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