Replacing FEAR with FUN: Meet Jill!


One thing that I am passionate about, and a big reason why Small Things exists, is to provide fear-free veterinary care for pets.  I specialize in helping dogs and cats feel comfortable with their medical care, reducing their level of stress, and increasing the fun.

I’d like you to meet Jill – a lively Jack Russel Terrier with strong opinions and a passion for playing ball.


FearFreeJill2015 (3)

Rewarding Jill with ball play.


The first time I met Jill and her brother Jack (another Jack Russel Terrier), Jack jumped all over me right away.  Jill came to say hello, tentatively.  I examined Jack without a problem, but Jill figured out what was going on and would not approach me.  She refused any attempt on my part to engage her, touch her, or play with her.

Jill was a classic case of “fearful dog”.


When I meet a dog like Jill, the best thing I can do for them is to provide some counter-conditioning.

Counter-conditioning is a process that aims to change a pet’s negative feelings about a particular stimulus or situation in order to avoid or reverse phobias.

Counter-conditioning replaces the fear response entirely.  It is not just about changing the way that the dog behaves.  It is about changing the way that the dog feels.

Successful counter conditioning will enable the dog to be happy and relaxed in the presence of the previously fearful stimulus.

(From Totally Dog Training)

Jill was scheduled for six sessions with me.  My ultimate goal was that at the end of the six sessions we would achieve the following:

  1. Jill would trust me and have confidence that I am not a threat.
  2. Jill would associate medical procedures, and me, with a positive experience.
  3. Jill would allow a complete physical examination, including vaccinations.
  4. At the end of any medical procedures, Jill would recover quickly from any anxiety, exhibiting playful and happy behaviors.
Look at that happy face!

Look at that happy face!

There are many ways to help a dog develop a positive association with potentially stressful experiences, and each individual dog has his or her own “favorite” reward.  Some (most) dogs respond well to food rewards, but Jill’s favorite was her ball.  Jill was very motivated to do anything for that ball, and she was extremely intelligent, learning quickly how to get me to throw it.



It took the entire first session with Jill just to get her to let me touch her gently on the shoulder. By the end of our sixth session together, Jill was laying next to me, allowing full body rubs, and I was able to perform a complete physical exam!  A week later, Jill allowed me to give her all her vaccinations and draw blood.  Although those were more stressful procedures, Jill recovered quickly afterward and continued to bring me her ball so I would play.


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Jill wouldn’t come near me at the beginning. By the end of her sessions, she was my best friend!


Jill is an excellent example of what we can achieve when we prioritize emotional wellness in veterinary care.  With a little effort, a little time, and lots of positive reward, any dog can have a fear-free veterinary experience!


Is your dog or cat fearful and stressed at the veterinary clinic?  Contact me at Small Things Veterinary House Calls and give your pet a fear-free experience!




How to Win With Pets, If You’re A Veterinarian (Part 1)


Veterinarians become veterinarians because we love pets.  And we want to snuggle and squish them all day long.  The rude awakening occurs when we start practicing, and realize that our patients want nothing to do with us!  We poke them, prod them, stick weird things in their face and ears… why would they want to be near us?

Well, have I got the blog post for you!  In this 2-part series, I am going to share my tried-and-true strategies for fear-free veterinary exams!

Here are the first 5 guaranteed* ways to get your patients to love you again.



Giraffe Treats

1.  Peanut butter and hot dogs (tuna or liver paste, if you’re a cat)

There’s nothing better, or more distracting, to a dog than peanut butter and hot dogs.  Really, high-value treats of any kind will usually work.  And when I say high-value, I mean HIGH-VALUE.  It’s got to be something that they aren’t normally getting at home.  Something that makes them sit up and say “WHOA, whatcha got there? Can I has it?  Can I?”

Forget the cardboard biscuits that have been sitting in that jar on the counter for the past 6 months.  Not.  Gonna.  Work.

2. Don’t look or smell like a Veterinarian.

Okay, I know you’re at work and you need clothes that clean easily and look professional.  But, consider that your patients know that white coat a mile away.  And the stethoscope.  And maybe even your shoes, if they’ve met you before.  Sometimes, trying a new “uniform” with existing patients will help them reset their behavior.

Scents are important too!  We know dogs and cats are highly sensitive to odors, so forget the perfume, scented lotion, and Lysol spray (or whatever you spray yourself with after getting squirted with anal glands…).  Try Feliway instead; and/or put some really stinky treats in your pockets.  Bacon works.




3. Play


Here’s your new M.O. when you enter an exam room:

  • Say hello.
  • Get down low (sit on the floor, if it’s safe from bouncy Labradors).
  • Play with pet, offer high-value treats.
  • Occasionally examine a body part.
  • Offer more treats.
  • Play again.

