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!