, Ms. O'Blivious, chews the fat. She gnaws on every fact and recommendation you offer, countering with seeds of wisdom she's gathered from questionable Internet sources and spitting out the advice you give that doesn't suit her.


When Fido's mouth is out of line, remind Ms. O'Blivious to forget correction and focus on interrupting the bad behavior, redirecting his attention to his own possessions, and rewarding positive behavior.

For Ms. Oblivious, listen to her concerns and let her know you've heard and understand them. Then explain how the team will proceed to solve the issue. Assert yourself as an authority by demonstrating your knowledge with well-thought out and articulated replies using strong, accurate words.

To help Ms. Oblivious and other Internet-savvy clients find accurate information about pets and bond them to your practice, make your practice Web site clients' primary resource by including educational materials and links to reputable sources.



Max inherited his killer instincts from his owner, Mr. Suspicious. Max throws terrifying tantrums when he feels his home, food, toys, and owner may be invaded or requisitioned. His owner, Mr. Suspicious, regularly questions your team's capabilities and won't let Max out of his sight for even the most routine of procedures.


To save Mr. Suspicious from a lawsuit when Max chomps the mailman, encourage Mr. Suspicious to assert himself as leader. Then Max will feel less compelled to fill that role and protect his owner and home.

And teach Max to calmly accept people or pets near his food or toys by tossing treats from a safe distance. Max will begin to associate positive thoughts with others.

Handle Mr. Suspicious the same way you'd approach Ms. O'Blivious when she's reluctant to allow team members to treat Fido: Encourage open, two-way communication by listening to and acknowledging his concerns. Then explain how your team will care for Max, speaking about past results in similar cases when possible. End the conversation by asking, "Have we addressed all your concerns?"



Spot accidently spots the carpet once a week or more. And Spot's owner, Ms. Self-Absorbed, dumps on you—missing appointments, chronically arriving late, abusing team members, or serving up some verbal diarrhea.


For Spot, teach Ms. Self-Absorbed to consistently use one word to communicate the proper behavior, such as "potty," and anticipate Spot's need to eliminate. This way, he doesn't have the chance to mess inside. Then give praise immediately when Spot gets it right.

If Ms. Self-Absorbed misses appointments or forgets to refill medications or prescription food, accommodate her. But don't allow the same privileges as clients who arrive at appointments on time—Ms. Self-Absorbed and Spot may have to wait for the doctor to see them.

Prepare for Ms. Self-Absorbed's daily diatribe by positioning team members who are talented in controlling conversations at the reception desk and in the exam rooms. When Ms. Self-Absorbed initiates a 10-minute soliloquy about recent weather patterns, the receptionist can lead her toward the exit as she talks. If Ms. Self-Absorbed manages to monopolize a doctor, swap the doc with an appropriate team member so you can stick to your appointment schedule.



Maggie the mutt prefers people to pups and runs away from the friendliest Papillons at the dog park. Her owner, Mr. D'Manding, withholds information about the care he provides and Maggie's physical and behavioral symptoms, demands that you cater procedures and protocols to his whims, and loudly complains every time you present the bill.


Socialize, socialize, socialize. Maggie needs frequent exposure to a variety of friendly dogs. On walks, ask her to sit for a tasty treat when she sees another pooch. Canine obedience and good citizenship classes may also offer additional opportunities to teach Maggie to relax around other dogs.

When scheduling, try to pair difficult clients with team members they can relate to. You can also try killing with kindness to encourage appropriate communication. But if Mr. D'Manding doesn't agree with your practice's policies or refuses to open his mouth about Maggie's bad breath to anyone but Mary, you may need to give him the boot. If a client has a legitimate gripe, you're responsible for fixing it. But if the gripe is unwarranted, it may be time to say "Sayonara."

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