Step by Step, Oh Baby*
Hey! Did you guys know that you can buy an affordable 30 day online pass to read Dr. Sophia Yin’s Low Stress Handling, Restraint, and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats?
I didn’t! I’ve been pining over that book and dvd set for months – but at $150 it was a little steep for this needs-a-new-washer-dryer gal to spend. So there I was, sad that I couldn’t read her book, which I was sure would help me to help Boogie feel more at ease at the vet. And little did I know there was an affordable online version. Did anyone else miss this option? Go check it out!
This book is heaven for me because my little man Boogie is a scaredy-dog. Most new stuff, situations, and people freak him out. With a little time and a game of fetch, he’s good to go, but he needs a soft touch, especially at the vet. We’ve been lucky in the past and had a wonderful vet that understood how to approach and examine Boogie. But then she left for maternity leave and we lost her. After that, we had a really unpleasant experience in our search for a new vet for Boogie – despite good recommendations, multiple advance emails and discussions with the new clinic about Boogie’s needs – it was a disaster.
The vet visit last year went something like this: The vet throws Boogie treats for a few minutes while standing near him, stares at him, then, just as he’s starting to relax (sort of), she puts him on a metal rectangle on the ground and flips a switch so the table rises out of the floor. Boogie and I were both shocked. I had thought it was clear that she would examine him on the floor. Instead, she took a scared dog and put him on a moving metal monster. Then, standing behind him, she tried to examine his abdomen. No surprise here: Boogie growled at her, a lot.
I was doing my best to redirect his attention, asking him to look at me and giving him amazing treats, but every time he growled the vet sternly told him “NO” and scared him more. I was so stunned that I was having trouble advocating for Boogie (I still feel bad about that). But I kept trying to work with him, so she could finish the exam and then we could get the hell out of there.
Then this doctor stopped the exam to chastise me – she told me I had to stop rewarding him for growling and start telling him “NO” too. And that’s when I lost it. I told her I would never correct my dog for telling someone he was uncomfortable – that correcting away a growl was dangerous because we’d be taking away his attempt to communicate his fear and that leads to dogs biting without warning. If he’s scared, then the approach needs to change. She told me I was rewarding his bad behavior by treating him. I told her she was going to take him off the table that very second and examine him on the floor. She did. Then we left. I was pissed.
So now it’s time for his annual exam again and we’ve decided to try a vet that does home visits. This is good fit us for a lot of reasons. 1. we have five pets, so we have to go to the vet a lot. It would be nice if someone came to us instead of us schlepping our rag-tag zoo across the state. 2. one of our cats gets disgustingly car sick and poops his pants, then rolls in it in his crate while I drive. So every time I get to the vet, I run in yelling, “I need a room for Gus! He’s covered in poop!” and then I spend 30 minutes trying to clean up my 18 pound cat’s poopy pants. 3. Vet waiting rooms are stressful! 4. Boogie will feel more comfortable at home, where he can meet the vet outside and play ball with him before the exam. To top it off, the vet tech coming over is an old friend of mine who worked with me at the shelter and knew Boogie when he was there on the adoption floor.
In preparation of our upcoming visit, I’ve been doing a few things: getting Boogie more comfortable wearing a muzzle, doing lots of ear, teeth, and paw touching to mimic the exam, and trying to find some detailed help for preparing fearful dogs for exams. I found Dr. Yin’s book, but I couldn’t afford it. Behold my amazement when my speed reading eyeballs slowed down long enough for me to see the tab that said ‘online version’ and realized I could buy 30 days of online access to the book, videos, and handouts for just $25.
I couldn’t pay fast enough and spent all night reading the book and watching the videos. If you have a dog (or cat) that is fearful or aggressive at the vet or in any scenario, go do the same. While there is a ton of general advice out there on the interwebs for helping your dog get comfortable at the vet, it’s just that – general advice that’s pretty universal: stop by often, go slowly, lots of treats, etc.
But this book gave me exactly what I need: specific instructions on how I can restrain my dog for various procedures and how to train him, prior to the visit, so that he’s more comfortable getting injections, blood draws, ears cleaned.