Playing with your patients can really take their minds off the weirdness of being in the vet clinic.  You can even have your clients bring their pet’s favorite toys with them, or just have some fun toys stashed in the exam room.  This goes for both dogs and cats!

If play doesn’t work, try #4…


4. Find the petting “sweet spot”


Ask the clients where their pet LOVES to be scratched or stroked.  Don’t just absentmindedly pat them on the head and hope they like it.  Every pet has a spot that makes them go “aaaahhhhhhhh, yeeeaahhhhhh…”.  Find it, then use it.



5. Talk quietly


Not all pets like the high-pitched baby talk.  In fact, if they’re not a Labrador, they probably don’t.  And it certainly won’t calm them down.  This is especially true for cats.  Talk quietly and don’t make direct eye contact with kitty patients.  With dogs, you can be happy, but keep that tone and volume at a normal level!  Unless you want a super bouncy, excited, or nervous dog to examine…


Take these 5 tips with you to your next exam room, and try them out!  I can personally vouch for each one of these tips; Now my patients LOVE me, even after I’ve poked them with needles.  You, too, can have the love of your patients again!


Win Pet's Love


Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series!


*results are not really guaranteed… but I know you and your patients will be much better off if you try these tips.


Are you a pet owner who would love to give your pet a fear-free veterinary experience?  If you’re in the Broomfield area, Call Dr. D to set up an appointment!

Things You Should Know: The Signs of Anxiety and Stress in Your Dog

Do you know how to tell if your dog is under stress or feeling anxious?


When I ask this question, most pet owners will tell me that they see their dog:

Cower or hide under a chair

Pee or poop on the floor

Growl when afraid, but he would never bite!

These are certainly signs of fear, make no mistake.  However, the signs that the typical pet owner notices are usually the last in a series of attempts by your dog to avoid whatever is causing them fear or anxiety.  The signs leading up to these are much more subtle, but once you know what to look for, they will become apparent.

If you can recognize the early signs of anxiety and stress in your dog, not only can you help your pet relax before they go to the “dark side”, but you might just avoid a dangerous situation.  Dogs who are allowed to progress to the fear stages listed above are the ones who will either be permanently mentally damaged by that situation (leading to behavior problems), or they will bite. 

Allow me to tell you a story:

Once upon a time there was a cute little puppy who had never been to the big doggie park.  Her loving owners decided, when she was about 4 months old, to take her there so she could play and have fun!  When she arrived, there were so many smells and so much noise!  She stopped and sat down on the sidewalk, but her loving owners tugged on her leash and encouraged her to keep walking toward the park.

When they arrived at the gate, it made a really loud squeaking sound that hurt her ears! Her eyes widened, and she laid her ears back; she tried to avoid the big gate, but her loving owner picked her up and carried her through.  When they set her down in the grass, she was suddenly surrounded by big dogs!  They were sniffing her and running around in circles, panting and barking.  The puppy tried to find shelter between her loving owner’s feet, but her loving owner walked a few steps away.

The little puppy didn’t like the big doggie park after all.  And so she growled and snapped at the big doggies who wanted to meet her.  Her loving owner scooped her up – she was safe!  But then her loving owner scolded her, telling her she was a bad dog.  The little puppy was confused and scared, and from that day forward she hated the big doggie park.

Did you recognize the signs of anxiety and stress in the story?  The puppy in the story is a real dog, now an adult; she continues to have problems greeting other dogs, and she NEVER goes to the dog park.  Had her loving owner recognized her initial signs of stress, these permanent behavior problems might have been avoided.

Here are the signs of anxiety that you NEED to recognize in your dog:

  1.  Ears laid back
  2.  Wide eyes (“fish eyes”)
  3.  Brows furrowed
  4.  Panting (without being hot or thirsty)
  5.  Licking lips
  6.  Acting sleepy or yawning
  7.  Moving in slow motion
  8.  Hypervigilant (looking in many directions)
  9.  Moving away
  10.  Pacing
  11.  Suddenly won’t eat, even if they were hungry earlier

Start watching your dog for these signs.  I guarantee that you will begin to see them, and maybe even in situations that you didn’t know were causing your pet stress.  Once you become attuned to your pet’s body language, you can intervene early to help your pet relax!  If your pet experiences the signs of fear listed at the top, the damage is already done.  It’s up to you to be your pet’s advocate!

And here’s a handy-dandy handout for you:

Thank you to Dr. Sophia Yin for all her work in this field!

Thank you to Dr. Sophia Yin for all her work in this field!


If you need help understanding your pet’s body language, or realize that your pet already has some fear issues, give Dr. D a call!


Why This Veterinarian Joined A Revolution

I’d like to tell you a little story about a young, idealistic animal lover who wanted, more than anything, to become a veterinarian someday so she could take care of sick animals.



