It’s Time to Talk to Your Veterinarian about Behavior: Behavior Triage Blog Series

March 31, 2022
A cartoon veterinarian wearing blue scrubs and a stethoscope sits on the ground with a brown puppy. Text on the image says "Time to Chat!"

It’s Time to Talk to Your Veterinarian About Your Dog’s Behavior:

A cartoon veterinarian wearing blue scrubs and a stethoscope sits on the ground with a brown puppy. Text on the image says "Time to Chat!"

“Talk to your veterinarian about this behavior.”, is the phrase I find myself repeating over and over again in behavior evaluations. If you want to know why your dog trainer is sending you to your veterinarian, read on!

This blog is a part of every Behavior Triage Blog Series here at Wise Mind Canine. You can find them under the Behavior Triage blog category on topics like dog fights, fear, reactivity, noise sensitivity and more as they become available.

My clients are often surprised when I send them to their veterinarian in response to behavioral struggles with their dogs. 

This is what I imagine is going through their heads, “That’s what you’re for Katie. Aren’t you the dog trainer? You’re not cheap yourself so why are you asking me to spend more money at the veterinarian?”.

The reason I’m asking this of them (and you) is actually to protect your investment in dog training. You see behavioral issues sometimes have a medical component.

We can train together as long as you want, but if there’s an unaddressed physical or mental issue we’re not going to get the resolution you want.

One of my more recent cases had a near complete resolution after their dog was treated from a medical standpoint. This might not be your situation, but you owe it to yourself and your dog to find out.

Underlying Medical Issues can Slow or Completely Stall Training Progress

If your dog’s aggression is primarily driven by a hormone imbalance, pain, or general discomfort no amount of training is going to solve that problem.

Even if it’s only a part of the problem, at some point you and your dog trainer would eventually hit a brick wall. Progress would only move so far with these components unaddressed.

Sometimes, there’s no medical component at all and we’re dealing with a behavior problem. Knowing that with confidence helps ensure you’re on the right path in focusing on training. 

Meeting Biological Needs is Part of Behavioral Wellness

A brown and black chihuahua wears a shirt and sweat band while lying on a yoga mat surrounded by exercise equipment. A chalkboard behind the dog says Yoga and has a ball and jump rope.

Wellness first!

Remember earlier in the week when we talked about meeting needs? Medical needs fall under that biological need umbrella at the very bottom of the Hierarchy of Dog Needs. If we don’t have a strong base at the bottom of the pyramid, all the work we do to meet the needs higher up is going to crumble.

Health is also part of that first stop in the Humane Hierarchy, wellness.

I don’t want you to waste your efforts in helping your dog(s) or your investment in dog training services by leaving you unaware of the need to explore your dog’s health with your veterinarian. 

Dogs Can Suffer From Mental Illness and Require Specialist Care

Veterinary Behaviorists are veterinarians who specialize in treating dogs with behavioral issues and mental illness. They also work with cases where medical issues are leading to behavioral fallout.

Sometimes it’s really going to take a village to help your dogs who have behavior struggles. You’ll have a team of a veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and a dog trainer all helping you to reach your goals.

Your general veterinarian is typically your first stop before seeing a veterinary behaviorist.  They’re going to look at the information you give them and make a determination about whether they think you need a veterinary behaviorist on your team. 

You can find a veterinary behaviorist and learn more about what they do here:

How do you Talk to Your Veterinarian About Troubling Behavior?

Working With Me:

At the beginning of every case, I complete a 75-90 minute behavior evaluation. In it I am working to understand your dog’s history, frequency/intensity of the behaviors, and identifying the triggers for these conflicts.

I will also be listening for potential medical red flags that should be communicated to a veterinarian.

After this session I will provide a written assessment on official letterhead that you can take (or have me email) to your veterinarian prior to your visit.

In this way, you don’t have to worry about remembering all of the important points for a conversation with your vet. Then they can use that behavioral assessment to decide what if anything they want to pursue from a medical standpoint. 

On Your Own:

Go back to the Why Dog’s Fight Blog and find the identifying triggers section. There I asked you to record all of your dog fights using a certain format. In that blog, you can substitute dog fights for any behavioral issue your dog is experiencing. 

Work through those steps for each of your problem behaviors.

Add the following details:

Frequency of the behavior.

Note any time this behavior is resulted in injury to you, your dog, another person or another dog and describe those injuries.

Recovery time (How long does it take your dog to calm down back to baseline after an incident)

Anything you have done to try and change these behaviors in the past.

List a summary of your dogs behavior struggles.

List the triggers of ALL of your dog’s behavior struggles. This isn’t the time to hold back.

Any medical issues your dog has, even if it seems insignificant or normal for your dog (Stomach upset, itching/chewing etc, weight loss, excessive water drinking etc)

How these behaviors are impacting both your dog’s quality of life and your quality of life. 

Ask Your Vet (Everyone):

  1. Is there anything we need to look into medically based on this behavioral picture?
  2. If there are no physical causes, do you think these behaviors warrant trying behavior meds alongside working with a trainer? Do you want me to try working with a trainer first?
  3. Do you think my dog could benefit from a veterinary behaviorist?

Things Your Veterinarian Might Choose to Do:

This list is not exhaustive and it’s not a checklist. It’s only here so that you know that you may be walking into an expensive veterinary visit (or the first of a few veterinary visits so you can spread out the cost):

  1. Physical Exam
  2. Urinalysis
  3. Bloodwork
  4. X-Rays
  5. Ultrasound

Your veterinarian knows what they are doing. They do not need this list. They may choose to do more or less than you see on this list.

Trust your veterinarian.

I just wanted you to understand and be ready for the potential scope of a visit like this one. 

What If My Vet Doesn’t Find Anything?

Then you move forward into training with confidence that there aren’t readily identifiable physical issues that are contributing to your dog’s behavior challenges.

Sometimes there truly isn’t anything wrong with your dog from a medical standpoint and that’s great news! 

Other times the path to discovering a medical diagnosis is a journey rather than one visit.

When the patient can’t talk, it can take time to discover a problem.

There may be something brewing that we don’t get to know about until further down the line, or an issue that is really difficult to identify without new information that pops up down the road.

For now though, we take the information we have, your veterinarian cannot find a physical medical issue and move forward with training.

What If My Vet Doesn’t Want to Try Behavior Meds or a Veterinary Behaviorist But I Do?

A yellow post it is attached to a cork board with a red push pin. The post it says "what if"

All relationships benefit from communication, the one with your veterinarian is no different.

First I recommend you talk to your veterinarian about the impact these behaviors are having on not only your dog’s life but your life as well and your desire to see if this avenue of treatment can help. Be honest! 

Sometimes your veterinarian wants to see the impact training can have before considering medication. That’s not unreasonable. I regularly write up training progress reports for veterinarians as needed as a part of that process.

Some veterinarians will tell you they do not feel comfortable prescribing behavior meds. That alright, there’s a reason veterinary behavior exists as a specialty. Ask your vet for a referral to someone who is comfortable. 

If you and your vet are at an impasse, you are allowed to seek a second opinion or jump right to seeing a veterinary behaviorist (depends on the practice).

Need Help?

I know my private training programs are an investment. If you are on the fence you can talk to me in one of my or you can schedule one of my to get a behavior evaluation so you have something to take to your vet and guide this conversation.

Are you ready to talk to your veterinarian? Do you have questions? Let me know in the comments.

Looking for the next post in the Dog Fight Behavior Triage Series?


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *