By Lisa Ellman
A few years ago I went to school to dip my toes back into the world of working as a veterinary technician. I had done this job off and on for several years, but had never completed my certification. I worked for two months, accumulating more hours, as an intern at a very busy clinic in Southern California. I witnessed, and partook in, some fascinating cases; a necropsy on a St. Bernard that had just “dropped dead.” 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 pink and healthy. Astonishing stuff to witness for a former biology student!
But the topic I want to discuss, what disturbed me most, was the mundane. Things like a nail trim, a fecal exam, trying to examine a dog’s mouth. Dogs came into that clinic terrified and anxious before we even got them back to the treatment room. I saw a dog so terrified that the owner had to drag her to the back, just to get a nail trim. I won’t go into gory details, but I vowed to NEVER participate in that kind of traumatic treatment again. A trauma like that, for any animal, can only be worse next time. And it wasn’t the first time with this particular dog. I’ve heard there are some vets in town that actually tell the owners that they cannot go forward with the exam/procedure because the dog is too anxious and stressed. THAT is the right thing to do.
Vet techs do not usually have classes in dog psychology/behavior. There is some information in the books about how to work with anxious or frightened dogs, but it is very basic. Some of what I observed, at this particular clinic, seemed contradictory to easing any stress and anxiety. As vet techs, it is our job to do whatever it takes to assist the vet or perform the tasks requested by the owner. And we do whatever it takes to get the job done. To that end, there are many ways to get your dog comfortable, and even relaxed, when visiting a scary place like the clinic.
First, acclimate your dog to the new environment (smells, sounds) by going into and just sitting in the lobby. Bring lots of small treats! Hangout for 5-10 minutes then leave. Do this until your dog loves going in and out. Get them on the scale, give treats. Introduce them to the staff and the doctor(s). On another visit ask if you can take your dog into an exam room. Sit there while the dog investigates. Give treats. On another visit, ask a tech (if not busy) to take your dog to the treatment room and meet people and sniff around with treats. Between your introductory visits, make sure you are engaging your dog in desensitizing routines. This means touching the feet and toes (nail trims), examining and gently cleaning your dog’s ears (otoscope for ear infections), lifting their lip and gently massaging the gums (brushing teeth), opening their mouth to look inside (foreign objects). Ask the techs to do this with your dog as well.
Once you think your dog is comfortable and ready, take them in for a nail trim, or a body check, then assess the results to determine if more practice is needed. It should be an adventure going to the vet, not a catastrophe.
I’ve only discussed dogs in this column because cats are from another planet, and there’s no reasoning with them.
Good Dogma has been training humans and their dogs since 1996. Readers are invited to submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact information for all offered services can be found on our website www.GoodDogma.net