Hands-On Behavior Learning at AVMA


Pets are afraid of the veterinary clinic. When the cat carrier appears, the cat relocates to the next county, or dogs hit the brakes and begin to tremble when they realize where that car ride has taken them, pet owners aren’t as likely to come back. When pets are anxious, their people are too.

The good news is that the veterinary community has created the Fear Freesm initiative, to lower or even remove fear, anxiety and stress from veterinary visits.

All veterinarians and veterinary technicians (or veterinary nurses) I’ve ever met have wanted to do right by the pets in their care. If you think that dealing with a terrified animal doesn’t also create distress for the medical team, you’re mistaken.

So, Fear Freesm is the organized effort to “fix” the problem. Veterinary professionals are teaching one another too. For those attending the upcoming Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association, August 5 to 9 in San Antonio, TX – have I got a deal for you. It’s one thing to sit back and lean from experts in a lecture hall, and another to really hands-on participate.

Veterinary behaviorists Dr. Lore Haug, Dr. Ken Martin and Dr. Kersti Seksel are all offering interactive labs:

On Sunday, August 7 “Avoid Histrionics and Decrease Stress in Your Feline Patients,” 2 to 5 p.m.

with Dr. Kersti Seksel and friends

with Dr. Kersti Seksel and friends

The secret lives of cats explained as Dr Kersti Seksel  (author of Training Your Cat) will explain all with a feline queen B, veterinary behaviorist Dr Theresa DePorter. Cats do not bring themselves to vets! Why- the owners have to do this and it is too hard- for the cat, the owner and often for the veterinary team. This workshop covers behavioral triage to help you with your feline patients so you can  save lives and increase life expectancy! During this workshop you will discover the secret lives of cats, the subtle and intimate details of feline communication and cat societies. You will also learn how to recognize fear, anxiety and stress in cats. This  will help you to help your patients and their owners to decrease stress and anxiety when they visit your veterinary clinic. Veterinary visits should be pleasurable not only for you, your staff, your patients but also their owners. You need to know how to explain this to clients so they understand why you do what you do and how you do it will help build your practice. As for DePorter, she’s the cat’s meow, and is acclaimed for her feline studies (boarded in America and Europe).

maybe you can herd cats

maybe you can herd cats

Seksel, who is also boarded as a behaviorist in Europe and Australia (where she lives), and America told me, “Kitty Kindy (kitten socialization classes) are one way which we can teach cats to enjoy the experience of a veterinary visit. But there’s so much more than can be done – even for adult cats. Even veterinarians and veterinary nurses sometimes give up hope. I think, if it can be done. When we explain to cat owners why it’s beneficial – most people are willing to work with their cats on their end so they have a better experience. But the veterinary staff can do so much better, from handling to paying attention to what the (feline) patients are telling us.And it may mean a longer life for that cat.”

Dr. Lore Haug (like all veterinary behaviorists I know) has been talking the Fear Free walk long before it had a name. On Monday, August 8 “Teaching Your K-9 Patients to Love Their Veterinary Visits in 10 Minutes a Day,” 2 to 5:50 p.m. Haug is a contributor to Decoding Your Dog, authored by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. 

Sound too good to be true?

What do you do about this?

What do you do about this?

Well, for once it isn’t. While no visit to the veterinarian can ever be guaranteed to be completely without fear, there are many easy steps that can be taken to teach pets that routine procedures are not frightening, but in fact can be quite pleasant! This workshop will teach attendees how to recognize important body language cues and how to use scientifically proven methods of desensitization and counter-conditioning to make their patients easier to handle. Workshop with include this fancy stuff: Standing for thoracic auscultation, vaccination/injections, venipuncture, temperature, and oral exam, as well as a big one – that’s muzzle training.

Calling Dr. Martin – Calling Dr. Martin: On Monday, August 8, from 8 am. to 11:50 a.m. Dr. Ken Martin and Deborah Martin, a veterinary technician with a specialty in behavior on “Making Handling and Restraint Less Stressful for Canine Patients.”  The Martins have authored several books together and separately including, Puppy Start Right.  Pet expert Steve Dale writs about interactive behavior sessions at AVMA

Many dogs quickly develop a fear of being handled or restrained. Rightfully so, because handling and restraint are often associated with unpleasant experiences! We need to stop that….Negative experiences can make it progressively more and more difficult for dogs to get needed medical or grooming care. Incorporating preventive exercises into your veterinary practice can help to prevent fear and improve the welfare of your canine patients. And naturally makes the human experience (for your clients and staff) more enjoyable as well!

In addition to convention registration, the fee for these interactive experiences range from $115 to $195 (per session).

I’ve heard each of these speakers, and on numerous occasions, and have never attended a Martin, Martin, Haug or Seksel talk not leaving feeling great because I’ve learned something. And it will be fun…all these talks are important, but Seksel’s cat talk, in particular, is a part of setting in motion a new way to think about and to understand cats.