Working as a registered veterinary technician in a day practice I’ve encountered hundreds of fearful dogs. With this occupation, you must learn to understand canine body language, recognize the signs and assess the risks. I’ve experienced it all, from subtle lip licking to submissive urination to a dog offensively baring his front teeth. As a Certified Dog Trainer I’ve learned that visits to the vet don’t have to be a stressful experience for your dog and certainly not for you.
Start at Home
Teach your pup that being handled is a good thing. There are several areas on your dog’s body that your veterinary professional will routinely examine. Locations such as ears, mouth and limbs will need special consideration so your dog is comfortable having them handled first by you, then by others. You can condition a positive association with body handling by pairing it with super tasty treats. It’s important to remember that when doing so the handling must predict the treat. You can watch our toe nail trimming video to learn more about how to create a positive emotional response with a type of handling that a dog typically finds aversive. You can also train a few behaviors using positive reinforcement methods that will come in handy for your upcoming visit. You can train a “Chin Rest” (see photo) either in your palm or on your lap. This training will cause exams of the head and blood draws become less stressful due to a reduced need for heavy restraint. You can teach your dog to “Touch” and follow your hand. This behavior can easily be transitioned to getting your pup on and off the scale, thereby eliminating a wrestling match. It’s also helpful to train your dog to “Settle on a Mat” or small roll up rug. Choose something that is easy to transport from a travel crate to the waiting area and to exam room table. Having this small “piece of home” which is associated with relaxing times serves as a wonderful “security blanket” for your pooch.
Before Your Appointment
As well as making a positive association with handling it’s important to create one with the hospital as well. Taking a little extra time prior to your pup’s appointment to familiarize your pup with the hospital will pay off big. If you have a young puppy investigate to see if your hospital offers in hospital puppy socialization classes. Many hospitals now offer safe, fun and informative puppy classes. These classes focus on socialization with similar aged puppies, unfamiliar people, and novelty stimuli in the hospital environment. Besides being critical for normal social development these classes are something that your pup will look forward to. If your dog is past the puppy socialization window (7 to 16 weeks) consider “Happy Visits” to the hospital. By going to the hospital and having several good experiences and getting treats instead of shots, your pup will learn to be less stressed. You’ll need to have several “Happy Visits” to equal one appointment, so don’t skimp on these! If your dog is already fearful of the hospital, try requesting an appointment during a quiet time of day. This can often be the first appointment of the morning, when the wait time is less and the foot traffic in and out of the hospital is low. Also, if your dog has become reactive to the stimuli in the waiting area, use your cell phone and call from the parking lot to let them know you have arrived. You can then wait in your vehicle with your dog until an exam room is ready.
It’s the Big Day
Appointment day is here! Don’t forget to pack a “Doggie Diaper Bag” prior to your departure with an abundance of high value treats, an interactive food toy (such as a peanut butter stuffed frozen KONG) and the settle mat. If your dog is off feed, you can bring his favorite toy or frozen low sodium chicken broth in a small container that he can lick at. Once you arrive at the hospital remember to maintain your space. Keep interactions with other canines and unfamiliar people to a minimum. If possible find a quiet spot away from the busy entrance, roll out your dog’s mat and engage him in a bit of training. Reward with tasty treats for keeping his focus on you, being able to respond to your cues and remaining calm. If your wait time is longer than expected pull out the frozen KONG or chicken broth and keep him busy. Once in the exam room, roll out the settle mat again but this time on the exam table and scatter several treats across it. Your pup will soon be looking forward to the treasure find on the exam table. If the exam table is already a scary place advise your veterinarian and ask if they would be willing to perform the exam on the floor. Most will appreciate the extra bit information and happily oblige. Dogs are masters at reading body language both canine and human so it’s important for you to take a deep breath and relax as well. Calm movements and a soothing voice can help set the tone. Just as you practiced in the waiting area remember to reward good behavior throughout the exam. If all else fails and your pup is excessively nervous or becomes aggressive with veterinary personnel, you might consider speaking to your veterinarian about prescribing a mild sedative to give prior to their appointment.
After the Fact
Once back home you will likely discover your pup is worn out from the big adventure so it’s important to arrange for a little down time in a quiet spot in the house. Remember to keep close watch on him and be on the lookout any adverse medication or vaccine reactions.
You Don’t Have to Fret
Your dog will likely require many visits to a veterinary hospital during its lifetime. A little time preparing and making positive associations with it before, during and after those visits will reduce stress and even make it fun for the dog and a happy, friendly experience for you, the doctor and the staff.
It’s More Than Lip Service
Today is the day we pay our respects the selflessness and sacrifice of those who have served our country, but it takes more than acknowledgement to improve the lives of our veterans and their families. It takes commitment and sacrifice of our own. That’s why Doc’s Dogs for Vets has teamed up with Yosemite Bark Training Services and Valley State Prison in Chowchilla to initiate a non-profit volunteer program to train rescue dogs to become service dogs for veterans.
Our First Class
On October 24th 4 dogs joined 11 inmate trainers at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, California and began the journey to become service dogs for Veterans. They were greeted with big smiles, opens arms and handfuls of treats. Clark, Samson, Sierra and Wallace were specially selected from Fresno Humane Animal Services using specific temperament evaluations to determine their capability as service dogs.
