Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Different Approach to Practice Building

Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

The smartest thing we ever did for our practice is bring a dog in as a coworker. Almost five years ago my wife and I succumbed to the pleas of our daughter and the oaths that she would share the added chore and committed ourselves to adopt a 4 day old puppy. She came home to live with us a two months later. Two weeks later she started coming to the office.

We thought this would be temporary plan, only until she was old enough to stay at home with the cat. Were we wrong, so very wrong. Our patients were furious when they showed up and the puppy wasn’t at the door to greet them. In the end, the puppy, now a 95 pound Poppy, became part of the office staff. Our mailman, a fellow in possession of a conservative political belief system that is in no way congruent with the way we see the world, is in love with my dog. He has several hunting dogs at home and aptly describes Poppy as a working dog, a whitecollar working dog. He now carries dog treats in his mailbag and will often take a breather from his route sitting on our floor.

Poppy is a talented assistant and office greeter. She makes people feel comfortable, the kids feel safe and it seems they open up sooner. In our medicine the challenge is to find out what’s really going on, not the numbers on the lab tests, but the challenges of the soul, the traumas to the heart, the fears and the driving hopes. Our experience has been that having a kind and loving dog present in the office has made this easier to achieve.

Thus it comes with no surprise to read about how dogs can trigger oxytocin release in humans. I recently stumbled on an abstract from the journal Hormones and Behaviour that told me a dog’s gaze can trigger oxytocin release in people, as much as a 20 percent increase in blood oxytocin levels. Recall that oxytocin is the hormone that helps us form and cement emotional bonds.

So there is actually science behind what we’re doing. In a scientific manner according to peer reviewed scientific publications, our sweet dog is helping us build trusting relationships with our patients. And our mail man, UPS driver, FedEx lady and everyone else who walks in the door. Our experience is that although work is still work, we do the work in an environment of friendship and trust, what sometimes feels like an oasis in a world that lacks these things. It’s all because of the dog.

Granted, before you all run out to the pound to get your own office dog, keep in mind we were lucky and unknowingly stumbled upon the perfect dog. Poppy is what we call a Hybrid Retriever; her mom was a golden retriever and her dad a Labrador. She has inherited the better characteristics of both breeds. She is intelligent, mellow, affectionate and tolerant of children who want to ride her like a horse (well, most of the time). It’s only after she came home that we learned that our local service dog trainers favor this cross.

Our medicine depends on building relationships. This is Poppy’s job description, it’s what she does every working day. She has helped our practice immensely and helped us do the work we try to.

I know this isn’t the sort of thing you’ll be taught in your business courses. It goes against the entire white coated professional image we were trained to portray in school. Granted we do practice in an unlicensed state and shy away from many ‘medical procedures’ in our office. No need to worry about sterile fields in our practice.

Some of my colleagues will likely be able to enumerate a list reasons why you shouldn’t have a dog join your practice.

In the meantime, it’s a beautiful morning and the dog and I are off to splash in the river and enjoy the day.


  1. I applaud you! I must say a dog is a wonderful idea to add to a practice! Before one of my dogs was killed by a car this year...I considered making her a therapy dog because she was very mellow, loving , and well behaved.

    What state do you currently practice?

    I would love to talk to you more about this

    Dave Hamilton
    SCNM 2 Year Medical Student
    Herbal Vitality Student Rep

  2. My father owns a manufacturing business- an area of the economy which as been hit pretty hard by the recession.

    For as long as I can remember we have had dogs, or dogrectors, both in the office and in the factory. They have done a great job of taking the stress level down a notch.

    Each year the dogrectors, are featured on an annual holiday card. Suppliers and buyers alike look forward to them every year.

  3. Hi there! Keep it up! This is a good read. I will be looking forward to visit your page again and for your other posts as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about practice building. I am glad to stop by your site and know more about practice building.
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