Here is a little bright spot a few weeks after the sudden loss of my beloved dog Summer.
In February 2013, I posted a set of photos of Clara that I took at the vet’s office. (They were actually video stills.) That post, Dog Facial Expressions: Stress, was one of my most popular ever. Trainers all over the world have used the photos, with my permission, for educational presentations of all sorts. (The offer of the photos remains open. Anyone who wants sets of labeled and unlabeled photos can drop me a line through my contact page.)
Ever since Clara came to me as a feral pup in 2011, I have worked with her twice a week with a great trainer and friend, Lisa, on socialization catch-up. None of that work has been at the vet’s office. We do far more basic work than that. When Clara has had vet appointments, I have always taken her mat and great food and tried to make it as quick and non-threatening an experience as possible. It has not been any kind of training situation. Just management-with-food.
In February 2013, the time of the photos, she was petrified but functioning. She could respond to some cues. She could take food. But she was trembling, panting, pacing, and hypervigilant before the vet staff even came into the room. She became literally the poster dog for stress. But things have changed. Even though the socialization work we have done with her has not involved vets or veterinary offices, the work we’ve done has generalized. I have seen her get gradually more calm and comfortable at the vet’s.
This week, in September 2017, I took Clara and Zani for a vet visit together. They are both seeing a board-certified veterinary dermatologist for allergies. Clara has already been to this practice several times on her own and I have noticed how comfortable she is becoming, and in particular, how much she likes the dermatologist. Last time she solicited petting from her. This time, with a little moral support from her buddy, she was spectacular.
As we waited in the lobby, she looked with interest and curiosity at the people and dogs. Because of the tight quarters, a woman with a mellow older lab had to go right by us. She was being completely conscientious, but I was cornered and her lab and Clara ended up face to face. They sniffed noses, wagging tails, then I stepped between them to make sure nothing escalated. The woman was apologizing (not her fault) and I don’t encourage such encounters. But given that it happened, I was super-pleased with the outcome. Clara almost never gets to meet dogs because they generally have strange-to-her humans attached to them and I have no idea how she would respond. No problem!
When we went to a patient room, Clara was friendly to the tech and mugged her for petting. She charmed the tech with her getting-into-her-harness behavior, as did Zani when she put her feet up on a chair to help the tech leash her up. Then, with just one backward glance from Clara, they went willingly with the tech to the dermatologist’s work area without me.
Taking videos during a vet visit when wrangling two excited dogs is a challenge, but I realized I had a chance to capture a few seconds if I readied myself for their return. I’ve tacked it onto some videos from 2013 vet visit footage to show the progress. I’ve never published those videos before—they are the ones from which I took the stills that I have shared so far and wide.
I hope the contrast, and Clara’s behavior in general, makes you smile. My favorite part is when the vet tech leaves and Clara stands at the door watching her, wagging her tail in relaxed, wide wags.
- Socializing a Formerly Feral Dog
- Dog Facial Expressions: Stress
- The Look of Fear
- Another Look at a Fearful Dog
Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson