Meet Gronk - he is one of my hero's.
I first met Gronk in mid 2017 when he enrolled in the Ready Vet Go! course for husbandry skills and good experiences in the vet clinic.
Gronk previously has been nervous at vet clinics. This has been especially exacerbated by examination and restraint. As a result it was very stressful for all involved to examine him and draw blood etc.
What I have to say, first and foremost, I love his parents. They have stuck by his side and have worked with him at his pace to achieve the wins we have. Gronk also has Separation Anxiety (diagnosed by veterinary behaviourist). He is on medication which helps him learn and feel less stress. However even with the meds on board, he is not one for vet visits. Who can blame him - he hasn't had great experiences, and it really only takes one bad experience. Do you love your dentist? No offence to my dentist, I like him, however I would much rather run into him outside of the dental office - and I haven't had a traumatic experience.
So what did we do? Over the course of 4 weeks - he came to the Veterinary Clinic - we let him sniff, investigate and have good things happen.
We also taught him a couple of fun games - and these games in the end allow him choice. The biggest one is the sustained target - in this situation, whilst he is engaged with his target, he is giving a go ahead signal. If he disengages, whatever we are doing stops. It is so powerful, once an animal knows they have choice they will allow that little bit more.
The use of the "sticky bone" can also be paired with handling, brushing, washing etc. When they engage and lick, start with gradual touches etc, if they stop licking, you stop. Again that power of choice over what is happening is very very empowering to the learner.
We also muzzle trained him using the Baskerville ultra muzzles. These are basket muzzles - they allow a dog to be able to pant (very important if they are stressed), eat (take rewards) and drink. The added advantage is he is used to it, the muzzle is not the predictor of scary things, and in future if he needs it, it will make all around him more comfortable. Once vet staff feel comfortable, the dogs feed off of the energy and they feel more comfortable.
The next thing to get him used to was handling from a stranger. This included general body touches, feeling for lumps and bumps, listening to his chest with a stethoscope and most importantly being able to hold up a vein and poke it with a fake (though pointy) needle. We also paired the sound and feel of clippers with good things, as well as the feel of the cold and smelly alcohol swab. In my past experience - its that alcohol swab which is often hardest.
All of these things were done gradually, and at his pace. He could choose to stop, and choose to keep going.
Thank you Tessa and James, and of course Gronk. You have worked so hard with your boy, and I am so proud of him.