Who (or what) is Your Whole Dog? And, what do they do? Why do they do whatever it is they do?
These are all valid questions. Questions that I shall endeavour to answer.
This is Part One, so, we'll start at the beginning, with cooperative care.
Having a dog that is highly vet-phobic is a difficult, and often lonely, place to be. Or at least it was, 8-9-10 years ago. Things are changing rapidly, thank goodness. When we know better, we can do better.
Wolly had been to the vets during puppyhood for all the usual puppy checks and vaccinations. They all occurred without a hitch. A year later, the story was very different. He fought and objected with all his might. The procedures got done regardless.
I had NO IDEA what was coming down the pike.
Nobody ever set out to be mean to Wolly. They were just trying to do their job. In his mind the world might as well have been ending. He was terrified, and nobody was listening.
Thankfully he has got through most of his life without the need for a great deal of vet care. However, it was always in the back of my mind that one day that might change.
I diligently went in/out of the clinic with extra tasty treats. Go in, get treats, leave. Go in, meet pre-planted friend, get treats, leave. That was my plan. And you know what? Wolly would toddle in, get treats, leave. Boom! Job done. Or so I thought.
One appointment that I still, to this day, run through my head, was a pivotal moment for me. Wolly was lame. I dutifully took him to the vet. It was a disaster. After a few failed attempts to examine him we abandoned the idea. I sat in the empty reception room feeding him. He was doing a few simple behaviours. And he was eating. I was told he should "work" for his food. I was told I was "rewarding bad behaviour". And, I was asked if I'd ever considered taking him to "obedience" classes. I didn't know much, but I did know that 'obedience' and 'bad' behaviour was not the problem.
I came home and formulated a new plan. It involved more trips to the clinic. More chicken. More pre-planted friends. Apparently doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is one of the definitions of stupidity! But, it was all I had.
Time passed, during which nothing needed to happen. And then we needed* to update vaccinations. I went in to book an appointment. My vet suggested we just do it there and then in the car park. I broke in to a cold sweat. Hadn't had time to plan (or fret, or build myself up in to a frenzy). And so we did. I got Wolly out of the car, hung on tight, whilst my vet snuck round and ninja'd in a needle. Wolly went ballistic, I got badly scratched. We called it a victory.
Wolly is a thinking dog, which is really his downfall! He learned that not only is the clinic a dreadful place to be, so, now, is the car park. Nope, not getting out of the car. Nope, can't eat chicken in the car. Nope. Nope. Nope.
Early 2016 an email landed in my inbox. It was from someone calling themselves The Cognitive Canine. The subject line was "Dog Hates the Vet" ... which kinda resonated! I signed up for Perfect Patients, my first cooperative care class.
A well placed, well loved, mat is an invaluable tool. Snack are also important.
Wolly and I worked through the curriculum, with all my clumsy mechanics. Sarah was kind, patient, constructive. And then a few months later we did it all over again.
And that's where it all began. It set me on a - somewhat obsessive - path to do better. To understand behaviour better.
I signed up for the Better Vet Visits class through Karen Pryor Academy. I became Fear Free certified. I became Low-Stress Handling certified. All for the benefit of my own pets. During this time I learned that I was not alone. In fact, being afraid of the vets is actually alarmingly normal. And, there are a myriad of ways to reduce this fear and to make vet visits (and groomer visits, and general husbandry care at home) easier - or even better, fun - for all parties.
So, seven years on, how does Wolly feel about vet visits? To be honest, it's a mixed bag. He's very happy pottering in, settling on his mat, getting pats and snacks. He's still got residual suspicion about equipment and peering with intent, and needle pokes are definitely not something we do to a sober Wolly. We plan it. We manage it. We use a team approach. We build trust. We medicate.
That's my story - a slightly abridged version of it! And if that's something that sounds familiar to you, know that if you hire me to help you, I understand. I have lived it, and worked through it. It's hard. It's emotionally draining. You are not alone. My cooperative care training consults can, and do, cover home husbandry (grooming, nails, basic home-based healthcare), general comfort at the vets, muzzle training, and general handling. We work at your dog's pace, and we prioritise needs vs. wants, depending on your circumstances. I also coach you, and this is an important aspect, on how to advocate for your dog and build a relationship with your vet team. Without those two things, all the training in the world is pretty much useless.
That's Barney. Cats like low-stress vet visits too.
*"needing" vaccinations is a topic for another story, lest anyone feel they'd like to jump in and turn this in to a firestorm.