Ethology of the veterinarian, part III

This is the third and perhaps final installment in this series for novice owners of Homo herriotus pollulus (the common small animal veterinarian). The first article, The Husbandry and Feeding of Veterinarians, and the second, Ethology of the Veterinarian Part II, were eye-opening to many, if the volume of email the author has received is any indication. Here we hope to further enlighten the (as yet) uninitiated.

Greeting rituals. Interactions with animals outside of the workplace take on an atypical form. Veterinarians might perform a verbal acknowledgement of an animal and perhaps pat or stroke it, but will then use this activity to mask a covert inspection of the teeth or palpation of the ribs, or both. Your veterinarian may then incautiously advise the animal’s owner that the animal has “rotten teeth”, or is “obese”. Your veterinarian may learn that this conduct results in social marginalization, but will continue to perform the greeting ritual regardless. It appears to be a hard-wired behavior.

“Hidden” paraphernalia. If you are cleaning up after your veterinarian and come across needles and syringes in its pockets or find them in the lint trap of the dryer, do not panic. It is not a “dope fiend” and is not “chasing the dragon”; it simply ran out of room in its hands to hold everything it needed at some point in its day. If your veterinarian repeats this behavior, you can attempt to train it to empty its pockets before leaving the workplace. This training meets with variable success and requires continual reinforcement.

Pen hoarding. If the problem is pens rather than needles and syringes, the problem is more serious. Controlled studies show that veterinarians cannot be trained to leave pens at the workplace. Don’t even bother. Enjoy your new office supplies.

Scars. Some of those new to H. herriotus relationships may be alarmed by the amount of physical damage evident on their veterinarian, particularly on the medial forearms. You must keep in mind that your veterinarian works every day with animals who suffer its interference with varying degrees of patience. Some love your veterinarian and would never harm it. Others tolerate your veterinarian only as long as it does not step over a certain line, the location of which, in the case of cats, changes from instant to instant. These patients come armed to the fight, and human skin is no match. Expect more battle scars over the years.

Inability to watch nature shows. Your veterinarian may not be able to tolerate the sight and sounds of gory animal death. To you, the footage of a lion eating a gazelle is a fascinating window into the life of a carnivore; to your veterinarian the gazelle is an injured animal that needs fixing. The tension of not being able to relieve the suffering may overwhelm your veterinarian’s nervous system and cause grief. Observe your veterinarian for signs of distress when watching this kind of programming, and consider changing the channel to a more soothing choice like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, or an MMA match.

“I thought you said your dog does not bite?” Insp. Jacques Clouseau

Your dog bites. Whose fault is it?

Snarling GSDI can tell you whose fault it isn’t – mine. And it’s not my assistant’s fault. So please don’t get pissy with me when I tell you that I’m going to have to muzzle your dog. I don’t muzzle many dogs; I find that with low-stress techniques we can usually de-escalate the biting and snapping and actually make the visit bearable even for very anxious dogs. But sometimes a dog is too big to control well, or the owner is very tentative and afraid of the dog, and I’m not sure I can keep someone from being bitten. Or, after many years of doing this, I recognize the signs of stress in your dog and I know he’s about to lose it (and no, he hasn’t growled yet). Out comes the muzzle.

No, I’m not hurting him. No, he’s not like this because he was abused as a puppy (I buy that this is a temperament or personality issue, but not abuse. You’ve owned him since he was 7 weeks old). No, he’s not dominant. He’s never growled before? Hmm. I seem to recall this behavior last time I saw him. He’s a “talker”, but never bites? Your son just said the dog bit your new girlfriend. That must have been an exception.

Enough excuses. You have had many opportunities over the years to address this and you haven’t. You came in today for a routine wellness visit. I don’t have, right now, the hour it will take to condition your dog to some of the procedures I need to do. You have consistently declined help from trainers and behaviorists, so I don’t have a choice. If you won’t recognize the problem and take steps to protect other people, I have to. On goes the muzzle.