==> Your dog fearful or aggressive at the vet?
This topic has much wider implications than it seems
Stress-free vet visits
"You probably already know that stress is a killer. Just about every major disease has stress as one of its contributing factors". * From a to v - allergies to von Willebrand's disease (I couldn't think of something common to German Shepherd Dogs that starts with z, sorry).
* This bit is a direct quote from Dr. Frank Shallenberger's teaser report "The World's Most Effective Way to Melt Away Stress" on his Second Opinion Newsletter website. Shallenberger is a mainstream-critical people doctor (MD, not DVM).
Stress is more than a killer: Stress is a terrorist, a mass killer both in people and in dogs in the western hemisphere (with western hemisphere defined as in the prior Periodical How to find the right veterinarian). More dogs and more people die from stress-related defects and disorders than from injuries and diseases combined!
Even though stress doesn't cause the ailment, it always makes it worse. Because, stress impairs all 12 body systems:
In fact, body systems is a topic so helpful to understand in terms of dog health, let's make it the topic of the next MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.
All the health implications aside, the multitude of behavior implications of stress you (hopefully) understood already in our 11th Periodical The PRIME SECRET about Dogs (or, as I called it at the time: The Number 1 Secret about Dogs).
Health and Behavior problems with their dog - for dog owners there's almost nothing else really. This is why stress indeed is the Number 1 thing to avoid if you want to have a happy and long life with your dog.
The less you observe this advice as regards accepted Pack leadership, the more time and money you will be spending at pricey dog behavior consultants and at the veterinarian!
And the more you visit the vet, the more important this Periodical is for you. No, this last sentence is not actually true: There is a point, when you visit the vet very, very often, where the vet visits will be routine for your dog, just like getting dinner. At that point you wouldn't need this Periodical, as your dog will either be totally calm or totally thrilled to see the vet!
That is a remote possibility though. Ask any dog body language educated(!) veterinarian technician: Most dogs show clear signs of fear or of aggression at the vet (with fear aggression being common). Few dogs are calm and relaxed.
That's no surprise really. Imagine just for a minute you are a dog: So one day, your owner suddenly takes you to a place where - you smell that(!) - there have been hundreds of dogs before. And you smell that all those dogs felt fear or aggression while they were at that very place where you are now with your owner. - Damn it, you don't need to be a German Shepherd to put two and two together: You immediately understand that where your owner brought you, that must be a terrible place!
End of "imagine" (even if you took less than a minute)
Finally, don't overlook the side effects of stressed vet visits:
- Where the vet doesn't feel safe with your fearful or aggressive dog, the vet will either give a general anesthetic or have the vet technicians restrain your dog before the examination
- The first (anesthetics) is an avoidable intoxication of your dog, with its possible health implications
- The second (restraining) leaves you to deal with a psychologically traumatized dog, with its likely behavior implications
- The vet office or clinic is not a good place to socialize a dog, a bad experience at the vet can trigger or perpetuate dog-dog aggression
- A first stressed vet visit usually leads to the second being even worse
Once you understand all the above, you will better appreciate how important it is that we make vet visits as stress-free as possible.
Therefore in the remainder of this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL in very short chapters:
- The key requirement
- Early start
- DIY vet visits
- Preparation on the day
- How we behave at the vet office
- What we do after the vet visit
- How to avoid that you get stressed about vet visits
The key requirement
The key requirement for us as dog owner is that we must be the dog's accepted Pack leader, so that the dog knows that (s)he can trust our decisions and actions. This of course presupposes that we can be trusted! Thus we won't raise unfunded expectations (eg "Oh sweetie, today you're going to have a wonderful time" when in fact the dog then learns (s)he's being restrained while being hurt!), and we won't use the vet visit for obedience training (for example "be quiet!" when the dog whines or barks because (s)he feels insecure despite our presence!).
Think how counterproductive such behavior is! Don't assume "the dog can't understand this situation anyway", instead fully take in what this dog expert says:
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
In other words, the key is not to have a Pack conflict as experienced by the dog add to the stress at the vet. Become the accepted Pack leader before you visit the vet.
