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Reducing Pet Fear in the Veterinary Setting: One Veterinarian’s Experience

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To supplement our puppy classes, we started offering "Puppy Day Care." When the puppies developed adult teeth, we occasionally had to inform the client that the dog was now an adult and not eligible for puppy day care any longer. Some clients begged to allow their dog to continue to come to his favorite place, so we developed protocols and a separate area for adult dog day care. I now believe those dogs that periodically go to day care get tremendous mental and social stimulation, and I feel sorry for those poor dogs isolated at home who stare at a wall or fence every day.

 

Most day care dogs learned the "social skills" necessary to get along with new dogs and people, and got to experience what I imagine is the deep canine psychological satisfaction of "hanging with their pack." There were also some dogs that even with the best of socialization just could not get along with other dogs and were expelled from day care. When this happens I think it probably reflects some mix of genetic predisposition, negative experience, or lack of early socialization.

 

I taught the staff how to do "Gentling" exercises with every puppy and kitten to desensitize them to human handling, always linking body handling to a little treat. We made it hospital policy to use very small needles, and learned techniques to distract the pet during any injection. We began enrolling every puppy owner in an online education course, and implemented a “fear prevention protocol” offering sedation before any procedure that might be painful. Our goal was for pets to remember lots of positive experiences, but not remember any negative ones.

 

A "Pet Centered Practice" is what I now call a veterinary hospital where every staff member looks at the visit from the pet’s point of view. It is important to note that we were not able to successfully allay every pet’s fears, and those pets still required special handling, but our goal was to prevent new cases and reduce the severity of the existing ones.

 

I encourage every small animal veterinary hospital to host puppy parties in the lobby one hour a week after the hospital closes, and allocate a small area for puppy day care. These positive visits help overcome unavoidable unpleasant memories.

 

Positive socialization along with owner education, treats, injection distraction, and preemptive pain sedation result in pets that are friendly instead of fear aggressive. When these dogs come in the front door they are wagging their tail looking for the next cookie or the next party with their dog friends.

 

Dr. Tripp received his doctorate from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and also holds a bachelor’s degree in music and a minor in philosophy.  A regular guest on the Animal Planet Network, Dr. Tripp appears on both “Petsburgh, USA” and “Good Dog U.”   He is a Veterinary Behavior Consultant for Antech Laboratory’s “Dr. Consult Line” and an Affiliate Professor of Applied Animal Behavior at both Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine.  Dr. Tripp is the founder of the national behavior consulting practice, www.AnimalBehavior.Net. He is now the Chief Veterinary Pet Behaviorist of The Hannah Society (www.hannahsociety.com) which helps match people and pets, then keeps them together.  Contact info: [email protected].

 

Image: Bas Lammers / via Flickr

 

 

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