This is my first blog for Whole Living. As I write it, I am aboard a 737 at 30,000 feet in blue skies en route to Chicago, about to engage in some animal-oriented experience because that’s what I do.
As a veterinary behaviorist, I often give talks around the country on subjects ranging from canine and feline behavior problems to the human-animal bond and animal welfare. This time I will be talking about dogs – dogs behaving badly, in fact, though the title of the presentation is the precise antithesis: “Well-Adjusted Dogs.”
A well-adjusted dog is what all dog owners want, but most don’t know how to create. There is nothing better than waking up to see the laughing eyes of a truly happy dog, a canine optimist who knows that each new day will be the best yet.
Sadly, not everyone has such a utopian relationship with his dog. Some dogs are aggressive toward their owners, others are aggressive to strangers, and then there are the fearful dogs who can’t stand to be left alone or melt down in thunderstorms. In most cases something can be done to help these dogs trust their owners, understand that strangers mean them no harm, and that the sky is not falling in. That’s where I, and the battery of trainers and vets to whom I will be talking, come in.
Dog trainers are the front line in dealing with dogs’ psychological issues, and to do their job well, they need to be updated from time to time on the latest developments in the field. Trainers, animal psychologists, and veterinarians together must deal with the tide of issues that face unwitting dog owners. It takes a village, as they say.
There are 75 million dogs in the country, and between 42 and 90 percent of them exhibit behaviors their owners consider problematic—so all of the various tiers of intervention must work in concert. (No dog is perfect, though—not even my dog Rusty. And I’m not a perfect dog owner either. He makes mistakes and I make mistakes, but we’re both happy.)
Anyway, it is with thoughts like this in mind that I head to Chicago, and then in June to New Jersey, Colorado, and finally in 2010, Pittsburgh. I have been at this for quite a while – 40 years as a veterinarian, 20 as a behaviorist, and many more to go (my financial planner tells me!). It’s lucky I enjoy what I do and that I feel as if I am making a difference (I am especially proud to be a leadership council member of the newly formed Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and a founder member of Vets for Equine Welfare).
Why would I want to retire anyway? I never know what’s going to happen next; that’s half the fun. For now, my plane on its descent. Windy City, here I come.
(Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman is director of the animal behavior clinic at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. He and his veterinarian wife Lisa can be found at ThePetDocs.com.)