My Sirius Life: Lupin at the Vet
February 27, 2013
Lupin starting coughing the other day. Oh no, looks like a trip to the vet is in order. As a regular at doggy daycare, a cold is bound to happen. I took Sirius along too and decided to get their yearly heart worm test out of the way. The boys were splendid as we walked in. They walked with me, no one pulling on the leash or wrapping around my legs. They each got on the scale, sat, and waited. Lupin wagged his tail politely at the receptionist as she remarked, "he’s such a good boy." Then we were led to the examination room. She closed the door behind her. Now, we were in a small room with no windows and all the doors shut. There were weird smells of other dogs, medication, and other people. This is not where Lupin succeeds. I adopted Lupin at the age of three months. The window for his socialization period had just closed, so I had to work with what I got. There was little, if any, time to prevent any fear of people or dogs. Dogs turned out to be much easier to deal with. When Lupin was little, he got into a few fights with fellow dogs at doggy daycare. However, because I work there, I was able to teach him how to react when he comes across another dog he doesn’t like. He is still very picky about who he plays with, and he doesn’t want some dogs to come near him. But instead of acting out, he either walks away or gives a small growl to let them know he doesn’t want to play. Yes, I do wish he was friendlier. We work on it every time we are around new dogs, and now he is quicker to accept a dog he previously didn’t like, but it takes time and work.
Let us get back to the vet’s examination room. This is where Lupin really has issues. If you put him in a small enclosed room and introduce a person he’s never met, he really has trouble handling it. The vet came in, approached him directly, and bent over to let him sniff his hand. Lupin, of course, growled at him. He just can’t handle the small space and the new people. He wasn’t growling at him to tell him I'm going to attack you now, he was growling to let him know he was scared, not comfortable, and would rather he walk away. This is what we need to work on. If Lupin meets you outside in the park, you will probably be his best friend immediately. He is a super loving dog, and he really does love people. But when he gets scared, he shuts down. To train him to be better around people in enclosed spaces, you’ve got to slowly work up to that type of environment and change the way he feels about it. It’s called desensitization.
Ideally, with a dog with this sort of problem, you want to first start off in a large enclosed space and then have someone he doesn’t know come in, throw a treat near him, and then walk out. Do this repeatedly until the dog is happily awaiting the person to come in. Now, have the person come and stay in the room. Some dogs at this stage will welcome the sight of the person who keeps dropping off yummy treats. If so, ask the stranger to squat down to the side and hold a treat out for the dog to take. When the dog has taken the treat, say "good dog," and then you and your dog move away from the person. This has a double reward for the dog. If the dog is still a little nervous around the stranger, you are rewarding him for going up to the stranger and you are rewarding him by relieving the tension and walking away. This shows the dog that walking away from something that makes him nervous is as rewarding as growling or barking. Then the stranger can leave and you can try again. The next step could be to move to a smaller room or to add another person. The basic idea is to start slowly and always work within the threshold that the dog is comfortable until you are standing in the small vet's office and your dog is doing fine. Of course, this can take weeks or even several months of hard work to accomplish but can be done. The basic principal is explained here, but if you have a dog with this issue, the best option is to get in touch with a positive rewards based trainer that can guide you through the process so that you can learn all the details of this type of training.