It was a beautiful fall day. The sun promised warmth to the cool crisp autumn air and the colours were spectacular against the clear blue sky. Koen, my then four-year old German Shepherd Dog, had already alerted to a deer in the woods but I called him off to follow me up a winding path to the summit overlooking the beaver pond. I saw him jump over an obstacle in the long grass and, as he ran gleefully ahead of me, I noticed a dark mark on the back of his hind leg. I investigated and was shocked to discover a gash which pumped blood to the rhythm of his heart beat. He weighed 42 kg (to me, a very heavy 90+ lbs) and impossible to carry the 2 km back to the car. I was unprepared and I was panicked. We eventually made it back and I rushed him to the vet on the other side of town. We were whisked into an exam room with two technicians quickly following behind but before much could be done, most of the floor was smeared with blood. It seemed to be everywhere. I was crying; the techs were working feverously to stop the bleeding and in the midst of all this activity was Koen, an ever patient pool of calm in this chaotic scene. He never complained. He did what I asked him to do: to lie down and stay, to roll on his side, and to permit the wound to be checked without giving any interference. I was a wreck but his big brown eyes held my gaze as if to say, “It’ll be OK.” He spent five days in hospital after the surgery to repair a sliced tendon and severed artery and came home in a cast that made walking very interesting indeed, especially because the snow came shortly thereafter.
It could happen to you, or more precisely, to your dog at some point in their life. It may be because of some kind of accident, especially for the active outdoorsy dog. You know the kind…the ones who investigate with great vigor every groundhog hole and every animal sound while walking in the woods or chasing a deer because your “Come!” command didn’t work. Just imagine your dog going nose-to-nose or rather, teeth-to-teeth with a groundhog in his hole. The sporty dog who leaps into the air to catch a Frisbee and has a hard landing…..a sprained or broken foreleg! Or even the docile home-body who like to forage in the kitchen garbage when you’re not home and eats something dangerous. It could happen at any time and anywhere.
Are you prepared?
Do you have your emergency vet phone number tacked to your fridge?
Do you have it on speed-dial or in memory on your cell phone?
Do you carry your cell phone with you on outdoor trips with your dog?
Do you have a first-aid kit in your car?.....or in your home, for that matter?
Can you make a pressure bandage or tourniquet out of the clothing you’re wearing or do you carry a small first-aid kit?
Is your dog too heavy for you to “scoop-and-run” to your car? If so, what’s your secondary plan?
Have you thought it out? What you would do?
There’s another kind of preparation too; a long-term plan that begins when your puppy or new dog arrives home for the first time. It’s a simple plan that helps your dog to integrate seamlessly into his very human world.
- Socialization of your dog with our varied community of people of all ages, big or small, noisy or quiet, on bicycles or skateboards, pushing strollers or lawnmowers, joggers and those in wheelchairs or walking with canes or walkers all helps your dog not react in a frightened or forceful way.
- Socialization with other dogs and puppies reduces the likelihood of a difficult interaction in the close confines of the vet’s waiting room.
- Regular handling, holding and restraining, petting, and massage of your dog from nose to tail and all parts in between is essential not only for day to day life but also prepares your dog for the inevitable vet examination.
- Crate or confinement training is a must. If your dog is already quite happy in his crate at home, then spending time on an overnight stay at the hospital in a crate is not likely to produce anxiety that is strictly crate-related.
- “Well-visits” to your vet’s office on a regular basis for young puppies is very useful. Your puppy’s cumulative experience is positive because nothing ‘bad’ is happening and it’s like money-in-the-bank for those other visits. I think it so sad to see a puppy or dog balking at the door not wanting to enter or sitting shivering and panting because he’s so stressed.
- And last, but certainly not least, is obedience training. It is a huge stress reducer, both for you and for your dog. If you’re confident that your dog will sit and stay when asked, will hop up on the scales and wait when asked, will greet these strange smelling people (veterinary staff) with courtesy, will not act out if another dog approaches too closely, then you are much less worried about how he’s going to behave and can focus on the current crisis. The medical staff will be able to handle him without the likelihood of confrontation and you don’t have to deal with the embarrassment always associated with a misbehaving dog.
It’s always so gratifying to me when I pick up my most wonderful but very klutzy and accident prone dog from the vet’s latest visit that I’m told “he was such a gentleman”. That’s not to say he’s not anxious to go home and nor ecstatic to see me, he’s just pretty easy to handle by the medical staff even in the most difficult of circumstances.
It is in your best interest and the best interest of your dog to actively seek out situations that can prepare him. Anything you can do to reduce your dog’s stress during a crisis will assist in healing, and make those examinations, x-rays, blood tests more palatable. You will have a much happier dog even in adverse conditions and your vet and other medical staff will thank you.
Lynn Hyndman – Head Trainer