The working dog is not the typical patient that companion animal veterinarians encounter in clinical practice. Working dogs have a utilitarian function that generally requires specialized temperament and training, involves intimate interaction with a handler or client, exposes them to exceptional physical and emotional demands, and sometime places them in high-risk environments. As a result, a practice team with working dog patients should have a training strategy that equips the staff with the knowledge and skills to effectively and compassionately examine and treat these important animals. Veterinarians are sometimes asked to certify the health status or behavioral suitability of working dogs, a demand that they should approach with caution. Any certification of the health status of a working dog should be based on a thorough exam and an evidence-based diagnosis. No sector of veterinary practice places a greater premium on effective communication with the presenting client than the care of working dogs. The working dog’s handler has an intimate knowledge of the animal’s physical status and functionality and is a principal source of information on the patient’s history and presentation status. The practice team must establish credibility with the working-dog client and earn that individual’s confidence and trust in order to maintain an effective and enduring veterinarian-client-patient relationship. When these skills and relationships are in place, the healthcare of working dogs represents one of the most rewarding and valuable services that a veterinary practice can render.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Mark Dana of Kanara Consulting Group, LLC, in the preparation of the guidelines manuscript.