Be Your Dog’s Advocate

Keeping Joy Happy at the Vet
Keeping Joy Happy at the Vet

I recently visited a new veterinarian to update my Aussie, Joy, on her rabies vaccine and to do a heartworm test.  After taking a brief history, the veterinary technician reached for my leash and said, “Now I’ll just take her to the back to get the blood drawn.”  I held on to my leash, petted Joy’s  soft coat, smiled and said, “Oh, that’s okay, I don’t mind holding her. I was a veterinary technician and am a professional dog trainer. I have trained her to be still for blood draws.”  The technician pursed her lips, wrinkled her brow and said, “Well, it doesn’t matter who you are. That is our policy.”

People tell me stories all the time about their dogs and their experiences, good or bad, with other animal professionals. These stories have given me good reasons to be very careful about handing my dogs over to anyone else.  Now, the Willamette Valley is filled with wonderful veterinarians, groomers, and other animal professionals. Please understand that I am fully aware there are fantastic people out there who treat every pet like their own and would never cause unnecessary fear or pain. But, I’ve heard the other stories and urge you to be very knowledgeable before handing over your 4-legged buddy.

In another state, a dog training client told me why her dog was afraid of veterinary staff. “When the vet came into the exam room the first time, he grabbed my dog by the neck, threw him on his back and stood over him. He said it was to show him he was ‘alpha’.”  No wonder the dog snarled at everyone in a white lab coat.

Another client told me, “The dog trainer took my dog and put a choke chain around her throat, way up high, and then when he lunged for another dog, she pulled the leash up hard and swung my dog around in a circle until his tongue was blue.” That client’s dog’s behavior got much worse after that, no surprise.

Another time I was visiting with a groomer and watched her repeatedly smack a dog –on the face, on the side, on the rear end  -for growling while she was trimming its toenails. The client was not present.  The groomer said, “I usually only have to do this for the first few appointments and then the dogs know I’m the boss and then I can do anything to it.” (I was horrified and did my best to help her see there were other techniques to try, but the groomer was not terribly open to new ideas.)

Do these stories bother you? What if this was your child and these “professionals” were your child’s teacher? Would you be outraged? Of course you would.  Even though you might not have the same vocational training as the teacher, you’d know this is unacceptable. So, with your dog, why be any different? Ask yourself:  Is this use of force ethical? Is it necessary? Does it even work?  Those are questions I can answer simply (no, no, no) but space prevents me from going into details – perhaps in another blog.

Meanwhile, back to the topic – what if this was YOUR DOG?

For decades, I’ve educated clients to advocate for their dogs. Who knows your dog better than you? Who cares most for your dog? Who has to live with the ramifications of broken trust or the fear-induced aggression which can come from mishandling?  It’s all up to you. You are the one your dog trusts to make good decisions and to ensure his health and safety.

Don’t ever be afraid to say, “No, thanks,” to anyone who asks to take your dog. Don’t hand over your leash until you are sure that your dog is going to be cared for as gently as possible and without force or fear. Interview your veterinarian and staff. Observe your groomer, without your dog. Watch training classes before you sign up and make sure the dogs and the people are having a great time.

At the veterinary office with my hand on my best girl, Joy,  I smiled at the vet technician and said, “Okay, no problem. I am sure we can find another clinic, because I don’t hand my dog over to strangers.” “Let me see if the veterinarian can come into the room,” she said. “Thanks,” I replied.  A few minutes later, they took the blood and vaccinated Joy while she was rewarded by me for doing as I asked.

Now, before you all go “advocating” for your dog and refusing all kinds of completely safe and necessary back-room procedures, let me explain that had I known and trusted the veterinary staff, I would have felt a lot more comfortable – but these folks were unknown to me. Trust takes time. Also, I had diligently prepared Joy for the types of procedures needed, knew I could cue her as to what was coming and she would not need physical restraint. I will discuss how to train for this in next week’s blog.

If you are ready to learn dog training in a safe and fun environment where we’ll always encourage you to be your dog’s advocate, sign up for our Dog Smart class, a humans-only training class by clicking here. https://whs4pets.org/services/behavior-training/dog-training-classes/

Catherine Comden, CPDT-KA

Behavior Program Manager at Willamette Humane Society
Named “the dog lady” by peers in grammar school, Catherine Comden, CPDT-KA first became a California licensed veterinary technician, then finished a BA in Psychology while doing undergraduate research on the human-canine bond at the University of Montana. After that, she was recruited by the Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital to develop the ABC puppy school, to assist during veterinary behavior consultations and to help create and instruct the Purdue DOGS! behavior modification course for veterinary staff. Catherine is now an adjunct faculty member at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon and instructor for the state’s only community college level professional dog trainer certification preparation program which began in Fall 2014.
Catherine Comden, CPDT-KA