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Prepare your dog for a veterinary examination PDF Print E-mail

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column
By: Gail T. Fisher

Shari, one of our trainers, discovered a lump in her dog’s mouth. She made an appointment with her vet, and knowing that Logan wouldn’t be happy having his lip pulled and stretched so the vet could examine his mouth, Shari spent a few days acclimating him to having his mouth looked at.

Preparing your dog in advance of an event is a simple and tremendously kind thing for an owner to do. A dog that is not used to being handled is frightened when a “stranger” tries to hold and examine him. A frightened, stressed-out dog struggles against restraint. The more the dog struggles, the more people are needed to restrain him. A vicious circle, the result is that the dog becomes still more frightened, worsening his struggle and raising his stress to panic. Clearly, this is something everyone – owners and veterinarians alike – wants to avoid.

In our manners training classes, we teach students how to acclimate their dogs to such things as having their paws examined, ears looked at, throat palpated, and the like. Making examining your dog a positive experience – one that results in praise and treats – gets him used to being handled when he’s not in pain. Then when he needs to be examined by a relative stranger, it isn’t a new, potentially frightening experience.

That was Shari’s goal when she started Logan’s training to allow his mouth to be examined. Making it a positive training experience, she began when Logan was lying on his bed, relaxed. She simply touched his lips, marking his compliance with “yes,” and following the marker with verbal praise. Then she began gently pulling his lip back, and progressed gradually. When Logan was comfortable having his lip gently pulled, she held it briefly, praising and petting him for his cooperation.

If Logan pulled away, she let go. She didn’t try to restrain him or prevent him from reacting normally – as any creature might. Her goal was for him to be comfortable holding still without being restrained, as his lip was pulled.

Over several practice sessions as Logan got used to his lip being pulled, Shari held it for longer periods. The next step was to have another person gently pull his lip, still marking his good behavior with “yes” and praising him. She practiced “lip training” before his meals, so dinner was an additional reward for letting Shari pull on his lip.

On the day of his vet visit, Shari and Logan arrived about a half hour early. They walked around, and spent some time practicing in the waiting room – Shari gently pulling his lip and looking at his mouth. By the time they entered the examination room, Logan was relaxed and prepared for his vet to check out his mouth. The visit was uneventful and without stress to any of the participants – the vet, Logan or Shari.
Years ago I adopted Hobbes, a four year old springer spaniel. Given up as “aggressive,” the vet records his former owners gave me had “MUST BE MUZZLED” in large red letters on every page. Clearly Hobbes had not been well-behaved at the vet’s, and was treated accordingly. The result was that the moment he saw the muzzle he immediately stressed out, pupils dilated, and prepared for battle. The poor guy was in panic mode before anything even started.

My vet allowed me to hold his head and talk to him without muzzling him. We agreed that if Hobbes was held by someone he trusted, we could avoid the panic that caused him to lash out and try to bite. With such training, Hobbes became more relaxed at the vet’s, and didn’t need to be muzzled anymore.

It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to give your dog the tools to help him through a potentially unpleasant experience. Such acclimations make all the difference between a dog that panics and needs to be restrained – making it difficult and stressful for everyone – and a dog, like Logan, who is relaxed and cooperative.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2007. All rights reserved.
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