7 steps to a profitable behavior program

Behavior services are a critical component of veterinary care that can help preserve the bond your clients share with their pets. It's also a great way to generate revenue.
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Jun 01, 2010


How many patients do you lose each year to animal shelters or euthanasia? How many of your clients give up on their barking, digging, nipping, scratching, inappropriately eliminating pets out of sheer frustration? It's a sad reality. Bad behavior can kill a beautiful love affair between a pet and its family.

But you can help. With a comprehensive behavior program, you can offer the tools and resources your clients need to resolve the problems that ravage their relationships with their pets. Plus, there are ways to do it profitably so your practice benefits, too.

To build a solid behavior program, you need to start with a plan. I recommend seven steps to help you create your new profit center. Armed with the answers to these questions, you'll be prepared to create an effective behavior program to save pets' lives and generate revenue for your practice.

1 WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?

All good programs start with goals. And the first decision you'll make is whether you're going to create a profit center or a goodwill center. Let's take a quick look at each.

In a profit center, you sell products and consulting services to produce income. For a goodwill center, you'll provide reading materials, handouts, a lending library, and more casual advice during routine visits to help families and strengthen your bond with them. But you won't offer retail behavior products or formal consultations in a goodwill center.

In my opinion, every practice should, at the very minimum, offer behavior handouts. (See "Road to better behavior" at right for a list of books and handouts to help you educate pet owners.) Ideally, you'll also offer puppy classes, create a formal program for educating new puppy and kitten owners, and train at least one team member to work up and treat a significant behavior problem.

2 WHAT SERVICES WILL YOU OFFER TO START?

Once you've set your goals, you can decide on the services you'll offer. If you just want to set up a goodwill center, your services will be limited to providing information, and you'll have minimal contact with your clients for behavior-related issues. With additional services—preventive counseling, training sessions, behavior consultations, and any associated product sales—your level of client interaction increases. And the more opportunities you have to communicate with clients about their pets' behavior, the more influence you'll have on their bond. Simply put, clients who are strongly bonded to their pets are better clients, and they're the key to a successful profit center.

If you decide to offer some type of counseling, here are your options:

Preselection consulting. This consists of meeting with interested family members to help them pick the ideal pet for their home. In these appointments, you'll discuss:
> Differences in breed behavior, size, grooming requirements, genetic issues, family needs and limitations, and the pet's environment
> Pet source options, including how to evaluate a breeder and choose a puppy or kitten from a litter
> Basics on bringing a new pet into a home, including environmental management
> Training and the availability of basic obedience classes for puppies at 8 to 10 weeks of age and adult classes for dogs 9 to 12 months old
> Medical concerns, including breed-specific congenital problems, exam scheduling, and vaccinations.

As you discuss these issues, make sure to provide specific handouts to help clients remember what you've discussed. With the right education and reinforcement, the family is more likely to adopt a pet that fits its lifestyle, and the pet is less likely to end up in another home or the shelter. This service can also help your practice attract new clients.

Adolescent consulting. This is a formal consultation with the family to help solve problems common in adolescent pets. You'll start by filling out a behavior history form. (See the related links below for a sample behavior history form.) During the appointment, you'll offer instruction on training, managing the environment, and modifying the pet's behavior, then schedule follow-up appointments as needed. Common problems at this age include elimination issues, destructive behaviors, play biting, unruly behavior, jumping up, pulling on the lead, and barking.

Adult consultations. This is a formal consultation with the family to help solve more serious problems. Like the adolescent consultation, you start by filling out a behavior history form. During the appointment, you'll offer instruction on training, managing the environment, and modifying the pet's behavior. Your goals are to fix the problem, keep the pet in the family, and, if the pet is aggressive, prevent injuries.