Time, Education Help to Manage Fear

Kim Campbell Thornton

For humans, overcoming fear, or at least learning to deal with it, takes time and practice. That’s even more true for pets, because we can’t communicate that veterinary exams and procedures will help them to feel better or stay healthy. Fortunately, Fear Free techniques can help to send the message to pets that they don’t need to be afraid, and Fear Free education can help humans better understand their animals’ fears and needs.

Happy Hunter

Hunter, a 2-year-old mixed breed, enjoys looking out the windows in the lobby of our clinic. By starting his visit there, asking his mom questions and listening to his heart and lungs, we can make sure he is comfortable enough to continue his exam in the exam room. But it was a different story when he first came in almost two years ago. Because of a previous frightening experience at another clinic, he was wary of us and the handling and procedures being done. He would bare his teeth, growl, and even try to nip at Dr. Gamble’s hands when she tried to touch him. Through consistent Victory Visits, pre-visit training and medications, and desensitization to areas where vaccines and other needle pokes are typically given, we are now able to provide him and his owner with a comfortable and rewarding experience every time he is in. Now he sits patiently and lets Dr. Gamble examine him—with the help of some cheese and marshmallows, not to mention smears of his favorite treats, peanut butter and canned food. During Hunter’s victory visits, we commonly work on the desensitization process without actually following through with an injection. “Happy visits, along with some training classes and behavior work on our part, have made a world of difference to Hunter,” writes his owner, Beth. “Hunter is now excited to see Emily, Heather, Dr. Gamble, and many other staff members as soon as he walks through the front door. He is a much happier dog at the vet thanks to Gamble Pet Clinic’s Fear Free work.”

Emily Andrade, CVA, Fear Free Level 3 Certified, Gamble Pet Clinic, Fort Collins, Colorado


Fear Free Education Win


Recently, there was an event called Woof Fest held during a downtown pub crawl. Our clinic sponsored “Dog Trivia,” and I focused the questions on a pet’s emotional health, such as “Is this dog’s body language calm or stressed?” and “A dog wagging their tail is always happy. True or False?” Hundreds of people played our trivia game, and it was such a rewarding experience to educate the public on the topic.

Natalie Gruchow, CVPM, Animal Health Clinic, Fargo, North Dakota

Sammy’s Success

Sammy had grown up in a hoarding situation and was fearful at the time of his adoption. Unless he was sedated, the six-year-old dog would bark and lunge or even eliminate from fear during veterinary visits. A prescription for an SSRI helped and the team tried additional medications at different doses, but Sammy would push through the medications and continue to show fear aggression. At first, he was unable to generalize that humans weren’t scary, so it was important for him to see the same person at the hospital on each visit. That wasn’t easy, but eventually the right person came along who was able to take the time and effort for Sammy to become comfortable. It took six months of Victory Visits spent eating chicken, practicing chin rests and lying on his side, and undergoing desensitization to having his leg shaved, the scent of alcohol, application of a topical product for numbness, and the pretend poke of a needle, but in July Sammy underwent his first successful blood draw. Now we are routinely doing happy visits to keep the momentum going.

Beth Friedman, Canine Companion Consulting, Fort Collins, Colorado

Down Under Wonder

Bruno is a goofy 8-year-old Bull Arab Cross (a type of Australian working dog). He has always been very friendly at the vet, but once pats stopped and the examination started, he would become suspicious and communicate his discomfort with aggressive behavior. Fortunately, Bruno’s owner has been committed to training. They had private training sessions and attended a Ready, Vet, Go! course. As part of Bruno’s training we incorporated a lot of owner education on subtle body language changes, as well as start and stop cues for Bruno. Bruno was trained with a sustained chin target, using a towel on a chair, as his start cue, meaning “I’m ready for procedure.” If he lifted his head, we immediately stopped the procedure. Bruno was also trained to be comfortable with a Baskerville Ultra Muzzle. We spent time teaching Bruno specific body parts such as tail, ear, and scruff, so that he knew what was about to happen. Over time we were able to pair several good vet clinic experiences (training on a Sunday in clinic) with lots of his fave foods, body scratches, and games. We also introduced veterinary equipment, including syringes, blunt needle, alcohol swabs, and stethoscope. When we weren’t actively training, he was taught a default “chill” behavior and rewarded for relaxed head, tail, and big breaths. He had several socialization visits at the vet, and when he required surgery for a lump removal we did  practice runs with pre-visit medication to see what would work best for him. A planned course of action on admission saw him anesthetized as soon as possible to limit buildup of anxiety. Since then Bruno has had further training sessions and socializing vet visits. Recently he had his vaccinations and we were able to give his injection without any restraint by utilizing his muzzle and target training. Bruno is a great example of what teamwork can achieve when you have a committed owner and a Fear Free-trained vet and trainer, not to mention a goofy, food-motivated dog!

Jacqui Johnston, Holland Park and Carina Vet Clinics and Trish Allan, All Pets Education and Training, Brisbane, Australia

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Kim Campbell Thornton is content manager for Fear Free Pets and is a Level 3 Fear Free Certified Professional. She has been writing about dogs, cats, wildlife, and marine life since 1985.

Happy Paws Magazine

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