Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ghetto Supastar, that is what you are, comin' from afar...

It's been a hard week for Maisy and I, and as happy as I was to receive the news that she's healthy, I didn't quite realize that there would be more in store for us. You see, Maisy had to have her belly shaved in order to get the ultrasound, and she wasn't pleased about this. It must have itched, because in the first 24 hours, she had licked herself so much that there was a red, raw spot on her belly.

 This is after several days of healing.

As I consulted with my friends about what to do, I realized that I had a problem: she hates wearing things, and that's pretty much the only way to stop the licking that could lead to a skin infection. I ended up modifying an old white tank top to provide complete belly coverage, resulting in a free, light-weight solution.

It's also a bit ghetto fabulous.

Still, it was just one more stressful thing to add on top of everything else, and while I couldn't do anything about the fact that she had to go to the vet, I could have helped her by preparing her for some of it. In fact, there are many, many things I could (and should) do to help her feel more comfortable: teaching her to accept all types of restraints, including on her side and her back, helping her learn to accept having her temperature taken, heck, I could even desensitize her to getting shots.

But I'm kind of a lazy trainer, so for now, I'm going to limit my focus to wearing things. I chose wearing things as a general category because while being restrained and getting shots are unpleasant, they're also brief. Unfortunately, when a dog needs to wear something, it's typically for a longer period of time.

Here's what I think Maisy should learn to wear:

First, a muzzle. During the emergency visit, the vet chose to put one on her, a decision that I understood given the fact that Maisy's record includes the diagnosis “fear aggression.” Truthfully, I even welcomed her decision, hoping that if they felt comfortable she couldn't bite, they would not feel the need to restrain her as tightly or roughly as they might have done otherwise.

Next, things on her body. As I mentioned, right now she's wearing a t-shirt in order to prevent her from licking her belly, but I think she should also learn to wear bandages (she had one on her front leg after having an IV catheter placed on Thursday). We will also work on wearing harnesses, just in case she ever needs some kind of mobility assistance in the future.

Finally, I want her to learn to wear an elizabethan collar (also known as the dreaded cone of shame). Although I hope like crazy she will never need a surgery necessitating the use of a cone, it seems wise to be prepared for such an eventuality. We've had several bladder issues now, and it seems possible that we might need to do something more invasive in the future. Again, I hope not, but better to have a skill she doesn't need than to be missing one she does!

So how am I going to teach her to do all this? Why, with cookies, of course! There's a great video here about creating a conditioned emotional response to a head halter, and I fully intend to do variations on this theme as I help Maisy learn to cope with (and love!) wearing stuff.

We've already started with her fancy shirt: I give her freeze-dried tripe as I'm putting it on. I don't hold her down or force her into it. I don't even have to drag her over to it or hunt her down. Instead, she chooses to come to me when it's time to put it on. Why? Not because she loves the shirt (although I hope that will come in time), but because it predicts stinky, tasty treats.

Maybe once we've accomplished this we can branch out into other medical procedures. Even if we don't, though, learning to be comfortable wearing things will be incredibly helpful because it will dramatically reduce both the duration and intensity of her stress (and remember, stress stacks on itself, so several days of low-grade stress can be just as bad and one highly stressful event).

What about you? What one thing could you do to teach your dog to be more comfortable during veterinary procedures? I expect everyone will have a different answer (you know, since we all have different dogs), but I'm looking forward to seeing your responses- I might steal a few for myself!


2dogcrazy said...

I wish Kane was more comfortable with people when I'm not there with him. He's absolutely fine at the vets when I'm in the room with him, a total ham and a half, but when they need to take him to the back for x-rays or something (like when I had to get his hips checked), he gets nervous and stressed. Lip licking, ears pinned, pulling to come back to me ...

I'm not sure how to get around this as they already feed him 20lbs worth of biscuits while he's back there since he's a favorite.

It also makes me nervous in case I get separated from him. I'd like him to be comfortable approaching a stranger on his own.

Crystal Thompson said...

Ooh, that is a hard one. Is he uncomfortable with strangers and people he knows when separated from you, or just strangers? If it's all people, maybe you can get your trainer or a friend to help out a bit- you leave for a very SHORT period of time, and then they use REALLY HIGH VALUE treats constantly while you're gone, stopping when you return. The scenario you describe is both a fairly long period of time (as opposed to something like 10 seconds), and biscuits? well, they're good, but freeze dried tripe is so much yummier, right?

I dunno- just thinking of where I might start.

Melissa said...

My three are much the same I think, stressed when they're not with me.

I figure the best I can do is get them as comfortable with the vet's office as possible, so I bring them with me every time I need to go to the vets. If I'm getting flea medication or one has an appointment all three go. That way they have many more positive experiences there than negative ones, since they get cookies and pets whenever we're there, but only a shot or exam once or twice a year.

Joanna said...

Dragon's pretty good at the vet's. He doesn't like being picked up, though. I do give him a treat after every time I pick him up, but I should make more of a concerted effort to work on that.

Joanna said...

PS Maisy looks realy cute in that shirt!

Carol Gannaway said...

My doge Grace ended up wearing an Elizabethan collar for an ear hematoma that went on for 2 months. The end result was her leash behavior improved immensely! Since she could only go out on leash (I have fenced acreage so mostly we walk without a leash) and I brought food every time...we made it a game rather than 'the cone of shame' which sounds horrible. Her leash behavior is better than it has ever been and she is 10. Her ear healed after being quilted.

Ninso said...

This is one place I'm pretty lucky. My dogs are all great without me (Lok has separation anxiety, but as long as he is with a person it doesn't much matter what person) and all pretty cool with being poked, prodded, touched and wearing all sorts of things. None of them really like things on their faces. I am working with Jun on a muzzle right now, but I should really work all 3 with that.

Crystal Thompson said...

Joanna- Thanks. I think she looks a bit, ahem, trashy (what with it technically being a "wife-beater" and all). I'm sure you already do this, but one thing I do to help Maisy deal with getting picked up is to give her a verbal warning. I simply say "up!" every time I'm about to pick her up. Now she knows it's coming, so the stress of suddenly being hefted in the air with no warning is gone. She'll even lift up into my hands!

CAROL- That's really cool that you could turn the "cone of shame" into a fun game that was beneficial in the long run! So much better!