How To Approach A Veterinarian

  • November 4, 2017

Much study has been done on the behaviors of veterinarians.  However, many negative outcomes can be mitigated if people can successfully navigate the initial encounter.  Fumbling this can lead to an ever-spiraling downward trend of negative reinforcement.  People need to understand that many veterinarians they meet are rescues.  They have been abused, endured poor living conditions and general neglect.  Which is what makes it critical to approach properly when encountering this fragile, yet equally durable, species.

The first rule is: Never approach a veterinarian in the wild.  They are easily spooked and will bolt.  Even if you are familiar to them, they may not recognize you in a different setting which causes them anxiety and to shy away.  Should you see them from afar, just continue about your business and act as if you have not seen them.  If you should stumble upon them suddenly, simply smile and move away as naturally as possible.  In either situation, the veterinarian’s instinctive avoidance response will kick in and you will in most instances not see them again.

Never approach a veterinarian where they nest.  Doing so can trigger aggression as they are very territorial in a domestic setting.  In extreme circumstances, encroachment on their habitat may prompt them to relocate to a safer environment.

One of the most common ways you may encounter a veterinarian spontaneously is in a social setting.  Because of their biology, both physiological and behavioral, this is a rare event and needs to be treated delicately.  Should you become aware of the presence of a veterinarian within a social group here are some of the steps you need to take depending on circumstances. 

The best rule is to let them approach you first.  Be aware that this may not happen and you should not feel disappointed if this occurs.  However, if you feel compelled, as many do because they are such a captivating and fascinating species, first establish if the veterinarian has a handler, whether they be a significant other or family member.  If so, ask permission from the handler to approach the veterinarian.  Do not make eye contact.  Do not make any abrupt moves.  Speak in a calm and soothing manner.  Do not invade their space unsolicited.  Turn sideways as to make yourself less threatening.  Do not get between them and the nearest exit.  Offer treats such as coffee, chocolate, donuts, pizza, etc. if available.  Be continually aware of their behavior and body-language so you can stop the interaction if they become restless or agitated.  If they wander off mid-sentence, do not pursue them.  If you follow these rules, you may be rewarded with more frequent and lengthier encounters.  Or you may not.  Be happy with the boon of time that you had.

One of the less obvious rules when seeing veterinarians in a social setting (which includes, but is not limited to, social media, parties, bar mitzvahs, funerals, baby showers, traffic accidents, public bathrooms, etc.) is what subjects are safe to discuss.  The simplest way to put this is: do not discuss anything about veterinary medicine or animals, no matter how tempted you may be.  And if your only reason for approaching a veterinarian is to speak about such things, please see above rule regarding veterinarians in the wild.   Ignoring the subject-rule will shorten your encounter with a veterinarian, in which you may witness anything from passive-aggressive behavior to full flight.  A fleeing veterinarian can attain speeds up to 16 mph for short distances.  Definitely do not bring up other encounters you have had with members of the veterinary species.  Veterinarians are both very protective and jealous of one another, so there is no safe avenue of discourse.  And in case you didn’t know, a group of veterinarians is called a convention. 

Many veterinarian-watchers will, of course, tell you the best place to view them is in their natural environment.  They are very predictable in the hours and location in which they forage for a living.  Many of the same rules apply as in the social setting, though there are a few more that will add to a positive encounter.  Because the veterinarian is in a more controlled environ, they will be more vocal and prone to “display” behavior that you might not see elsewhere.  It is best to nod at appropriate times and listen attentively.  This will encourage the veterinarian and reward the viewer with a variety of spontaneous and delightful actions.  Trained veterinarian-watchers will tell you there is much to be learned from veterinarians when encounters on their home-turf are handled properly.

We hope you find these observations useful and should you wish to add your own positive encounters, please feel free at #IJustSawAVetAndILikedIt

And if you’d like a useful short-list of the rules that you’d like on a shirt or a mug or other product, check out this design at our Cafepress store:

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