At the vet office...

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Postby amazincc » June 27th, 2007, 2:20 am

So... we went to "visit" the vet and to practice "not biting the vet"...
Mick was lamp-shaded, muzzled and double-leashed on a harness... I had big bag of treats and my daughter w/me.
No tranquilizers either - I think they might make him feel more "out-of-control-anxious" when he gets woozy... and it was only a practice run anyway...
We sat in the waiting room (it's HUGE) in a no-traffic spot, but were still able to see people/dogs coming and going. The vet came over to talk to me and my kid and stayed at a safe distance... the first ten minutes were lots of growling and lunging and I only gave treats for sitting/no growling. I ignored the shaking, drooling and anxiety and only petted Mick when he tried to sit calmly.
We then had the vet give me the treats to give to Mickey and he mostly averted his eyes (which she thought was a good thing?) when she tried to tell him what a "good boy" he was... however - the "good boy" from her set him off every time. He also did this howling/squeaking thing a few times when he realized I wouldn't let him sit on my lap (which is his one and only ultimate goal at the vet office - he is determined to sit in my lap, all 62 pounds of him).
We kept talking and he finally laid down... I praised him for that. He also rolled on his side and wagged his tail, and the vet praised him for that... but the words were no sooner out of her mouth when he lunged at her w/out any warning.
Of course I had a very firm grip on him, so he didn't get very far, but the vet said that he was trying to "lull" us into believing that he meant no harm - which is very bad, if that's what he did. Do dogs "think" that way?
We started all over w/the sit-stay... more treats, and he layed down for about 5 minutes... more treats for that.
He did manage to "ignore" other on-leash dogs and the people in the waiting area, but kept a close eye on the vet the whole time.
She wanted to sit on the bench next to me, but I thought that might've pushed Mick over the edge, and I wanted to leave while he was being semi-calm and not in a state of complete frenzy.
I waited long enough for his breathing to slow down and when he looked the least agitated we left, w/the vet holding the door open for us - Mick didn't lunge or growl, but I think he was simply relieved to finally be going home. The whole thing lasted about 25 minutes and the vet thought Mickey did "great"...
I honestly don't know what to think... the unpredictability definitely bothers me a lot, and the fact that he's trying to "lull" us into believing something - I hadn't ever thought that about him before, since he's a pretty straightforward "in-your-face"- kinda guy. I never let my guard down when other people are around (mainly at the vet office, since we avoid people as much as possible)... but this behavior today - and the vets take on it - really, really bothers me.
We are going to "visit" the vet once a week, just to hang out... and I do have an appointment w/a behaviorist in July.
I do know that tail wagging means "excitement" and not neccessarly "I'm friendly"... but up until today Mick has never wagged his tail before trying to hurl himself at someone. The tail usually only wags when he's happy and/or content... argh!
Any thoughts on this???
I know that we might never get this dog into a better frame of mind, and I accept that... but I will work my butt of trying anyway.
Any feedback and/or suggestions are greatly appreciated, as always... :(
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » June 27th, 2007, 8:32 am

I am soooo not an expert (:wink:), but are you maybe trying for too long? Maybe you should start with walking in the door and literally turning around and walking back out. Then when he's fine with that, walk in the door, do a quick lap, treat, and back out the door. Just sloooowly build up to it. And maybe you have, so if so, please ignore me!

Also, do you think the lampshade and muzzle add to his anxiety? I know they're both necessary right now, but I'm sure he feels a bit un-nerved with them on.

And I still think it's a travesty that your vet charges you an office visit for that. :x
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Postby mnp13 » June 27th, 2007, 1:31 pm

Liz, that was exactly what I was going to say.

