If you work in the animal business – trainer, groomer, pet sitter, pet store owner, shelter worker, rescue volunteer, veterinary field, etc.  – you know that there are as many animal “experts” as there are people. Even people who just have pets can talk as if they are experts. Most typical pet owners will either ask a friend or their veterinarian for advice when they are experiencing behavior issues with their pets or are looking for a good pet food. Can you trust these people to be experts? 

Very sadly, most veterinarians that I have encountered have disappointed me when it came to their knowledge of behavior and nutrition. (Yes, as always, there are exceptions! I do know a couple of vets who have good knowledge of the whole pet.) The reason that many vets don’t understand nutrition or behavior is that vet school simply does not focus on teaching this information, and that’s too bad because nutrition is an important aspect of both health and behavior. A poor diet affects animals no differently than us humans. If the fuel we put into us is not giving us the right nutrients, illness and even behavior problems will ensue.

A couple of years ago, I asked my veterinarian for a food recommendation for my senior dog and she recommended Science Diet Senior, most likely because the Science Diet reps had called on this veterinary practice or had exhibited at a conference for vets and had pitched a good marketing line that Science Diet was keeping up-to-date on nutrition research and incorporating that into their pet foods. Okay, so I did my own research and discovered that corn was the first ingredient in Science Diet Senior. A huge no-no for any dog, especially a senior. All dogs’ food must have a quality meat source as the primary ingredient. My vet is not the only one recommending these inferior foods; many people I speak with ahve received this kind of advice. It could be that the vets just don’t have the time to do their own research into nutrition, or they don’t know that they should. Or it could be strictly financial – many vets receive incentives from food companies to sell their products. 

Behavior is even worse when it comes to vets’ knowledge. So many of my clients came to me after receiving unbelievably bad advice from their vets. One lady called me in tears when her vet told her that her 5 pound Japanese Chin was a dominant dog and that he needed to be shown dominance by pinning him down. Pin down a 5 pound dog?  Really??!!!  I met this dog and he was nothing near dominant. He was scared. And if you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that alpha rolls should never be done to a dog. Especially a terrifed one. And don’t get me started on that whole dominance thing!

Another vet regularly advised her clients to knee the dogs in the chest to stop them from jumping on them. Ack!

And vets are often asked by their clients to recommend trainers for their dogs. Most vets rely on local trainers to introduce themselves and become familiar with their services. Many trainers are savvy with marketing strategies and will often bring cookies and other goodies to the vets’ offices to stay in their favor. If the veterinarians do not understand behavior, they will not know who is a quality trainer and who is not. I spoke with a local veterinarian once about their recommendation of a trainer who uses prong collars and alpha rolls. Luckily, I was able to educate her about better methods and discourage her from keeping this kind of trainer in business.

The bottom line is this: Just as we need to be informed about own health and ask questions of our doctors, we need to be just as informed about our pets’ health and challenge our veterinarians too. Ask questions, ask your friends, research on the Internet. The more you know, the better choices you can make for your pets.