Things to Try With Your Vet-Shy Dog

13 Apr

As some of you probably already know, I have to take my little Marco to the vet pretty often for check-ups. Because every time he goes there he has an unpleasant experience (like that time he got neutered, or the time he got his ball joint removed, or that time I had to board him for the wedding), he naturally associates the building and people with pain or discomfort. When I took him in February to have his thyroid checked and he growled at his vet, I knew I had to start re-wiring his perception of the place. If you have a similar problem with your dog getting cranky in new or uncomfortable places, I hope these things can help you too:

Marco really is a cute boy. I don't care what you say about his ears.

Take a bag of treats with you and reward your dog every time he allows someone to handle him. This is the ultimate trick for re-training your dog to think of something as a good experience. Nothing has more power over a dog than his sense of smell and the taste of food so it makes sense that it’s the best way to change a dog’s behavior. Find out what your dog’s favorite treat is and be sure you give it to him any time he cooperates. If he’s really on edge, he may not immediately take the treat. This is because a dog is actually only able to focus one thing at a time. If something terrifies him, he can’t think about the food until his fears are calmed. Just be patient and wave the treat under his nose until the smell distracts him. After that, it should be a piece of cake.

Also in the smell vein–think about wearing lavender-scented lotion or perfume. Just like for humans, the smell is relaxing for dogs and can take the edge off if you have an extra sensitive pet. The same idea can apply for any space, too. If you’re boarding your dog or taking him somewhere unfamiliar, rubbing some lavender scented oil on his bed or on a blanket can be soothing.

Watch for radial dominance. I don’t know that this is the actual term for it so let me describe what I mean. Sometimes when a dog is in an uncomfortable area, he will try to control what’s around him and will establish a certain radius where other dogs or people aren’t allowed. He can also tie this radius to you, thinking that he needs to keep a protective circle around your position. This is very natural for a dog and is close to what they would do as a pack animal in unfamiliar territory. If you notice your dog is sitting very alertly by your feet and shows a little aggression when people approach, just get up and take him for a quick walk around the room/building/area. He’ll stop worrying and become immersed in smelling and being curious. Curious is good and positive for a dog. It’s always the direction that you want to direct your dog when he’s showing fearful aggression.

If your dog is still tense, give him some mental exercise. While I’m walking my dog around the room, I’ll make him sit before we go in or out a door. I’ll pick things up around the office and let him smell them or let him do a trick for a treat. You could possibly take a chew toy or one of those toys that makes dogs work for the treat. Anything you can do to keep him focused on something he likes will keep him completely happy.

I tried all of these things last weekend when I took Marco in for another check-up and I’m pleased to say that there was minimal growling and he even got played with some children in the office and greeted a pet pig. So give them a try next time your furry friend is having trouble adjusting.

Sorry for the leave of absence, everyone. I’m back as much as I can be now. This may be a shorter week than usual but I have some personal issues to work out in the coming weeks and it kinda needs to take priority. Hopefully this will all result in some wonderful wisdom that I can pass down to you later. šŸ™‚

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2 Responses to “Things to Try With Your Vet-Shy Dog”

  1. Hannah April 14, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    you’re like the dog whisperer!!! šŸ™‚
    i can’t wait til i get a dog because i am def putting these tips to use!
    also, i giggled at the thought of a pet pig. first off, ew. second, what are they thinking?

    • Intrepid Girl April 14, 2011 at 1:20 am #

      You know, I’m very afraid of farm pigs. I think they’re terrifying, disgusting animals. This one, though, was just a little 15 lb black and white pig that was half-office pig and half-the vet’s son’s pig. Apparently it was the first pig they’d ever spayed so he was very proud and let it hang out. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it cute but the vet’s son said it was actually cleaner than cats and dogs and it would do anything for a sweet potato. It was interesting.

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