Health Checks Provided by Pet Medical Center and Spa
The dogs then completed medical evaluations donated by Pet Medical Center in Spa in Fresno, California to determine their health status. The medical evaluations screen candidates for structural imbalances, genetic illnesses and hearing or vision problems. Once the dogs successfully completed the medical evaluations, they were vaccinated and altered.
Training Directed by Yosemite Bark
All training is using force free, science based methods. No prong, choke or shock collars, no yelling, hitting or harsh leash corrections are allowed. The program uses a positive reinforcement philosophy that focuses on rewarding appropriate dog behavior which makes behavior more likely to occur in the future. Using these methods serves a dual purpose to teach inmates they can influence one’s behavior, canine or human, without the use of pain, force or intimidation.
The dogs will live with their inmate trainers at Valley State Prison for 6 months to complete an extensive foundation training program which consists of learning over 50 commands.
Once the dogs complete their foundation training they will then start their socialization process which will condition the dogs to be relaxed and confident while performing their newly acquired skills around hundreds of sights, sounds and smells.
And Finally to the Veterans
After the general training is completed, the dogs will be matched with a Veteran. Once matched, the dogs will start the task training portion which is specifically designed to their veteran’s needs. Assistance Dogs International (ADI) requires that each dog is specifically trained to perform 3 or more tasks to mitigate a person’s disability. The dogs will need to successfully perform these tasks in a multitude of environments before they are placed with the veteran and they complete the public service access test and are certified as a team.
Doc’s Dogs for Vets
Doc's Dogs for Vets (a 501 c 3), located in Raymond, CA was formed by the Pleitez family in honor of their son, Spc. Benjamin Pleitez, an army medic who died in 2012 while serving his country in Afghanistan.
The dogs will go at no cost to Veterans. Doc’s Dogs for Vets is committed to pursuing their Assistance Dogs International accreditation which has been designed for non-profit organizations.
The purpose of ADI is to:
The journey to become a service dog is a long one indeed, and yet it seems but a tiny gesture compared to the price veterans have paid. Today we gather together across America to pay tribute, remember, and honor those who have served our great country, but making their lives better is an on-going commitment. The dedicated volunteers in the Service Dogs for Vets program are up to the challenge.
Do you have a dog that barks, growls and lunges when passing other dogs on a walk? A cat who urinates outside of its litter box? How about a dog that hides under your bed during thunderstorms? Pet owners that struggle with pronounced pet behavior problems such as these, can often benefit from a behavioral dog trainer who specializes in the field of behavior modification.
Behavior modification is the systematic approach to changing a dog’s emotional response to a particular stimulus. Where traditional dog obedience training focuses on training specific commands like sit, stay and down, behavior modification focuses on changing a dog’s reaction to a certain circumstance. The circumstance can involve a person, an object, another animal or even a sound. However, many behavior modification plans often incorporate the use of traditional dog training commands. The execution of these trained behaviors are the foundation to a successful behavior modification plan.
Since not all dog behavior problems are exactly the same, the first step will be a behavior modification consultation. The consultation will allow the trainer to get to the bottom of what is happening, make a clear assessment of your dog's behavior and formulate a training plan. The plan should provide step by step instructions including specific training techniques, triggers to avoid and management solutions to help your dog reach its full potential.
The word is out that early puppy socialization is one of the best things you can do for your pup! Recent studies indicate that under-socialized dogs are at greater risk of developing behavioral problems such as aggression, anxiety, and reactivity towards other animals and unfamiliar people. Unfortunately, these problems often end up with the dog unnecessarily discarded. However, most Veterinarians now recommend enrolling your new furry family member in an early socialization class. But what are the important components of a good socialization class? Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.
1. The Earlier the Better
There is a small window of opportunity, typically between 4 to 14 weeks of age, when puppies are developmentally open to new experiences. Remember that dogs age faster than humans and if you wait until 6 months, your pup is practically a teenager in human terms. Imagine a human child who has never been to school or exposed to other kids until 12 years of age! Behaviors that are cute in puppies can become destructive and dangerous in a fully grown dog. A well-constructed puppy class will recognize the importance of early socialization and often allow enrollment as early as 8 weeks of age. Of course, this should be contingent on a recent physical exam by a veterinarian, proof of current vaccination and appropriate parasite prevention protocol.
2. Not Just Play
As fun as it is to watch, puppy socialization classes should not just be about puppies chasing, racing and wrestling with each other. Controlled, off leash social interaction is great way for puppies to learn to communicate with other puppies but a well-rounded class curriculum is also important. This should include socialization to novelty items and different people, foundation training and prevention topics such as potty and crate training.
3. Think Safety First
How safe from disease can classes be if the puppies are not fully vaccinated? Safer than you think! A recent study published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association found that “puppies vaccinated at least once prior to starting puppy classes at less than 16 weeks of age were at no more risk of being diagnosed with Canine Parvovirus infection than vaccinated puppies that did not attend classes”. That being said, scope out the class location before you arrive with your pup. Things to be on the lookout for are a tidy training area that is cleaned before and after with a parvocidal disinfectant, toy & novelty items that are cleaned thoroughly after each use, and potty accidents that are immediately cleaned up. Veterinary hospitals are most often the best venue for hosting puppy socialization classes. Veterinary hospitals serve as a safe and clean location, hold easy access to vaccination records and have the added benefit of creating an initial positive association between your pup and the hospital so your puppy learns to enjoy future visits.