It’s a reality in your dogs life time that they will have to visit a health care professional, how often is usually determined by a combination of a dogs over all health and genetics, and the owners comfort level. Dogs that seem to lack the ‘self preservation gene’ tend to see a health care professional more often, just saying!
As far as choices, times are a changin’. Some dog owners are on the hyper visit plan, and see the veterinarian three to four times per year, even if there is nothing presenting. While other dog owners opt for the, I’ll call you if we need you, once every three year plan. Some dog owners have become very well educated with their choices for their dogs health care and partner with a health care professional, working together. And some owners choose a completely alternative route, using acupuncturists, massage therapist, PEMF clinicians, nutritionists, etc. Whether an owner wants an evidence based traditional experience, or a more naturopathic/holistic route to their dogs health care, handling is handling, and it’s generally outside of the scope of everyday activities for you and your dog.
Bottom line, preparation is the best prevention. Here are some tips to hopefully make your health care visits as stress free as possible, for you and your dog.
- Know Something About Dogs – Start basic, as in knowing what the various body parts are called on a canine, and then delve into more specific articles and books while you grow with your puppy or dog. The more you know the more you can be a partner in your dogs health care. You will be living with your dog 24/7, you can offer great information to a health care professional if you are observant, and have some knowledge behind you.
- You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression – If you are starting with a puppy, BEFORE you make an appointment, check out websites, and call various clinics that match your philosophy on health care. Get a feel for what is available. Ask questions that are important to you in regards to vaccinations, well checks, surgeries, alternative care, etc. Make sure to ask about availability, hours and after hours. If it is important to you, ask for a reference or two from other puppy clients. Not all professionals that work with dogs are good with puppies. You WANT a health care professional that knows how to work with puppies, gets on the floor, allows a puppy to enjoy their visits, has interesting things in the room to investigate, and is kind and gentle! If a puppy is uncomfortable and uncertain about strangers, a good puppy professional will make a visit short, successful, and stress free. It isn’t uncommon for a good puppy professional to meet you and your puppy outside in a neutral space. These initial visits are critical to how your growing puppy will view their health care professionals. If your looking at a seventeen year life span, it would be pretty cool to have those years be as stress free as possible.
- You Have Some Time – Handle, Handle, Handle – The day you get your puppy or dog, handle them. Sit on the floor and get them use to being touched with kind and considerate hands in a semi exam fashion. Their first time being handled should not be in an office/clinic setting, you need to prepare. Your puppy or dog can be laying down or standing. Start after some nice exercise when the edge has been taken off. Give your puppy or dog something nice to chew on like a raw bone or bully stick. Then start your handling exam; touch the muzzle area, the ears, down the neck and the front of the chest, move down the foreleg and pastern, touch the toes and/or pads of each forefoot, cup your hand under the brisket and move to the belly, move down the stifle all the way to the hind foot, handle the hind feet and toes/pads, move down the back to the base of the tail, cup your hands around the genital area (especially if you plan on keeping your male puppy intact past sexual maturity). Do this a couple of times a day, no more than 30 seconds to 1 minute. Longer duration handling happens over time.
- Arriving and Having a Plan – It’s always best when arriving at a health care office to leave your dog in your car while you go and check in. You have no idea who is in the waiting room, what is going on inside, or if there is a scared dog yelping in one of the exam rooms (that for sure causes stress to a dog entering a facility). Go in, check in, see if they need anything from you, ask if they will be needing a urine or fecal sample (easiest right out of the car when they sniff before entering the facility). When a room is ready, then go and get your dog. Always have your dog on a leash when exiting your car at a health care facility (I know this sounds so obvious , but you might be surprised!). Have some high value rewards with you (HIGH), and potty bags. If your dog needs a ‘place’ to feel comfortable and lay down, bring a bath mat for them to lay on in the exam room. Be prepared.
- Space the Final Frontier – If you have a dog that is reactive or has opinions with other dogs or people, please remind the clinic when you arrive and check in. They will be most appreciative, and make sure to clear the area so everyone is comfortable and safe when you enter. Never feel guilty asking for space, safety is important, and so is lowering everyone’s stress levels.
- Be A List Keeper and a Question Asker – Have your questions and/or concerns written down on a list to discuss with your dogs health care provider. It’s easy to forget a thought when you are ‘in the moment’ and managing your dog in a new environment.
- Listen for an Answer – Make sure that your questions are answered, and that you have a better understanding of what you wanted to know. Please write down anything specific so you make sure you have that information for your reference. A health care professional should not dismiss your questions, make you feel uncomfortable for asking them, or demean you in anyway. You are your dogs advocate and their voice in the human world, speak up and ask!
- Out of the Blue – If something needs to be done to your dog, that your dog is either uncomfortable with, or has not been prepared for, ask your health care professional for details on what needs to be done (nail trimming, eye drops, ear drops, handling of genitals, muzzle use, standing for exam, standing in warm water, etc), and then reschedule for a week or two down the road (as long as it is nothing critical where time is of the essence). Go home and practice this type of handling, desensitize and condition your dog. Small tiny steps everyday. If you teach your dog what is going to be done, then you are not catching them off guard, and in turn are building a very cool life skill! You should seriously reconsider using any health care provider that wants to force your dog, man handle, strap down, or hobble for a procedure that is not critical, and where you could have the opportunity to condition.
- Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? – Know if you want to take part in handling your dog while at a clinic or office. You need to know your comfort level and your dogs comfort level with this. Ask your health care professional to teach you good handling in the office so you can participate if this is your choice. For basics like blood draws, nail clipping, etc, decide if you want to learn more. That is an owners choice. If your dog needs to go into another room, decide if you want to stay or go, that again is your choice and should be discussed with your health care professional. Observing what is being done can help you prepare your dog through out their lives. If you don’t see what happened and your dog has a bad experience, than you will live with reconditioning for a very long time.
- Leaving and Having a Plan – After your dogs exam or procedure, take them outside on leash, allow them to potty again, and then load them in your car. THEN go back inside and pay, reschedule, or do what you need to do on the office/business side of things. Please don’t make your dog hang with you at the desk/reception area.
- No Visiting – When in a clinic setting, it’s best to not let your dog visit, coming or going. You don’t know if the other dog is feeling good or not, so taking the path of least resistance is best, and it’s simply polite.
- Records and Second Opinions – Whenever you have a visit with your dog, always get an updated copy of your dogs records. Have your dogs health files with you in case you want a second opinion, or you are already thinking of changing to a new health care provider. It is your right to have this information, please never feel guilty or bashful for asking.
Nancy, here is to happy and healthy living!