Calling All Pet Professionals: What to do about Dr. Google
Many years ago when I worked as a veterinary technician, I spent much of my time “translating” the doctor’s medical-speak into language that pet parents more easily understood. I can’t complain, because that gave me my career. But why turn to the vet tech instead of the doctor? Well, clients felt intimidated to ask the veterinarian for clarification, embarrassed they didn’t understand, and reluctant to “waste the doctor’s time.”
My, how times change. Today, many pet parents arrive at the clinic with the leash or carrier in one hand and a printout in the other, courtesy of “Dr. Google.” Pet professionals applaud their advocacy and determination to self-educate and provide the best care for their animal companions.
But pet professionals become frustrated when this information is at best inapplicable, and at worst, downright dangerous. Yet, you don’t want to appear condescending or “hiss off” your clients, so they stop coming altogether. And pet lovers–you don’t want to be discounted in your hunt for best practices for your cats and dogs.
Don’t bump heads. Here are some ways to manage Dr. Google without driving each other away.
Dismissing a pet parent’s research may put the pet professional on the enemy’s list. After all, when Uncle Ted’s pet benefited, or the latest famous Internet Guru says it’s true, how do you argue with a popular (or a more palatable) plan training, feeding, or medical cure?
First, recognize that pet parents want to find good information. They may not know where to look. They also may not know how to recognize red flags that signal untrustworthy sites.
To keep an open line of communication, pet professionals often must bite their tongue and carefully choose words to respond. One way to deflect a client’s potential ire might be to say (truthfully),
“You must have spent a lot of time researching (XYZ) issue. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. That’s something I’ve not seen before,” or even, “In my experience, that’s not been an issue.” Then you can explain what’s actually going on.
- Claims supported primarily by anecdotes or vague testimonials from non-professionals.
- Descriptions that include words like “amazing” or “miraculous” or “cure.”
- One lone “guru” who has discovered a new, hidden, innovative (FILL IN THE BLANK) that conventional science refuses to recognize.
- Copy that says the experts don’t want you to know about these cures/treatments because they’d lose business.
- Any “one-size-fits-all” treatment that cures multiple issues.
What To Do About Credentialed References
Online resources like vet schools are terrific. Many savvy pet lovers today have learned to access sources that are reviewed by veterinarians, behaviorists, and researchers. Some online chat groups and email lists include veterinary members who offer their expertise with answers to general questions. That doesn’t mean the information applies in all cases, though.
When a client arrives with credentialed resources, celebrate! You’re on the same page. These resources save you time by providing background information pet parents need to understand a particular health, behavior, or training challenge. Such clients understand that their cat and dog is a unique individual, and that this information offers only the starting point. You can then move on to a complete examination or evaluation, and possibly further tests to provide more specific and beneficial information for their pets’ circumstances. Rather than discounting the information, build on it.
It’s helpful for you to know what credentialed references clients access. One of the best ways to avoid quack information is to provide a list of credentialed resources. Offer a handout that lists the websites or specific topic articles for educational purposes. That way, you know the source.
This article first appeared in a different form on FearFreePets.com
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!