Clara’s Progress at the Vet’s Office

sandy brown dog with black muzzle waiting on floor at vet office

Not calm, but no longer panicked

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!

“Hey–where are you going, new buddy?”

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.

Link to the video for email subscribers.

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Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

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8 Responses to Clara’s Progress at the Vet’s Office

  1. Keri says:

    so awesome! what a wonderful visual to show how far she has come! Made my heart smile! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Barbara Castle says:

    Love a relaxed dog! Amazing what socialization can carry over into!

  3. nickynockynoo says:

    That’s marvellous Eileen. It gives me hope. I have a GSD puppy, Thomas, 11 months old. I haven’t written about him anywhere before. No “Woo hoo, I have a puppy” because from 9 weeks old, he has been fearful of people and sudden environmental changes. Luckily he is super with other dogs.
    I have cried buckets over this pup. I thought I had done all the right research re his breeder. Met both parents and grandparents, viewed him at 4 weeks and picked him up at 8 weeks.
    I’m also working with a behaviourist. Our CC/DS to the vet are usually 4-5 mins, just long enough for him to stop barking and take treats. I dread it and Thomas probably knows that too.
    I am working through Sue Ailsby’s Training levels and doing nosework with him to build confidence.
    Thanks for posting this. There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Yes, there is hope. I’m so sorry you have had such a hard time. Believe me, I know. The first dog I ever had who had behavior problems (Summer) knocked me into a depression. I loved her but felt so trapped. We worked it out, though. I hope things go well for your pup. Training Levels are great. I love the generalization aspect. Hang in there.

  4. Chris from Boise says:

    Wow! Lovely! Thanks for documenting both visits. Look at that happy tail – and that shake-off!

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