How many times have you had to muzzle and restrain a dog for vaccination? Felt dread when you see ‘nervous’ or ‘aggressive’ on a dog’s record? Injected an anxious looking dog because they were stoic and frozen?
Why is this a problem? The consult is over, the dog received its vaccine, all is well.
Until next year.
The dog has learned that subtle behaviours don’t work. Now they struggle even more, have started showing their teeth, you can’t get a needle anywhere near the dog, and your safety is compromised. The dog is anticipating something negative and is now having another bad experience.
The following year, the client doesn’t come back as a result of embarrassment and the poor emotional state of their dog. A number of studies have identified that clients failed to bring their dogs to veterinary practice because they were unwilling to put up with the stress to their animal and themselves.
This situation does not need to happen. Yes, time is limited in practice, but is holding a dog down worth instilling fear and anxiety for a quick consult? We don’t expect animals to leave medically worse off than when they came in, so why is it OK to send them home mentally impaired.
Having a behaviourist invest a small amount of time with scared patients using systematic desensitisation and counterconditioning can train dogs to love visiting the vets and tolerate procedures such as injections better. Not only will this save time in the long-run, but you’ll have a happy dog and owner, and a client bonded to your practice. Undoubtedly, these benefits are far greater than saving some time.
Recently, I saw a spaniel who had previously been pinned up against a wall to receive an injection and was consequently needle-phobic and would not let me touch his neck. I spent just over one-hour using short training sessions to build trust and pair syringes and pressure on his scruff with treats, toys, and games. At the end of that hour, with a food distraction, he barely noticed the vaccine had been given.
The outcome was a dog and owner that had an enjoyable and positive experience. With frequent visits to the clinic for treats and games, the veterinary practice will become a favourite place for this dog.
At the next appointment, both dog and owner will feel relaxed and confident in the veterinary practice, and the bond and trust has been restored.