A surge in dog ownership and ongoing Pandemic effects on an entire generation of dogs, plus the changes experienced by older dogs, have impacted dog behaviour, and owner interactions, in the veterinary context (Brand et al, 2022).
These dogs have experienced changes to the world that have rocked them, and with two years of vet visits on their own without their humans behind them, may be impacting their comfort and stress related behaviour during vet visits (Williams 2022).
The absence of their human during veterinary examinations is associated with the dog demonstrating increased distress related behaviours (Csoltova et al, 2017) and repeated exposure to the veterinary context is associated with sensitisation of fear responses (increasing in response), rather than habituation (getting used to the context) (Doring et al, 2009).
You can see that it’s been a bit of a recipe for disaster…
Happy Visits are a foundation to counterconditioning to vet visits and setting dogs up to be more comfortable. A Happy Visit should consist of a visit for the dog as far into the process with which they are comfortable.
Can that dog remain somewhat comfortable as far as the car-park? That’s the starting point. Visit the car-park regularly, have a treat-party, hang out when all is calm & quiet, and go home.
Can the dog just about enter reception willingly? That’s the starting point. Have a treat-party in the car-park, scatter some treats to snuffle in reception and go home.
Happy Visits don’t start with meeting staff or having cuddles. This doesn’t need to be a part of this process. We consider the function of the dog’s behaviour and stress related behaviour functions to escape the stressor.
Dogs likely experience fear in anticipation of going to the vet’s.
Counterconditioning is one approach to help improving their feelings and attitude. We take a version of the scary thing and associate that with pleasant things, such as yummy food and safety.
The scary thing predicts the availability of the yummy things!
But counterconditioning is just one part of the puzzle; by keeping exposure long-duration-&-low-intensity, we are also incorporating some desensitisation, habituation and social learning.
With increasing comfort, the dog can be taught to step up onto the weighing scales willingly, something that many dogs find daunting and associate with coercion.
Guiding dogs onto weighing scales can be done simply, with our hands-off approach as much as possible and is a great way to get them into playing the cooperative-game.
Discuss Happy Visits for your dog, with their vet-team, and come up with a plan that increases everyone’s comfort.
Of course, we can help too!