She worked very hard for years as a veterinary technician, gaining experience in restraining pets, noticing signs of illness, running lab work, and talking with clients.  She got really good at her job, and even more passionate about animal care.

This experienced young technician tried for years to be accepted into vet school, only to be repeatedly rejected.  Until one day, a simple envelope arrived in the mail stating that, YES, she could attend veterinary school.  And her heart soared with the joy of finally being able to pursue her life-long dream.

She worked very hard for years as a veterinary student, soaking up textbook volumes of information about diseases, diagnostics, treatments, and techniques.  The amount of detail was overwhelming and difficult.  But she became even better in her job training, and even more excited about animal care.


Then, miracle of miracles, she graduated from veterinary school.  She passed her licensing exams.  And she landed her first job.

She was officially a veterinarian.


She had finally achieved the life-long dream, and eagerly pursued her career with enthusiasm and new-found knowledge.

She worked very hard for years as a veterinarian, caring for so many sick pets.  Of course there were the new puppies and kittens to make her smile, but most of the time the work was hard – emotionally, physically, mentally.  The hours were so long.  There were so many days without time for lunch or a bathroom break.  There were too many patients to see and not enough time.  There were difficult diagnoses, and not enough time to spend discussing things with the owners of the sick pets.

And there were the pets themselves – often afraid, nervous, hiding behind their owners, hissing, scratching, lunging and pulling, muzzled so they couldn’t hurt someone.

The very pets this young, idealistic veterinarian loved so much now barely tolerated her, and in some cases even hated her.


It was heartbreaking – to want so badly to ease suffering, but finding oneself limited by time, or energy, or the bottom line.  There was always the looming shadow of the next patient she had to see, the blood sample she had to get regardless of the animal’s compliance, the impatience of the clients needing to get on with their day, the paycheck she needed to make in order to repay those ever-present student loans…

This was not what she had signed up for.

This was not the beautiful dream she had been sure to achieve, no matter the cost.

There had to be a better way.  Otherwise, she decided, she was in the wrong profession.

Then, along came the “fear-free” revolution.

(Thank you, Dr. Becker and Dr. Overall.)


And also, low-stress handling and restraint.

(Thank you, Dr. Yin)

No longer would she be forced to struggle against the very patients she loved.  Never again would she settle for being rushed and hurried and stressed as a veterinarian.  From then on, her patients would be excited to see the “treat lady” (!).  They would willingly participate in their own medical care.  And there would be ample time to discuss the owners’ concerns and questions, without those looming shadows of past years.

Dogs who, previously, would cower and hide from her, now lay contentedly by her side.

Cats who she would have had to drag hissing from a carrier in the past, now purr happily in her lap.

Until now, she never knew that she was missing a very critical component of being a great veterinarian.  She has finally achieved the TRUE life-long dream – of caring not only for the physical health of pets, but also the emotional health.

The pursuit of “fear-free” is critical to our pets’ health.  This veterinarian has joined the revolution.  Have you?



What do you think about the “fear-free” revolution?  Are you afraid to take your pet to the vet?  We love to hear your comments!


Fear-free in Broomfield: Supporting The Revolution

Dr. D is supporting the fear-free revolution in Broomfield, CO

Dr. D is supporting the fear-free revolution in Broomfield, CO

Fear does not have to be the cost of treatment.


This is the latest cover of dvm360 magazine, a publication that I, and other veterinarians all over the country, get in our mailboxes every month.

As soon as I saw the title article, my veterinary heart leaped for joy! I have been following and promoting low stress methods in my practice for years (although admittedly, not always perfectly), and “fear-free” has become my main goal since launching Small Things Veterinary House Calls in Broomfield, CO.  The revolution is spreading!

Treating pets in the comfort of their own home already sets me up for a successful low-stress appointment. But add to that a constant barrage of peanut butter or dried salmon, breaks for play time, and restraining techniques that are more like a massage or a hug, and you’ve got the makings of a wonderful veterinary experience for your dog or cat.

There’s a lot more involved in providing a fear-free veterinary visit, of course (like recognizing the subtle signs of fear and anxiety), but my clients know one thing for sure once the visit has ended. And it sounds like this:

“That was so easy!”

“My dog/cat didn’t even know that you just gave them a vaccine; that’s amazing.”

“She loves seeing you when you come over!”

What I hear as their veterinarian is that I’ve been successful in my efforts to provide pets with a better, less anxiety-ridden experience with their medical care. I have not forced them to pay the cost of their treatment in fear. That is a price that’s too high to pay.

Fear-free is the next revolution in veterinary medicine. If you’d like to be a part of it, then give Dr. D a call. Make an appointment and allow your pets to experience the difference.