June 11, 2016

Trick Training Helped Lessen the Stress of a Vet Visit for My Reactive Dog

I wasn't expecting to write about a trip to the vet for this week's Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, but Ruby had a rather sudden onset of digestive distress following a strong thunderstorm this week and although I suspected it was stress related, I wasn't taking any chances when blood showed up in her stool. I made an appointment with our wonderful veterinarian the following afternoon and loaded Ruby up in her travel den, which has made drives far less taxing for both of us.


Trips to the vet with a reactive dog are always nerve-wracking. Will there be another dog there? Will someone come in while we're waiting or checking out? In the winter I can leave Ruby in the car for a few minutes if needed but that obviously isn't an option now that it's summertime. Yesterday we had our first day above 90 degrees. We were lucky that there was no one else in the lobby when we arrived, and Ruby's trick/positioning training came in handy for prompting her to stand on the scale to be weighed: 17.3 lbs.  

To pass the time and keep Ruby (and let's be honest, me) from getting too worried, I decided to ask for some of Ruby's tricks. I had some treats from the counter in my pocket, and even though I'd been feeding a limited/bland diet since the onset of her tummy troubles, I thought some tiny tidbits wouldn't hurt. Ruby happily ran through her repertoire: spin, twirl, sit, down, pretty, chin, relax, hind leg lift and even one of her more "advanced" tricks - march.


We heard another dog come in but Ruby was able to stay engaged with her tricks and only gave one little bark. The vet ran through a basic exam and took the lovely "gift" we'd brought back for screening. She declared Ruby in excellent health overall and said how cute and sweet she was repeatedly. She gave her a 5/9 body condition score (which is ideal, just saying). Ruby was nervous but tolerant of her exam. They didn't see anything terribly concerning and determined it to be a minor bacterial overgrowth, sending us home with some antibiotics. I also talked to the vet briefly about behavioral medication for Ruby, something I've been considering recently. We will discuss it further next week at Ruby's annual wellness check. 

Once it was time to check out we had a bit more waiting to do, and the other dog was now in the other exam room. Ruby could see the shadows of its legs pacing back and forth in front of the door. I felt my own heart-rate increasing and saying silently to myself "please don't come out before we can leave..." I realized that I was more nervous than Ruby at that point, and returned to our training to redirect my overactive mind. We walked in circles practicing "with me" (an informal heel) and auto-sits, as well as some down-stays. Ruby was definitely still aware of the other dog, but able to remain well under thresh-hold. This proved to me once again that there are practical uses for trick training, even if your dog will never be in a class or competition. Trick training gave Ruby and I both something to do in a situation that can be filled with anxiety. 


Since it was a beautiful day and as a reward for her wonderful behavior, we found a nice trail nearby and went for a short walk. Although we were within earshot of a local shooting range, the noise didn't seem to bother Ruby and the two of us enjoyed our sunny stroll. I couldn't resist snapping Ruby's picture in front of these vibrant poppies before we headed home. I was not only relieved that there was nothing seriously wrong with my little girl, but incredibly proud of how well she handled the vet's office.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by 
Cascadian Nomads,Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week - please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training! Since the first Monday in July is a holiday, the next hop will begin on July 5th. 


  1. Good job, Ruby! And good job, Lara. I take ridiculous pride in compliments on my dogs at the vet. Most recently, the eye doctor said of Leo, "You must have done a lot of training with him." Nope, his obedience is the worst. He's nice because we smother him with love. Or maybe he was born that way.

  2. Yay for Ruby! I know what you mean about feeling more nervous than our dogs sometimes! The poodles have their annual checkups in July, so leaving one of them in the car is out of the question. I'm always a bit nervous bringing two large dogs into the small vet's waiting room with unknown distractions. It takes a bit of juggling on my part, but we use trick distraction techniques too. I hope Ruby is feeling better now.

  3. That's great!!! I try to do that with Shyla but she'll only engage in playing with me (via tricks) to a point (until she goes over threshold). However, our vet's office gets us into a private room asap to avoid having Shyla "melt down" from too many dogs/people in the waiting area. Anyway, Way To Go!!!!

  4. What a good idea to use her tricks as a distraction, and I'm so glad it helped. I need to try that with Luke as well; vet visits are a huge issue for him.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

  5. I know exactly what you mean! Great job, though! My dog and I feed off each other's energy and anxiety So we both are currently on Rescue Remedy - and it seems to be helping. :)

  6. Hooray! That's great news. Just walking into the vet's office usually pushes Barley over her threshold, so it's hard to get her to do any tricks--occasionally I can get her to do a hand touch or some "pushups," but usually she just wants to crawl under the bench and hide. Our vet is very good about scheduling us for appointments between kitties so that there's less chance of seeing another dog in the waiting room, but they also let us take the back door out if that plan fails :) So glad that you had such a positive experience this time!

  7. Yay Ruby! I have Neeko perform behaviors in stressful environments, even though she is not a nervous dog. She is so calm in the waiting room at our vet, but there is always a cute little sheltie wondering around, so I keep her attention on me.

    Regarding behavioral meds-I'm a fan. There are three vets at the practice, and one of them's specialty is behavioral pharmacology. I waited 10 months with Bruce before bringing it up with her, and she was amazing. She personally hadn't seen much success with fluoxetine in dogs (but said it worked great with cats) and suggested amitriptyline for Bruce. He required 3 dose adjustments in the first 2 months, and she called me weekly to check in. He is still a neurotic mess at times, but I can't even begin to imagine what he would be like without it.

    (Sorry this is so long) I took a large amount of grief from a great deal of people for my decision to medicate Bruce. Until one has dealt with a "special" dog, they honestly have no clue what it is like. I hope that you do not encounter any naysayers.


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