If you get/got a puppy, don't waste time. Make use of your chance to start early! On the second day you have your pup, immediately begin to prepare your dog for stress-free vet visits, as per these chapters here.
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
What this expert only indicates in this teaser audio snippet is scientific proof and explained in the Interview and Review. So, avoid harming your pup through delaying socialization - here with a veterinarian. Start on the second day you have your pup.
DIY vet visits
What I mean with this is: Although you are not the vet, perform a theater play of being the vet. Do a full body check of your dog, similar to what the vet will do on the day of the appointment. Do make your DIY vet visits a special occasion, let your dog feel that the full body examination is something special. Sort of a treat at a certain point in time, on a certain day. Be totally calm before, during, and after this exam treat.
This is what a good vet will check during the physical examination (and a good vet will do more than the physical exam):
For this exam the vet will use a few instruments, most of which a normal dog owner household doesn't have and doesn't need. With one exception: A stethoscope is very helpful (particularly when we have a puppy), and even though initially you will not know which sounds are abnormal, with practice and comparisons over time a stethoscope proves to be a great diagnostic DIY tool (that costs next to nothing).
Next, this is what we can (and should) do as DIY dog examination:
So, we will inspect the dog's body counter-clockwise, starting with coat inspection near the hip, moving via head, chest, and abdomen, and ending at the tail (for hygienic reasons the tail always is the last inspection). And, not to miss any body part, we will systematically move once around the body, as shown in the image (between step 6 and 7, we ask the dog to roll over):
- Checking coat and skin of the upper body (from the hip towards the head) for parasites, rashes, lesions, hair loss, lumps and bumps
- Checking ears for mites, infection, discharge, and smell
- Checking eyes for dehydration, infection, clarity, and discharge
- Checking nose for discharge, rashes, and lesions, and checking mouth: dehydration, teeth, gums, pierced skin, and bad breath
- Checking chest for parasites, lesions, hair loss, lumps and bumps
- Checking shoulders down to legs and paws: parasites, rashes, cuts and lesions, lumps and bumps, calluses, toenails, interdigital space, and paw pads
- Checking abdomen for parasites, bruises, lesions, lumps and bumps, and hair loss
- Checking tail (anus and under the tail) for parasites, rashes, and discharge.
If you are the dog's accepted Pack leader, your dog will let you gently touch all body parts. You can't anticipate which part may hurt, hence always touch gently like the vet would.
In fact, this DIY dog examination is meant to replicate the experience your dog will make during the few minutes of the physical exam itself - while for all the other experiences at the vet (smells, stressed dogs and stressed people) you cannot much prepare your dog. But staying calm during the exam will avoid stress, anesthetics, and restraining! And, it may even make your dog curious for the next vet visit, yes.
Some (but not all) veterinarians will allow you to be with your dog (depending on what needs to be done, and depending on what experience the vet had with prior dog owners!). In this case, gently place one hand on the dog's shoulder and the other hand gently against the side of the muzzle. If you are the dog's accepted Pack leader (are you?), this will calm your dog and prevent that the dog snaps at the vet or technician, say upon pinprick or when they touch a painful body part.
Note that with a really good vet and a well-prepared GSD, your presence will even be sufficient during dental treatment (where all ordinary vets will sedate the dog). - But then, if you look well after your dog, dental treatment won't be needed anyway (except in case of mouth injury).
Preparing the dog with the DIY dog examination is the key here to avoid stress during the veterinary examination, as much as possible. Make sure you record all your dog's details in our unique Canine Vital Records sheet that you received 40 Periodicals ago. Take the Canine Vital Records with you to the vet:
- so that you can answer questions of the vet/technician
- and so that you can add any new information you gather at the vet to your records to keep all dog information in one place.
