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Part 2 - Behavioral Triage


When we first meet a new client, they tend to have several presenting complaints. Even if they only have one obvious concern, on closer look it tends to be several. It’s impossible to tackle everything at once. As we all know, changing behavior is about more than just training away what the family doesn’t like. It’s a process. It takes time, patience, and empathy. All things that are in short supply these days and especially in this area. Clients often need a lot of educating if not RE-educating. I could easily spend 6 hours with a family going through everything, but they’re probably going to turn off about an hour in. For this reason, it’s important to prioritize their concerns.

This process is called behavioral triage. It’s a term borrowed from emergency medicine. If I have a critical patient enter my hospital, I need to quickly assess damage, prioritize problems, and get rolling with treatment. Let’s say for example, I have a hit by car (HBC). This dog is a mess. He has a couple mangled legs, he can’t walk, he’s breathing heavily, there’s blood everywhere, he’s just a disaster. By just glancing at this critter, I would say the broken leg is the most obvious injury. However, if I don’t take a closer look and realize he’s in shock and I just deal with his broken leg, I’m going to lose that patient. A dog can live for days in a kennel with a broken leg, but they can’t live if their circulatory system fails. Stabilize first, then fix the leg. Triage requires we assess the problems present, prioritize which needs to be addressed first and which can wait, and only then prescribe our treatment plan for each issue in turn.

Let’s take a look at assessing problems. This is what we discussed in our last article. First of all, preliminary questionnaires are super important in behavior. Clients hate them, but they give us so much detail. Not only that, it gives the family time to think about their response, come up with questions, and get them thinking. Start all new assessments with a questionnaire. Tailor it to your needs, but you need to have one. You can use the provided answers to come up with more pointed questions for your actual meeting. You’ll waste less time collecting a history and have more for actually helping the family. During your conversation, make sure