Veterinary technicians are key to behavior health programs

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Technicians can be team captain in behavior treatment for pets by working with the patient, client, and attending veterinarian—according to Julie K. Shaw, senior animal behavior technologist at Purdue University's Animal Behavior Clinic.

Shaw spoke July 16, during the AVMA Annual Convention in Hawaii, about "Teaming Up: Utilizing Your Technician in Your Hospital's Behavior Health Program." She shared her thoughts about the role of veterinarians, role of veterinary technicians, time-effective behavior consultations, and owner compliance.

Shaw said the veterinarian's role is to develop hospital policies and consult on cases—ruling out health issues, diagnosing behavior problems, prescribing treatment, and giving prognoses.

The veterinary technician's role in behavior health programs is to advocate for the patient and communicate with the client and veterinarian. Veterinary technicians should guide, organize, clarify, and empathize.

"A lot of times, clients don't think there's hope," Shaw said. "People are really pushing veterinary medicine to address behavior."

Veterinary technicians should prepare clients for the consultation by emphasizing appropriate expectations, indicating what to bring, and providing a price quote. Shaw said her clinic tells clients to bring a hungry pet, treats, all collars and leashes, a video of the pet's behavior, a diagram of the house when the patient is a cat, and information about all other pets in the household.

During the consultation, veterinary technicians can fill out a portion of the history form—which the veterinarian will complete. Technicians can try to determine the trainability of the patient and anticipate treatment options. While the veterinarian talks with the client, they can work with the patient.

Shaw said she watches the body language of clients to ensure that they will follow a treatment plan.

"It's all about shaping their behavior, too," she said.

At the end of the consultation, the veterinary technician answers questions from clients.

"Sometimes, doctors are intimidating, and they are more likely to talk to the nurse," Shaw said.

The veterinary technician also should demonstrate any behavior modification techniques with the patient, while teaching the techniques to the clients.

When working with aggressive animals, Shaw advised remaining cautiously calm. Veterinary technicians should know how to avoid confrontation and when to back off.