I love my vet, while we may not always agree, nutrition-wise, he respects my choices and never gives me a hard time about it. He is at the head of his field in terms of some ground breaking work being done with stem cells to improve spinal cord injuries, hip dysplasia, and arthritis. He is a well versed and devoted small mammal veterinarian specializing in rats. Honestly, I really do think he’s a fantastic veterinarian. I love his manners with his clients and their pets and I love that he is the type of vet who is always learning more and staying up to date with the latest information in his field.
That being said, I’ve heard him give some pretty awful training advice to the general public (okay, not awful, but not really necessary). He does t.v. and radio spots regularly (when he’s not globe trotting performing the aforementioned stem cell therapies or talking about it at conferences) and on one such program he was asked, and chose to answer a training question. Now, I do not recall the exact question or wording but it had to do with a dog in a fearful situation. His first piece of advice was not to coddle the dog, which eh, isn’t the worst advice but that particular phrase does bug me. He went on to say you should praise when they offer to be brave (which is fine, though I would reward with food) but that you should correct any fearful growls or nips (this is, as I mentioned the other day, not the best plan). He also had this “face their fears” attitude that does bother me a bit. Now he did not explicitly say “physically correct” the dog for growling/nipping and he didn’t say “force your dog to face their fears” but sometimes the lack of specificity can be just as troublesome.
The point is that you can have the best vet in the world, but that vet is not necessarily qualified to give training/behavior advice. It would be like asking your physician about a cavity… it’s a related field but an expert in one does not make an expert in the other.
Veterinarians are in school for quite a long time… they take biology, chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and medicine courses. Many may take one nutrition class (often taught by a Hills S.D. professional… so it’s pretty lacking in actual nutritional information), and some may take an ethology class as an elective but that’s not a given. As would make sense, their education is around animal medicine, not animal behavior which does effect their knowledge of behavior and training. There are certainly anecdotal things they may have learned either with their own pets or though just being around dogs, but again, that does not make them an expert or an authority in behavior/training (I’ve learned how to crudely adjust bike brakes out of experience…but that does not make me a bicycle mechanic or expert). If you have a pressing behavior/training question, you would probably be given a more up to date and accurate bit of information if you ask a trainer and not a vet.
There are, however, some veterinary behaviorists out there who have been schooled in both disciplines (this is a very specific title and requires degrees in both fields). If you happen to have one locally, they can be much better sources for behavioral information (especially when it’s also connected to veterinary issues like hyper/hypothyroidism). This isn’t to say vets are clueless to training/behavior issue, only that sometimes you need to take it with a grain of salt and remember that while they are highly educated and experts in an animal field, they are not educated or trained to be behaviorists or trainers. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to tell your vet any behavior/training problems you are having with your dog since they may have a good trainer to refer you to but it is out of their field and their advice may not necessarily be the most sound. Sometimes even the best vets can give really bad training advice.