Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, DACVB is Germinder + Associates’ first 20th Anniversary Honoree. The program is co-sponsored by Goodnewsforpets. The women’s storytelling initiative shines a spotlight on 20 leaders whose stories have touched and inspired Germinder.
Debra Horwitz is not only a leading veterinary behavior expert, but understands the importance of communications in all formats in educating others about veterinary medicine. This interview was conducted by Lea-Ann Germinder on the eve of VMX 2018 and the unveiling of Dr. Horwitz’s new book, Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult Clinical Companion: Canine and Feline Behavior 2nd Edition. Dr. Horwitz will be signing copies of her book at the Goodnewsforpets Booth 3342.
We first met officially during the Ceva Animal Health and American College of Veterinary Behaviorists “Keep the L.O.V.E. Alive Tour”. You were Chair of the Public Relations Committee and the campaign spokesperson. What made the College decide to participate in the program?
Because behavior problems contribute to pet relinquishment, we felt anything we could do to educate the public about pet behavior and hopefully keep family pets in their homes was very important. By partnering with Ceva and Germinder we were able to reach a large audience and help so many pets and their people.
What do you think was the biggest success of the “Keep the L.O.V.E. Alive Tour?”
For me it was the first time I actively engaged in social media use and the response was just tremendous. People want to know more about their pets and how to keep them happy and healthy, both medically and behaviorally. The turnout at our events let us know we were on the right track and how much people love their pets.
You have conducted dozens of media interviews over the years. Do you have any favorites to share?
Hard to say, I always like to work with pets because it gives me a chance to show how even in demanding situations we can help animals cope and be relaxed and comfortable. And I love answering questions about pet behavior, it is one of my favorite thing to do, so all interviews are welcome.
What are the three key messages you try to give to pet owners about behavior in each interview?
First I think knowing more about dogs and cats and how they think is so important. We need to “step into their paws” so to speak and understand how they view the world and respect what it is about them that makes them unique. Dogs will always act like dogs and cats will always act like cats but we can teach them how to live comfortably with us if we respect their innate abilities and limitations and provide for all their needs.
Second, punishment has no place in teaching our pets anything. Remember, there can be hundreds of ways to do something wrong, but usually only one way to do it right. Therefore we should teach the desired behaviors from the minute we bring our new family member home. Spend some time thinking what you would like your pet to do-be friendly to everyone, go everywhere with you, fetch the paper, snuggle in bed? Whatever it is begin right away using positive training techniques to help them learn the correct behavior. It will pay off.
Third, do not neglect your pets’ medical health. All dogs and cats need regular veterinary care, vaccinations and an appropriate diet. Often the first sign of illness in our furry friends is a change in behavior-appetite, grooming, activity, irritability, hiding-all of these and more may indicate that the pet is not feeling well. Schedule a veterinary visit as soon as you notice these changes for diagnosis and treatment.
We worked together at Goodnewsforpets to promote the ACVB Decoding Your Dog book with a series of columns from each ACVB expert. We still get pet parents going back to these columns and asking questions of these experts. As one of the editors, was there a particular question that kept coming up as you lectured at veterinary conferences or from pet owners that you want to answer here?
One of the most common questions I get begins something like this: “I want to take my pet to (fill in dog parade, meet lots of new people, go to pet day at the ball park, doggy play group, visiting nursing homes etc.) but my dog acts so afraid, perhaps aggressive and shy. What should I do?
Often the answer is one we may not want-not all dogs or cats want to do everything we do. They may not like loud places, visit with strangers, or petting by children. Our pets should have the right to say “no” and if need be stay at home. However, as we begin teaching them early to be comfortable in these situations with measured, calm and safe exposure with plenty of rewards they may learn to enjoy these things. But if they don’t, remember just like people our pets have different personalities and needs and we should keep in mind what they might want to do instead of what we want them to do. Always have your pets back-if they are showing signs of anxiety, stress, even aggression they are telling you they want to leave. Take care of them and take them home and then address the problem with appropriate help to change the way they feel and behave.
It is Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult Clinical Companion Canine and Feline Behavior 2nd edition. This edition has a new design and groups behavioral disorders by categories (aggression-canine, aggression feline, anxieties etc.) but still remains alphabetical within the category. There are 19 new topics including patient handling and 25 new handouts and a revised pharmacology section. The content is contributed and updated by my colleagues from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a few other specialists. With this book practicing veterinarians will find a comprehensive resource for understanding, diagnosing and treating behavioral illness in dogs and cats. It is available from multiple sources including online at www.wiley.com/buy/9781118854211
You are the Behavior guest expert for the GNFP Digital Download Series. Why do you think it’s important for veterinarians to communicate with pet owners in a social media format?
Social media offers us a new way to obtain and share information. We increase pet well-being, health and longevity by creating new means to help pet owners understand their dogs and cats. Behavior is a large part of life with any dog and cat. My goal has always been to help caregivers create the safest, happiest and most loving relationship with their pets by helping them understand their pets.
We still see a tremendous problem with dogs and cats relinquished to shelters. What role does public relations/public awareness continue to play in helping to combat this problem?
A common thread in relinquishment is unmet expectations of sharing your life with a dog or cat. This can mean many things, aggressive behavior, the time necessary to care for a pet, veterinary bills, a misunderstanding of the needs and normal behaviors of dogs and cats. Most people do not give up their pets because they are uncaring people, but often they are faced with situations they cannot cope with. Public relations/public awareness can help people face these challenges, find help and resolve them so that they do not have to give up their beloved family pet.
You and I started in our respective professions at a very different time for women. Challenges and opportunities from many perspectives. It’s a different time now, and we both have daughters and sons in professions. How can communications help move us forward once again?
Communication can help us see how far we have come and what needs further attention and work. But all in all I feel optimistic that the gains that have been made will only broaden in the years to come. I find my new colleagues in the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists are so well qualified, so aware and intelligent I feel my field is in good hands.
Anything else you would like to add?
Just thank you for all your support of Veterinary Behavior and all the opportunities you have provided us to educate the public about behavioral health in dogs and cats.
On behalf of the veterinary profession, the pet parents you’ve helped and the pets you’ve ultimately saved, Thank YOU Debbie!