Dogs and Vets are Scientists

The importance of play to dogs

Dogs and vets have similarities in their characteristics.  David Chamberlain explores what these are.

Dogs and Vets are Scientists!
Try a lot of things and keep what works – is a common component in the philosophy of many large corporates.   It is also an important character of dogs! Given the opportunity, dogs explore their environment in the hope that they may discover something which benefits them. If you leave your dog in unfamiliar boarding kennels when you go on holiday, after it has registered its discontent at being left behind, the next thing it will do is explore its new surroundings. This well-developed characteristic of dogs is both a benefit and a problem to anyone who is a dog owner or trainer. It’s a problem because a dog’s natural inclination is to wander off, nose down, tail up, following interesting scents. But this innate curiosity is of particular benefit when training dogs, because interactions between the dog and their environment naturally occur that you can either reward or punish as appropriate.

Vets as scientists, with communication and business skills
While I love cats, my character is more like that of a dog. I don’t know if it’s innate or learnt from studying the sciences throughout my education. Veterinary science is just that, a science, and science has its basis in research and experimentation. Clinical vets who care for clients’ pets need to have excellent communication skills and business acumen, but if you cut them in half, at their core they are scientists.   I remember being incredulous when one of the new graduates in a popular documentary of the 1990s that followed vet students into practice said, “It doesn’t matter how much you know, it matters how much you care.” I thought to myself, why did I spend 5 years at vet school when I would have simply become an actor – to show how much I cared! Of course I care, often too much, but for me to be able to fulfil my role as a vet, a comprehension of veterinary science is most important. If I became seriously ill I would want to be cared for by doctors, not actors from the cast of Holby City.

So, like all modern vets, at my core I’m a scientist but wrapped around that hopefully there are communication and business skills. It is this scientific perspective of animals and their relationship with humans, their environment and other animals that all vets have as a consequence of their learning journey. At vet school you are immersed in this doctrine for 5 years and our regulatory body, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), encourages vets to continue learning throughout their careers by committing to annual continuing professional development (CPD). Together with the emergence of Evidence Based Veterinary Medicine (EBVM) vets are continually reaffirming their scientific credentials. For this reason I also become disheartened when colleagues talk about the science and the ‘art’ of veterinary science. I think what they mean by the art of veterinary science is actually science that is not yet understood or is waiting to be discovered. I do not believe the art is the domain of an older generation which they have acquired through experience. Some people say they have 20 years experience in a role however it may be that they have had 1 year of experience 20 times so they have only actually had 1 year experience.

Vets are detectives in disease
I always felt that being a clinical vet was similar to being a detective. You are presented with a patient whose health has been damaged by a disease and your role, as the vet, is to discover the cause. The mammalian body is composed of a complex series of systems that interact and the process of investigation is therefore equally complex.   That is only the start of the process, because after a diagnosis follows treatment and, hopefully, recovery. It is veterinary science that allows vets to engage in this whole process of diagnosis and treatment, but it is the same scientific principles that make vets question the process of diagnosis and treatment. Being a scientist makes you inquisitive, it makes you question, it makes you want to explore – just like the innate behaviour of a dog. Dogs are nature’s scientists!

David Chamberlain BVetMed., MRCVS.
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®

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