How can one 40 minute vet appointment be the worst and the best, all in one? I took Buster to the cardiologist for a consult back in early 2016. We were the only ones in the lobby that day, but that still doesn’t change the fact that he hates going to the vet. The front desk staff saw his wrinkly, wiggly butt and seemingly happy self, and one of them came over to say hi. I could tell Buster was stressed out by being there, but he was managing. He was even accepting treats from this stranger. She went to give him one more treat but moved her hand in an abrupt, quick motion, and he snapped. He didn’t make contact with her in any form, but of course, she ran away, presumably to hide in the back treatment area.
Another tech came out about 2 minutes later and immediately whisked us into an exam room and closed the door. Buster and I were both stressed out, and I was worried. The tech came back to ask what his deal was and get some background information on him, but she never crossed the doorway threshold. She looked at him and treated him as if he was an aggressive monster sitting there staring at her and barking at her as if he wanted to draw blood. In reality, he was panting and pacing and trying to lay down on the cold floor. I told her his life story in about 10 minutes. I told her he is reactive both to dogs and to people in certain instances (quick movements being one). I told her I was a vet tech myself, so I knew all about veterinary procedures and aggressive dogs. I told her I was a trainer, and that Buster is muzzle trained and will wear his muzzle when the vet comes in. She said she would have to discuss this with the veterinarian because of the liability issue. I understood. I sat there for the next 5 minutes freaking out and wondering if I had failed my dog.
The vet came in totally cool, calm, and collected and without an ounce of fear or worry. I asked him what he wanted to do. I told him we could come back another day. I gave him Buster’s summarized life story, and told him he was muzzle trained. He said Buster seemed fine, and he wanted to give it a try. I muzzled Buster, and he did his physical exam there pretty easily. We walked him to the ultrasound room, and he performed the echocardiogram easily, and Buster didn’t put even a smidgen of a fight.
When we were done, we sat there discussing Buster’s medical case which was all good news – nothing was wrong with his heart. We sat there for a few more minutes discussing Buster in general and his behavior and reactivity and working with aggressive dogs in a vet hospital setting. He said I was doing a good job with Buster. He said he wished more owners would muzzle train their dogs. He then told me a horror story about one dog who was noticeably aggressive, yet the owners didn’t seem to think so. He tried to do an exam without a muzzle, and thankfully he wasn’t too attached to his Rolex, which protected his wrist from punctures when the dog went to bite him. Then, of course, the owners were absolutely horrified when he said he needed to muzzle their dog.
I’m reminded of that day every time we go to the vet. I often walk in wondering if I have failed Buster, but i I usually leave feeling as high as a kite and proud of just how well he has done. Buster had his annual exam and annual bloodwork done yesterday. When we walked in, he was noticeably stressed but tolerating it well. We muzzled him, and they drew his blood in about 2 seconds. We waited in a room until the vet was ready to do her physical exam. I muzzled him again, and she did her exam easily. He didn’t put up a fight. He was quick and easy.
There are tons of trainers out there and videos floating all over the Internet that say “ALL dogs should be muzzle trained.” This statement usually gets a lot of flack, but I live and breathe by it. Usually, the first response is something like, “Well, I’d like to see you put a muzzle on a Pug!” That’s when I just shake my head, and scroll through my camera roll on my phone to find the various pictures I have of Buster in his muzzle. The second response is usually something like, “But my dog LOVES the vet. He does great!” Usually, these are the few lucky souls with the happy-go-lucky Labs that will still lick you to death even if you’re jabbing them repeatedly with a 1.5″ long needle, but realistically, those dogs are few and far between. Plus, ALL dogs have the chance of getting hurt. An animal in pain is very likely to be fearful and aggressive. Are you particularly happy when you slice your finger while cutting vegetables? Or do you shout some choice words and maybe have a rude, snarky response if your husband still decides to ask when dinner will be ready?
Muzzles look intimidating and scary, and historically have only been used on aggressive and scary dogs. Luckily, there are organizations and people out there trying to get rid of that stigma so people won’t get so freaked out when they see a dog wearing a muzzle. Wearing a muzzle does not mean you have a bad or aggressive dog. It means that you are a fabulously proactive dog owner and have trained your dog to be comfortable and happy in one, just on the off chance they do ever get truly injured.
So, do me, yourself, your dog, and the general dog population a favor by doing these two things:
- If you happen to see a dog in a muzzle, don’t freak out or run away. Don’t act like the dog is holding a human hand dripping blood in his mouth. Instead, commend the owner for having such a well trained dog.
- Muzzle train your own dog. Stay tuned for another post on how to do this!
Is your dog already muzzle trained? What’s your favorite muzzle? Stay tuned for another post on the different types and brands of muzzles to choose from to get the best, most comfortable fit for your dog!