History Matters

I’ll be at my vet’s office tonight running a class called “Vet Ready!” to help owners and dogs feel more comfortable coming to the clinic. Few things are as clear as how they respond to handling to give you an idea of what they have learned to expect from you. For some owners the way their dog responds is….well….history. The dog has learned that visits to the vet are not happy events. Their behavior will reflect this and both dog and owner are likely to be upset and stressed.

Today my 15lb dog Nibbles got a bit of wood stuck in his teeth. It wasn’t dangerous but it was annoying. Initially I wasn’t sure what he had in his mouth and thought that it was a bit of food that he’d easily dislodge. But when he began to paw at his muzzle and become more upset I thought I better have a look.

Years ago I had a dog get a stick stuck between his teeth on the roof of his mouth. When I saw him his fur was tinged pink from the blood his pawing to get it out had caused. I didn’t know this at the time and feared he’d been in a fight with a critter. Off we went to the vet. Because he was not comfortable with me handling his muzzle and looking into his mouth he resisted my efforts and I called the small piece of wood the vet removed his $40 root canal (this was back in the days when a vet visit and sedation only cost $40!). Had I been able to get a better look into his mouth I could have popped it out myself.

Nibbles came to me a dog afraid of being handled by people but I have put time and energy into changing this. He let me run my fingers along the sides of his teeth to find out what the problem was. I was able to flick the splinter out from between his teeth and with a few licks he’d spit it out. I didn’t have time to teach Nibbles to let me do this, but our history of gentle handling and my efforts to teach him what to do instead of using force and restraint paid off. This video by Chirag Patel shows how simple it can be to create a positive history of handling with your dog. If you are fostering a dog consider working on both restraint and restraint-free handling with your charges. Show them that their bad history will not repeat itself.

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6 comments so far

  1. Linda Trunell on

    “Vet Ready” sounds like a great idea! People and pets benefit from education on handling. Unfortunately, some vets need to come out of the dark ages when it comes to dog behavior and appropriate handling.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Vets are learning. Having people reluctant to bring their dogs in for routine check-ups is bad for business too.

  2. lexy3587 on

    My dog broke a piece off a chew bone and got it wedged in the top of his mouth. thank goodness I was home, because I’m not sure if any of my family members, or the dog himself, would have been comfortable reaching in to pry it out from between his teeth! He had enough trust in me to not fight too hard at my invasion of his mouth, but even a bit more pressure from his teeth might have accidentally cut my skin, or at least left a bruise. He was doing that same clawing at his face, and could easily have ended up really hurting himself.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      It’s scary when they start to panic. We have porcupines around here and being able to get them to settle down when they get quilled is important.

  3. EngineerChic on

    I find that with my shy, fearful dog I need to allow extra time for him to make the decision to walk into the vet’s office. We park the car & I slowly walk toward the office (usually in 5′ increments because he’s on a 5′ leash). I sit on the pavement, he eventually comes over (closer to the dreaded building) and gets some snuggles. Then I move another leash-length toward the building & repeat.

    It sounds crazy, but if I scoop him up and carry him into the office he is more fearful thru the whole visit. Thankfully his vet believes in squeezy-cheese (that gross cheese in an aerosol can) and that gets us through most of the encounter without a muzzle. He is due for a dental, though, and I’m not sure how to manage that. I can’t be there to keep him calm when they sedate him & intubate him. Or when he wakes up. Suggestions?

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Sunny self-medicates on that cheese in a can!

      Any chance you can schedule first dental of the day? I do that, sit with my dogs in the exam room while the pre-med for sedation takes effect, 5-10 mins, and then they carry them off while they’re in lala land. Perhaps they’d be willing/able to give the dog some kind of sedative or anxiolytic after the treatment so he can snooze in the kennel until you can come get him. I also am very clear about how people should (not) interact with the most scared one.


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