It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wiggling, it was the age of barking. It was an epoch of paws on the front desk, it was an epoch of the soft muzzle. It was a season of joyful kisses, it was a season of fear farts. It was the spring of treats, it was the winter of messy cheese whiz.
With apologies to Charles Dickens, these were the experiences of Sophie and Rufus at the vet. Two vastly different experiences.
They each needed blood work done before starting their heart worm medicine but I decided against taking them in together for fear of being pulled over – literally by them. Fortunately the vet office staff knows my dogs and scheduling them was no issue at all.
Sophie was first: she showed up Tuesday afternoon and got her blood drawn in ten seconds. Only her needing to run up to and greet absolutely everyone while wiggling drew out the visit. She has the best time at the vet. I realize that’s like saying you have the best time at the dentist. Your dentist might be super cool but nobody has the best time there. Sophie is a special girl, however. She does not associate the vet with anything fearful. If there are frightened dogs there, she’ll notice but they won’t rain on her parade. There is nothing hard about taking her there. I made sure to chit-chat with office staff and the vet techs, trying to make the most of my $118 visit. In the meantime, Sophie got treat after treat and showed the office staff why they love their job.
Representing the opposing view was Rufus. His appointment was the following day It went better than expected, but that’s not saying much. He has set the bar so low that as long as I leave without a pounding headache and clenched teeth, it’s a win.
We started by just walking outside the office so he could pee and sniff around. He needs to be acclimated every time we go in. Once inside he seemed as though he knew where he was, and it wasn’t awful. So far so good.
I took him over to the scale and while there was nothing different about it today, he was not going near it. We were not going to insist. He’s not much bigger than before so forgoing a weigh-in was fine. But his fear did not bode well.
A staff member we had not met yet asked if he could have a treat. I said yes, but only if she held out her hand and made no eye contact. We were fine until she decided eye contact was needed, at which point Rufus began barking. Ugh. It’s an honest mistake. I don’t mean to complain because they really are the loveliest people. It’s heartening that despite seeing dogs every day, they are not remotely jaded by them. Every dog who walks in is a cause for celebration, which makes them awesome.
Because we were a little early, we did not get a room immediately. Rufus seemed OK with this. We had a little bit of barking but not too much. He even yawned and lay down in front of me. This was a good sign! Yawning is a sign of shaking off tension, so that, plus lying down showed he was not very scared. Rufus continued his non-terrible behavior when both an adorable terrier and a cat were brought inside. His ears perked up and he barked a few times, but there was nothing threatening, and there was zero lunging. I will take what I can get.
Still, I could tell by his body language that he was tense. I mentioned to one of the vet techs that we were going to need a soft muzzle. She brought one out to us as soon as a room became available. My initial cautious optimism proved short-sighted. We were now in for some trouble.
I put the muzzle on him, which he did not like. It let him open his mouth enough to lick cheese whiz but he did not like the new room or the two people in there with us. He did not want to be touched, let alone groped and stuck with a needle. There was a lot of reconfiguring the situation to decide who would hold him and who would stick him.
He cowered to a corner where he glared at me. We held him, and thanks to the wall, he couldn’t go anywhere despite trying very hard. The vet tech managed after several tries to get blood from his jugular. Lots of smooth talking and petting kept him from moving too much, and at least we didn’t have blood go everywhere. But unlike Sophie’s appointment which was lickety-split, this one took a good ten minutes just to get him calm enough so he could get stuck with the needle. Needless to say, cheese whiz got all over the muzzle and me. One of the techs even laughed when she saw how my arm was smeared with it.
I do not know if these visits will ever improve. This dog has to make a five-star opera out of every single visit. Sophie’s visits are tension-free while Rufus needs to belt out an Aida-level death aria before anyone can even put their loving hands on him. I’m not saying that we need a 100% stress-free visit, and it doesn’t certainly have to be Sophie-level adorable. I just want him to be a tiny bit less freaked out.
Some dogs never abandon their fear of the vet. It’s understandable. The vet is scary enough without the smells of other terrified dogs. Fear can grow exponentially. However, I realize that I should not measure his overall success by vet visits. That isn’t fair to anyone. There are dogs who are perfectly chill in other areas of their lives who lose their minds at the vet. I get it. In fairness to him, he’s slowly getting better on walks and meeting others. But these vet visits are taxing.
At least I didn’t walk out with a headache.
How do your pups handle the vet? Do the frights ever go away?
Oh man. Gonzo and Sophie are eerily similar. I took Gonzo to the vet today and I swear he had the best time of his life. So it breaks my heart to hear how scared Rufus is of the vet. My vet and I do discuss this often, because Beau is a reactive dog and while he is not scared of the vet visits, we have to approach it a different way. If I may suggest- desensitize. Like you do on your walks where you repeat positive experiences. Have a muzzle at home and put it on for a few moments, then take off and give high value treats. Slowly extend the time. Same with the vet. Bring him when he doesn’t have an appt and sit in the waiting area. Lots of praise and treats- the good stuff. If your vets are willing, work up to bringing him into an empty room and just letting him be or playing a game. Create positive associations. It takes a lot of work but it will be better for him and for you.
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We’ve been doing our “hello” visits to the vet. Branden has been super helpful with Rufus, just hanging out with him. It just takes a while.
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Patience is the hardest part, I know. You’re doing a great job!
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Rufus and Theo are very similar at the vet’s office! I take Theo solo whenever possible because I need to focus all of my attention on him. My other two are happy as can be and think the vet’s office is a pretty cool place to be.
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