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Panic at the Vet Clinic

Good Dogma
By Lisa Ellman

I’m dipping my toes into the pool of “veterinary technician” work again.
Over the past 2 months, I’ve been working at a very busy vet clinic in Los Angeles and I saw some fascinating cases.
Among other things, a necropsy on a St. Bernard that just dropped dead, and a bandage wrap on a necrotic wound, using store bought honey. A week later, the wound was still open, but the tissue was now bright and healthy. Amazing stuff.
But the thing I want to discuss, which disturbed me the most, was the mundane. Things like a nail trim or trying to examine a dog’s mouth. Dogs came into the clinic terrified and anxious before they even got to us in the back.
I saw one dog so terrified that the owner had to literally drag her to the back just to get a nail trim. Once he left, and we had to proceed, it was traumatic for all of us. It took three techs to work on her — two to hold her down, and one to trim its nails.
This sweet, terrified Labrador also had a muzzle on. A traumatic experience like that can only be worse the next time.
In my opinion, the owner should let the techs know that if the dog is panicking, not to continue.
Vet techs do not usually have animal behavior or psychology classes to help them deal with anxious or frightened dogs and I observed some actions to be contradictory to helping the animal relax or ease its anxiety.
If your dog won’t let you trim its nails or touch its feet, it will be worse when you take it to the clinic. As techs, our job is to do what you ask and assist and protect the vet for procedures. And we will do whatever it takes, as mentioned above.
I write this as a trainer, behaviorist and technician, to implore those of you who have a dog that is terrified of the vet’s office, to start implementing activities that will help relieve the trauma and panic that accompany a visit.
One of the exercises to change your dog’s behavior is to desensitize the dog to being touched anywhere on its body. Start by practicing a “puppy massage.” When your dog is calm, gently and slowly start touching the most sensitive areas: ears, feet, lips, mouth, tail.
If the dog pulls away, wait a few minutes and start again. Handle the dog as much as possible. Stay calm. You’re calm energy will ultimately influence your dog’s.
The second part of the plan should be that every few days you take your dog, and a bunch of special treats, to your vet and sit in the lobby for 5 minutes. Give a treat every 30 seconds or so, then leave.
In a few weeks, if you see progress, move into an exam room and do the same thing.
Next practice handing the dog off to a vet tech to take into the back for a few minutes, with treats and without any procedures. Ask the tech to just handle and touch the dog in the areas that you’ve been desensitizing.
Of course you’ll want to let them know ahead of time what you’re doing and ensure that they have a few minutes to do this. Once your dog is comfortable and calm with these new behaviors, take it in for an exam or nail trim and assess the results to see if more practice is needed.
I’ve only discussed dogs in this column because cats are from another planet, and there’s no reasoning with them.

Lisa Ellman has been working with animals for over 20 years, including dog grooming, presentations with wild animals and vet tech positions. Her passion, however, is dogs and in 1996 she founded Good Dogma Obedience Training, offering basic obedience training and behavior modification. Her comprehensive theory on training is simple: “Train the human, condition the dog.” See her website at: www.Gooddogma.net and catch her radio show on 97.3 FM The Rock in the Estero Bay Area, 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at: Gooddogma@hotmail.com. Good Dogma is a monthly feature of Simply Clear Marketing & Media.

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