Mind Over Miller: A tribute to a pioneer in canine behavior

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Mind Over Miller: A tribute to a pioneer in canine behavior

Dr. Miller reflects on the passing of author Bill Campbell and how far the discipline of animal behavior has come over the years.
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Dec 01, 2014

Bill Campbell, author of one of the first scientifically based books on canine behavior, Behavior Problems in Dogs, died in January of this year. Since I received no training in animal behavior when I was a veterinary student back in the 1950s, I found Bill’s book of great value to me in my practice. I was able to pass on what I learned from the book, and from knowing Bill personally, to my clientele.

In 1989, Bill’s next book, Owners Guide to Better Behavior in Dogs and Cats, was published. He sent me the manuscript before publication, and I loved it. He then asked me to profusely illustrate it with cartoons. I did so—with a couple of hundred cartoons—most of them inspired by his book, my personal experience, or both.

I am so glad that most of our veterinary schools are now offering students training in animal behavior. In some schools, the teaching is cursory. In others it is more in depth. I am grateful that there is now board certification in animal behavior for graduates who seek to specialize in that discipline. Additionally, the American Society of Animal Behavior thrives. It serves as a liaison between its members and the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

Happily, most major veterinary conferences now include continuing education sessions on behavior. This is especially valuable for seniors like me who received no formal training, but also for younger colleagues who have less experience.

An understanding of animal behavior, scientifically based, is so essential in order for the practicing veterinarian to optimally handle patients, to teach the owners, and to enhance the image of our profession from the standpoint of competence, finesse, and humaneness.

Most important, a real understanding of multispecies behavior helps us to understand the behavior of our own species. I know it has for me.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at robertmmiller.com.

Behavior in veterinary schools

Dear Dr. Miller,

Thank you for the lovely tribute to Bill Campbell and his contribution to the knowledge base of behavior problems in dogs in the DVM360, December 1, 2014 issue. The teaching of veterinary behavior to students and graduates has come a long way since the 1950s. Most major veterinary conferences offer continuing education sessions in behavior, which are often standing room only. These conferences do provide invaluable information to the attendees, equipping them with the knowledge to, as you rightly stated, “optimally handle patients, to teach the owners, and to enhance the image of our profession from the standpoint of competence, finesse, and humaneness.”

While behavior in veterinary medicine has come a long way, unfortunately it has not come far enough. In your tribute, you stated “I am so glad that most of our veterinary schools are now offering students training in animal behavior” which would imply that over 50% of our veterinary schools offer some form of behavior training to students. Did you know that of the thirty veterinary schools on the mainland US, only twelve have a board certified behaviorist on staff? Also, the same number of schools offer an introductory behavior course although only a few have it as part of the required curriculum. Those numbers tell us that less than half of our veterinary schools offer training in behavior at all. Considering that behavior problems lead to euthanasia and relinquishment to shelters at staggering numbers, and can directly affect patient care in the hospital, veterinary students today are still left unprepared to prevent, diagnose and manage these cases in practice.

You also mention that “[you are] grateful that there is now board certification in animal behavior for graduates who seek to specialize in that discipline.” While this is definitely a move in the right direction, the majority of these graduates pursuing board certification are in private practice, since most veterinary schools do not have a behaviorist on staff or do not allocate enough funding to support a behavior teaching program or residency. Currently, there are twenty two of the American College of Veterinary Behavior Residents in a non-conforming program, which means they are not associated with a college of veterinary medicine, and seven residents in a traditional residency program.

For those unfamiliar with what a non-conforming residency entails it is an extremely difficult program to complete. Veterinarians that chose to pursue a non-conforming residency must attend classes, conferences, workshops, spend time in other specialty areas (such as laboratory animal medicine, zoological medicine and large animal medicine to name a few) in addition to seeing approximately 450 behavior cases and completing publishable research, which may or may not be funded by an outside source. To support their non-conforming residency many must work another full time job in order to pay a mentor to supervise them through their cases load. This makes a non-conforming residency exceptionally challenging for someone to pursue board certification in veterinary behavior medicine.

You mentioned the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior in your letter. This group is actually not a liaison between its members and the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists but rather a separate entity of veterinarians who have a special interest in behavior and would like to know more, PhDs conducting behavioral research, and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. Many diplomates and residents of the American College of Veterinary Behavior are members of this society and student chapter clubs are present in many of the veterinary schools. The goal is to have an active behavior club in every veterinary school and a collection of speakers for these students.

Behavior should be considered a core curriculum topic but raising awareness in our veterinary schools can be an uphill battle. Teaching and understanding modern, scientifically proven methods of behavior modification and learning theory is critical for every veterinarian and their staff members. Knowing how to address misconceptions, misunderstandings, and outdated information available to clients is key to this process. Once equipped with this knowledge, veterinarians will have the opportunity to further enhance the human animal bond, improve animal welfare, and ultimately save patient's lives.

We are thrilled that you understand and share our passion for the field of veterinary behavior. It is the hope of all of us in this field that, through our efforts and education of both the public and within the veterinary profession, we will ultimately raise enough awareness and support to establish comprehensive veterinary behavior curriculums at all veterinary schools.

Sincerely,
The Residents of the American College of Veterinary Behavior:
Colleen S. Koch, DVM
Kelly Ballantyne, DVM
Amy Pike, DVM
Jeff Nichol, DVM
Sabrina Poggiagliolmi, DVM, MS
Lorna Reichl, DVM
Leslie Sinn, DVM, CPDT-KA
Valli Parthasarathy, PhD, DVM
Andrea Y. Tu, DVM
Stephanie Born-Weil, DVM
Deborah Bryant, DVM
Jill Orlando, DVM
Karen van Haaften, DVM
Amanda E. Florsheim, DVM
Amanda Rigterink, DVM
Christine Calder, DVM
Elizabeth S. M. Feltes, DVM
Desiree Broach, DVM
Germain Rivard DVM, IPSAV, PhD
Colleen Wilson, DVM
Marion Desmarchelier, DMV, IPSAV, DES, MSc, dipl. ACZM
Dre Marie-France Leduc m.v.
Trepheena Hunter, BVSc, MANZCVS (behaviour)

Veterinarians waiting for American College of Veterinary Behavior residency program approval:
Ariel Fagen, DVM
Cheryl Kolus,DVM