I have been to the veterinarian on average once per week since November 2017 through April 2019. Two University veterinary oncology centers, one primary veterinary clinic, a dental specialist and one surgical specialist hospital. One dog with a cancer diagnosis as a 12 year old. A swarm of reproduction visits. A pregnancy. New puppy visits. My parents dogs with bone cancer, laryngeal paralysis, and just plain old age. And most recently, the loss of a 5.5 year old dog with cancer. Up and down. Happy and sad. Every emotion that a human amygdala can process, I have experienced. And a $18k hit to my bank account, which accounts for many of the aforementioned emotions.
I have witnessed love, profound sadness, generous joy and fierce loyalty seep out of people for their animals. I have also witnessed a thunderstorm of emotions from the animals themselves. A colleague once said that knowing canine body language is a blessing and a curse, as we are unable to turn it off. Yes, yes it is. I have seen dogs stressed out their minds, panting, pacing, salivating, stiff, yawning, frantic and panicked. I have seen these stressed out dogs with owners demanding that they sit, down, stay and calm down.
These dogs are not even in their bodies. They are in flight mode. Ready to take off the minute that leash loosens, collar slips, or harness opens. They cannot possibly take in the information that their human is giving them to perform a skill in that moment of epinephrine stoked panic.
Imagine that you are being held down by a stranger who is holding a knife and is sitting next to you on a bus. Now imagine that your friend next to you asks you to count backwards from 100 by 8’s. Of course you can do it. But, can you do it under pressure? Most likely not. Please do not get mad at your dog because YOU are embarrassed. Remember that when we take dogs into our lives, we promise to protect them and to be caretakers of their souls. This is reciprocated in our relationship daily. Shouting SIT! DOWN! STAY! NO! And leash popping, and whacking them on the head does not make them able to count backwards from 100 any more proficiently.
The next time you go to your veterinarian office, be aware of the space around them. Be aware of your entry. Be aware of animals coming and going. Use treats to distract them. Use your body to help create space. Believe me when I say that the veterinarian clinic’s staff are NOT judging you for your dog’s behavior. They KNOW the stress that accompanies veterinary visits. The clinic staff understand the stress that you both are experiencing. They have treats on the counter for dogs to help them create positive vibes with going to the vet. Use the space, use your treats, and use your love to your dog to help them. Remember that there are certainly MANY more moments ahead of you two when they are going to help you through panicked, emotional moments. The equation will balance out my friends. It always does.