Since I’ve worked in shelters, I do know how to restrain and vaccinate dogs. But no one really taught me how to do this – I just learned on the fly. So I wanted detailed instruction on the various holds, all with the goal of making the experience as low stress as possible, while still keeping everyone safe – and this book delivered. The chapter on “difficult dogs” was especially juicy and delicious.
I’ve been talking with my pal the vet tech, so I know that she plans on doing Boogie’s blood draw from his back leg. Wouldn’t you know it? Dr. Yin outlines how to do this exact procedure, specifically on a fearful dog. It involves a wall, my leg, a head harness, and a lot of calm stroking and head rubbing. My husband and I will practice these moves with Boogie prior to the exam. It feels really good to have such clear, easy to understand instructions – with lots of photos – to guide us.
If your dog is stressed at the vet, the groomers, at home during nail trims, or just fearful of things like novel objects or car rides, you’ll want to read this book and watch the videos. It’s just super user-friendly. And I’m pretty sure that even those of you that have a lot of experience with dogs will still pick up a new trick or two for handling dogs and cats – like different ways to roll them on their sides or how to use a gentle leader to control a dog’s head while you examine them by yourself.
I wish more people who work with dogs professionally were required to read and implement these techniques. I don’t know about you guys, but I often encounter vet techs that have great handling skills, but they work with vets that are as graceful and comforting as Dr. Frankenstein:
These vets have all the book smarts, but no bedside manner. That would be fine, just book smarts, if they never had to touch the dogs and the vet techs could do all the handling, but vets have to touch the dogs. So why aren’t more of them taking a few hours here and there to read this book and get educated? Why isn’t it a priority for vets to learn how to properly handle dogs and cats in order to make the experience a positive and safe one for everyone involved? I’m kind of peeved it’s not on everyone’s must read list.
If you work in a shelter and you need to do vet rounds, please ask your boss to buy you this book. If not, sign up for the 30 day online version. Not only will it help you do the medical tasks you have to do as part of your daily work, but it has great tips for stuff like: entering/existing kennels, how to safely approach and leash fearful dogs at the back of kennels, and how to avoid using a rabies pole. I wish I had this resource a few years ago when I was at the shelter.
And can I just say that I’m even more annoyed at the vet from last year after reading this book? It addresses the exact scenario I encountered: someone who thinks it’s wrong to reward a dog when they are afraid. This video shows how using treats can change the emotional response of the dog, even while they’re growling.
When I emailed the old clinic to ask for Boogie’s records, they wanted to know why I was leaving and if I was unsatisfied with my experience. I was too shaken up last year to say much – I truly felt like I had let Boogie down by allowing him to be handled so badly – but now was my chance to calmly explain why I was unhappy. This is what I wrote:
The vet techs at XYZ were really terrific, but I’m looking for a vet with better behavioral and handling skills.
I prefer a vet that is willing to alter their approach in order to help my dog feel more comfortable – for instance, sitting on the floor with him, rather than putting a terrified dog on a moving table and standing behind him, correcting him loudly with a “no” every time he growled.
Correcting a scared dog with a firm “no” every time he growls, as this vet did and asked me to do, only suppresses the growl, it doesn’t change how the dog is feeling – that they are uncomfortable with how they are being approached. Teaching a dog not to growl is extremely dangerous and leads to biting without warning.
Although I tried to explain that I was treating my dog after asking him to “look” at me, the vet misunderstood that I was rewarding him for growling. I was not. I was rewarding him for redirecting his attention to me (and trying to make the experience positive). I was deeply unhappy that she didn’t understand this and that she insisted I tell him “no” for growling. We have never had such a stressful exam.
I’d suggest she look into Dr. Sophia Yin’s Low Stress Handling Techniques: http://lowstresshandling.drsophiayin.com/
Hopefully, this vet will check out Dr. Yin’s resources. More professionals need to make this sort of continuing education a priority. In the meantime, I’m studying the exercises we need to practice in order to make our home visits at the end of the month a more pleasant experience for Boogie. I’m sure it’ll still be a humdinger of a visit, but we’re going to try our best to make it less stressful for our wee man. Wish us luck and stay tuned for an update in September!
* You bet your sweet tuckus that’s a New Kids on the Block reference. Oh baby, gonna get to you girl.