If you combine your DIY dog exam with a few minutes of dog massage, then there is no doubt that your dog will indeed experience the entire session as a treat! *
* Two top books on dog massage (each with different strengths) are the Complete Dog Massage Manual and the Canine Massage Reference Manual. However, if you prefer to watch and hear professional dog massage sessions then the video course Dog Massage Secrets may suit you more.
Finally, don't forget that all your (more frequent!) dog care sessions also contribute a LOT to making your dog calm during vet visits: Ear care, Eye care, Mouth care, Paw care, and (to a lesser degree) even Grooming. That is, if you perform them in a calm way in a relaxing, quiet environment.
You probably guessed it: Regularity of your DIY dog exam - as well as regular vet visits (every 6 to 12 months MAX!) - is absolutely necessary in order to prepare your dog for stress-free vet visits.
A good rule of thumb is: Give your dog the treat of a DIY dog exam once a week - which is great for both dog vet preparation and diagnostic purposes! With practice (after the first two or three times), the entire DIY dog exam as shown above takes less than 5 minutes. Even if you diagnose problems, it shouldn't take more than 15 minutes - during which you decide whether the dog needs to see the vet or not.*
* For this decision, books like the Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook are a great tool if you find medical texts as easy as I do? If not, you may prefer more illustrated layman books like the Ultimate Guide to Dog Health.
Initially, the plan was that I publish my own Dog Health Compendium (as well as Dog Care Compendium and Dog Training Compendium), however I've put these plans on hold until such effort may be a bit worthwile (lack of marketing effort and skill and reviews results in minimal book sales that cannot support the site). 😕
Preparation on the day
Next, what can we do on the day of the vet visit, in order to prepare our dog to stay calm during the upcoming experience?
- As with ourselves, dogs too need sufficient sleep to be calm - so let your GSD get enough sleep in the night before the vet visit
- Likewise, dogs need sufficient drinking water to be calm!
- From SSCD to Collar Freeze and beyond, look at all the Sedatives under Energy Tools in the Dog Training Toolkit - there exist so many more tools how to make your dog feel calm and relaxed!
- Whether or not you perform our unique Feeding Routine every day, make sure you perform the Feeding Routine during the meal before the vet visit (and the day before as well) - this will help your dog enormously to copy your relaxed behavior during the vet visit!
- If you have time before the vet visit, 10 - 15 min dog massage will have a lasting calming effect too (see above)
- Avoid food treats before the vet visit - and generally - food treats are a Stimulant, not a Sedative
How we behave at the vet office
Another important consideration is that we mentally prepare ourselves how we want to behave at the vet office - because that makes it much more likely that we then behave that way, instead of getting caught up in predictable stress factors at the vet!
Predictable stress factors - and how to avoid them:
- On the vet's car park, many dogs will have relieved in the past (oh!), and your dog will smell that and will want to sniff! Do NOT let your dog sniff there (very high infection risk!), but to avoid stress try to park rather nearby, let your dog sniff and relieve there, and when you then walk to the vet office keep your dog on a really short leash (obviously, you must have done your Leash Training already!?)
- If your dog is not calm before you enter the vet's premises, perform some SSCD right there until your dog is calm (since the dog is on a short leash, there's no chance to sniff anywhere)
- In the waiting area of the vet office, always keep your dog on the short leash (without pulling or such stress!)
- If your dog is aroused in the waiting room, you can give your dog a gentle neck massage right there
- If another dog's barking, whining or whatever makes your dog stressed, perform the Collar Freeze right there until your dog calms down
- Make sure your dog gets enough drinking water while you are waiting at the vet, but to avoid cross-contamination I would always take our own featherlight fabric dog bowl with me, place it on my lap, pour some water inside from a bottle I take with me, and let the dog drink from that - rather than from some heavily used bowl standing on the floor 😕
- Do NOT needlessly ask your dog to "SIT!" - makes no sense, and all the less at the vet!
- If you have to wait and your dog wants to sit or lie down, place an old washable blanket on the floor next to you
- If you have a small GSD puppy, you may well want to keep the pup on your lap (but not after having been on the floor )
- I use these antibacterial paw wipes - and not only for the paws
All of this should happen in a calm way, being your routine behavior (thanks to mental preparation now). Note that this list is good to go to the average vet office - if you think that your vet's office is always hygienic then you may not need to follow each of the above points.
