Many humans and dogs share the same fear – a trip to the doctor or veterinarian. A visit conjures dark images of not so pleasant procedures and they usually spark the same reaction. It incites fear, which automatically makes for difficult sessions.
No matter how much veterinarians try, they will at one point or another, encounter an aggressive dog. Regardless of the precautions taken to protect both yourself and staff from a ferocious canine, an episode from one of these small animals is almost inevitable.
This article is therefore geared towards educating owners about the factors that contribute to aggression in dogs when visiting the vet.
Dealing with Fear of the Vet
Some dogs exhibit behavioral problems whether they are at home, on the streets, or visiting the vet. However, some canines have very good dispositions, yet turn rabid when they go in for a visit to the vet.
This behavior is understandable. It is the same for children too when they visit the dentist.
Even though the children do not get restrained the dogs will, in order to have their blood drawn, be given vaccines and to undergo some uncomfortable probing.
Even with the most experienced hands, the anxiety experienced is real for these dogs. The aim is to minimize their anxieties.
If you notice that your dog is unusually uncomfortable when visiting the vet, to the point of aggression, a few things can be tried to ensure that future visits are calmer.
On the other hand, if you own a naturally aggressive dog, you might want to retain a trainer as soon as possible.
Dealing with Younger Dogs
Puppies should not have a natural fear of vets. If you notice that your pup growls or snaps at the vet, you should understand that this is an atypical behavior.
The veterinarian should address this issue immediately in an attempt to curb what could lead to future behavioral problems.
Just like humans, dogs are born with an empty slate. They too need training and proper socialization. They are not trees that blossom on their own with just sunshine and rain.
Many new owners are not aware that certain behavior such as growling or nipping in an eight-week-old pup, when visiting the vet, is not normal or acceptable behavior.
Most puppies will not flinch to a probing needle, as they are not born with an instinct to fear vaccines or needles in general.
The typical puppy will respond positively to treats and caressing strokes, which serve as distractions during the visits. Once engaged, they will not notice the needles or otherwise uncomfortable check-ups.
Dealing with Aggressive Dogs
Some dogs, however, will display aggression as soon as they enter the building. They might be conditioned to another experience that elicits fear and is triggered by a visit to the vet. The question that should be asked is whether the dog is aggressive in general, or only in certain situations.
How Do You Handle Aggressive Dogs Properly
It is easier to handle a dog that is only aggressive on occasion versus one that is like that most of the times. If you own a pup with bad behavioral tendencies, here are some tips.
1. Taking It Slow
If you get to the vet and you notice your pup is growling or appears uncomfortable, that may just be a bad day for a visit. Don’t force your pup to undergo any kind of examination.
Instead, you or the vet can offer him or her some treats or have her walkabout, in an effort to calm down.
2. Return at a Later Time
If your dog is not up for a day at the vet, you are encouraged to return home and prep your animal for the next visit. You can do this by conducting “exams” at home.
For example, attempt to play with the dog’s feet, checking his ears and teeth.
You can do anything that you know the dog might encounter on a visit to the vet, to get him or her comfortable with an exam. Returning to the vet once or twice per week without much interaction will help in desensitizing the dog to the facility.
If it appears that the pup is becoming worse, especially away from the vet, and acting out around family or strangers, behavioral therapy might be recommended. Home visits with a trusted trainer could do the trick.
Aggressive puppies are not the norm and it is generally a signal of a greater problem.
3. Coaching with Food
As with any kind of negative behavior, positive reinforcement is always a good thing. For dogs, this presents itself in treats.
While you may not engage in as much food training while at home, it may be necessary at the vet. After all, the activities you engage in at home are playful ones, such as telling the dog to sit, roll over or play dead.
A visit to the vet is conducted in a strange environment with unfamiliar persons. Not only that, but they will encounter unpleasant activities, such as being stuck with needles.
Treats at the vet is not only encouraged, but well deserved.
Larger animals, or dogs not easily swayed by food treats, command larger portions of food. This is where you would bribe them with chicken niblets or liverwurst. If a dog is conditioned this way, he or she will eventually start to enjoy the trip to the animal doctor.
How to Handle Older and More Experienced Dogs
While puppies can be trained or conditioned much easier, more mature dogs may prove to be a handful.
Having deep-rooted fear in an older animal can lead to non-curtailed aggression towards the vet, strangers and even family members. They will oftentimes attack to maim or to kill. In such instances, treats and chicken niblets won’t do much to calm an aggressive dog.
However, there are other ways to control even these ferocious canines as they visit the vet.
1. Keep Them Muzzled
This may prove uncomfortable while attached, but it could be the safest way to get your dog to the vet and back home without causing a lawsuit.
This should not be taken as a blanket statement in that all dogs are suited for a muzzle. Whatever method you choose must be appropriate for the dog and his or her level of aggression.
Some dogs will allow the muzzle to be placed over their nose without a fight. In this way, exams can be completed rather quickly and without injury. Other dogs may not be so accommodating. They might try to snap through the leather. If this happens, then it is time to think of another way to control your pet.
If the owner is aware that the animal is difficult, it is advised that they put the muzzle on before the actual visit. This is good practice if you have one that you already use at home.
If this does not work, then it may be time to consider using a sedative on the dog.
2. Use a Sedative
The use of drugs should only be considered as a last resort. There are veterinarians who reach for the drugs as soon as they encounter an aggressive dog. But animals can be taught how to behave and should be given the chance when necessary.
If you are certain that your dog will not be calmed in any other way, then the use of anxiolytics, which is a drug used to temper anxiety, becomes your next solution.
Whether or not a sedative is to be introduced to your dog should be a discussion between you and your vet. If the dog has had frequent anxiety episodes, then drug therapy might be beneficial.
Giving your dog any form of drugs is an important decision. There are implications, especially if the dog has a negative reaction. You may not know right away which type may be best for your dog.
The vet will start with low dosages. And if it is effective, then it can be administered an hour or two before the next vet visit.
3. Employing the Use of Common Sense
First and foremost, your dog is your responsibility. The onus is on you to attempt behavior modification starting at home.
While the vet is the professional, this doesn’t mean it is their job to control your dog. Both of you will need to work together to ensure that your dog is less anxious and aggressive.
However, it is necessary that your veterinarian demonstrates a flexibility and understanding. They should be aware that what works for one animal would not necessarily work for all. Both of you will need to decide on what is best for your pet based on the animal’s natural disposition and their home environment.
Curbing the Aggression in Your Dog
Anxious pups will need to be worked with earlier so the aggressive tendencies don’t become a norm. You can use different techniques on older dogs to ensure a more relaxed visit to the vet.
No one method works for all dogs, and both owners and vets need to be mindful of this fact. Therefore, they should work as a team in the best interest of the animal who is incapable of speaking for itself.
Drugs should never be the first resort, especially where you could try alternative methods.
Finally, pet owners need to be aware of their pet’s aggressive behaviors and be open to helping them cope. Behavioral therapy will be recommended for overly aggressive dogs, but with the right support, they too can show improvement.
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