©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
Animal professionals such as behaviorists, groomers, daycare workers, rescue workers and veterinarians should be concerned for dogs’ welfare in all areas (e.g., general health, behavior, nutrition, preventive medicine, environment).
While my expertise is in behavior, that doesn’t preclude me from checking with the client about other areas to ensure that there aren’t any possible issues that may impact behavior or general well-being. Every time I work with a new dog, I ask a lot of questions.
"...it is my responsibility as an advocate for the dog to educate the guardian."
Let me be rather blunt. Dog guardians who aren’t properly taking care of their dogs usually have a poor prognosis for any behavior modification program. Behavior modification can be difficult and time consuming; guardians with the highest level of commitment to their dog have the highest chance of success.
These are some key indicators I look for to assess a dog’s general level of care. If I feel that a guardian may not be providing an adequate level of care in one or more of these areas, it is my responsibility as an advocate for the dog to educate the guardian. Frequently that is all it takes; most people want the best for their dogs.
- Is the dog getting regular heartworm preventive? This easily preventable and common disease causes long-term suffering and ultimately death to dogs if not treated. Heartworm, once diagnosed, requires a long and expensive treatment program. This is probably my biggest warning flag that the guardian is not particularly committed to his or her dog.
- Are the dog’s nails properly clipped? Long nails and nails that curl under can be painful and uncomfortable for the dog. It can also indicate that a dog is rarely, if ever, walked.
- Is the coat dirty and uncared for? It’s not a good sign when I see a dog with a chronically dirty and bad smelling coat. It can also indicate that a dog is spending a lot of time outside – time away from the guardian’s family.
- Do the guardians walk their dog? Pet dogs need the mental and physical exercise of frequent long walks. Most people claim they walk their dogs; however, the devil is in the details. My follow-up questions usually tell me the reality, “How far/long do you walk the dog?, Who walks the dog?, How often do you walk the dog?”
- Does their dog know any basic cues such as sit or stay? I’m not concerned if a dog knows 58 cues – my dogs certainly don’t. But, there are some basic cues such as “sit”, “stay” and “come” that every dog needs to know.
- What veterinary practice do they use and when did their dog last see a vet? I don’t care if they don’t know their vet’s specific name; most vet practices don’t assign vets to specific dogs anyway. What concerns me is when they don’t know the vet’s business name or when their dog last saw a vet.
- Is the family engaged with the dog? Dogs are social animals and need to have their lives interwoven with ours. There needs to be at least one person in the family who is intimately involved with the dog.
- What is the family’s approach to training? Too many positive references by the client to Cesar Millan can be a red flag. Lots of references to things such as alpha, pack and dominance are also concerning sometimes. Punishing a dog as a way of training can poison the dog’s relationship with the family.
Dog lovers know that dogs aren’t “things”, but are complex living animals that require a multi-faceted approach to their care. For the time and resources that we put into our dogs, they give us back many times our investment.