For any and all of this, you should now see why being your dog's accepted Pack leader really is the key requirement, as shown at the beginning. If your dog feels unsure about your Pack position, or if your dog notices that you feel insecure (or stressed), then your dog will likely be stressed at the vet, regardless how much preparation as per above you may have done.
What we do after the vet visit
A few notes on post vet care (sorry but Eric from the post altering care video wasn't available for a post vet care video).
- Checking the Canine Vital Records sheet: Any data to add, to delete, or to correct?
- What was the vet's diagnosis? If applicable, what was the suggested treatment? Did the vet prescribe any lab medicaments? For what? Do we know enough to decide if we really want to buy them and use them on our dog? If not, we will do some research, right?!
- What else did the vet have for us? Did he successfully sell us some kibble bags or gadgets or tick collar or dog health insurance, or whatever? Are we happy with that?
- What dog care instructions did the vet give us? A lot of rest, or change in diet, or change in exercise regime, or does the dog need to wear or get something special for a while?
- Did the vet recommend some vaccination booster? Did he discuss a prior titer at all?
- Do we feel comfortable with this vet? Do we want to see this vet again?
- How does our dog seem to feel about this vet? Was our dog treated well? Does (s)he look happy?
So, after the vet visit it's more about thinking than doing much.
What about a food treat?
Note that this is the last sub-topic in this section. While for many dog owners, handing out food treats before, during, and after a vet visit seems to be their first thought.
You will (hopefully) remember that I always mentioned why we don't use food treats in dog training - and that MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG actually appears to be the only such place (note that even Doggy Dan Abdelnoor uses food treats - thankfully rarely though). And that we sometimes (rarely) give food treats for other reasons (or indeed, no reason at all): Birthday, Christmas and similar festivities, anything to celebrate (except living - which we should always appreciate if not celebrate, right?), or to mark a special event, or because I've got something healthy in the hand that would be good for the dog too.
One such special event is the day of the vet visit, so to say "happy that everything is alright with the dog" (though, if you see the vet every week, it may not be a special event for you ). So, AFTER the vet visit, a tasty morsel for the dog is on the agenda (but not on the vet premises, and obviously not if the dog may not eat after the veterinary treatment).
Note that the food treat is given regardless of the dog's behavior at the vet - so really not training/behavior related at all! Instead, to mark the special event, rather than some dog behavior.
Welcome side effect: This will certainly help the dog to keep the day of the vet visit in good memory, such that the dog is even more likely to look forward to the next.
How to avoid that you get stressed about vet visits
This is a completely different topic as regards stress-free vet visits. But you may have thought of this when you read the headline earlier(?), so I will briefly address this aspect as well.
Your worry might have been: "How can I avoid that I myself get stressed about a vet visit, how do I know whether I should take my dog to the vet or not??"
Well, had you booked the Dog Expert Interview Series, you wouldn't get stressed about that. It literally saves years of learning and problems and worries! - I know because I regret that I didn't know all that earlier.
When to go to the vet
If this is your worry, you basically need help to decide:
- Will my dog's health issue self-heal if I give it time?
- Do I have time if it does not self-heal?
- If I waste time, do I risk my dog's healing??
Obviously, the more you hear and read about dog health and dog care and dog training, the quicker and better your decision when you need it. If detailed sophisticated Interviews and Interview Reviews(!) are not your thing, you may want to refer to the helpful illustrations in the Ultimate Guide to Dog Health, or to the precise medical descriptions in the Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook.
I have both of them (and have had them long before I started the Interviews and Reviews), and yet I must say:
The conversations with Top Vets opened my mind to things the books and even my studies didn't.
Isn't it often that we need two or three attempts in life - in different forms, at different times, with different people - before it "clicks"? For me it's certainly like that.
In our next edition: Body systems and diseases