It sounds to me like you went way to fast with him. Walk in, give him a treat, turn around, walk out. the next time, do the same. the next time, walk in, have someone passivly give him a treat, turn around and walk out.

you need to build his trust and confidence, not overwhelm him.
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Postby katiek0417 » June 27th, 2007, 1:44 pm

Yep, I third that motion....don't expect your dog to give you good behavior for a long time, when you haven't gotten for a short period of time...and when you do have other people give him the treats, have them come towards him with their backs turned...less "challenging" posture....
"Rumor has it, compulsion is evil."

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Postby amazincc » June 28th, 2007, 3:45 pm

Thanks!
We did that today - just walked in and out, since we pass this place on our regular walk. Mickey didn't even have time to formulate a plan, that's how quick it was. I gave him a treat and praised him once we were out of the door...
He was confused though, I think... he kept turning around and looking back and forth, from the building to me, about 15 times...lol ... he almost tripped over a fire hydrant because he wasn't paying attention to what was in front of him.
Argh - you'd think the vet would know a little something about over-stimulation, huh?
Well - no charge for the 30-second walk-through... so that's nice! :D
I will stick w/this for a couple of weeks at least (walking in and out, about 3xweekly), before we attempt to sit in the waiting room again... and I will keep the waiting room situation to about 10 minutes... or should I do less than that?
Also, no vet sitting next to me for a loooong time... we're talking "months", probably...
I hope this behaviorist is worth her HUGE fee - I really just want Mickey to be able to enjoy a simple walk w/out him lunging at everyone... right now we only go out for our "long walk" at night.
Then again - he might never learn to cope w/having people around... he is who he is.
But I'll work my butt off trying to get him in a better state of mind... :)
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Postby Jenn » June 28th, 2007, 3:58 pm

Well - no charge for the 30-second walk-through... so that's nice!


LOL! Yes, how nice of them.

I think the most important thing I try to remember about dogs & myself so far is MY confidence/reaction (sometimes you don't even realize it yourself) makes a huge difference, and is extremely important.
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Postby amazincc » June 28th, 2007, 4:04 pm

You are soooo right - I need to listen to my gut when it comes to my dog. I had a feeling that 25 minutes was overdoing it, but the vet didn't think so... then again, she charged me for sitting there. :D
Yep, I think 10 minutes or less would be much easier on all of us in the beginning... :P
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Postby katiek0417 » June 28th, 2007, 4:25 pm

On June 28 2007, 3:04 PM, amazincc wrote:You are soooo right - I need to listen to my gut when it comes to my dog. I had a feeling that 25 minutes was overdoing it, but the vet didn't think so... then again, she charged me for sitting there. :D
Yep, I think 10 minutes or less would be much easier on all of us in the beginning... :P


While I understand that my vet knows a ton about dogs and cats...NO ONE knows MY animals like I do. Trust your instinct, and do what's right for you...you (and Mickey) will be much happier.
"Rumor has it, compulsion is evil."

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Postby amazincc » June 28th, 2007, 4:38 pm

katiek0417... you're right! And that's exactly how I usually "operate"... I soooo want him to do well, but I have to remember his limits.
Temporary lapse in judgement on my part... :x
Poor thing followed me everywhere that night... today was much better, and he wasn't anxious at all when we got home...
Thank God for all of you to keep my in line... :)
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Postby iluvk9 » June 28th, 2007, 6:04 pm

On June 28 2007, amazincc wrote:Thank God for all of you to keep my in line... :)


I can give you cooking tips! :wink:
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Postby amazincc » June 28th, 2007, 6:22 pm

[quote="On June 28 2007, 5:04 PM, iluvk9)

I can give you cooking tips! :wink:


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Postby pitbullmamaliz » June 28th, 2007, 6:25 pm

I wouldn't even start with 10 minutes. Maybe one minute? If you give him too much at once, it'll set him back.
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Postby Hoyden » June 28th, 2007, 7:18 pm

While doing service dog training with Birdie, one of the most important lessons that I learned is "less is more" when it comes to the amount of time you spend training in each session.

Five 2 minute training sessions were much better than one 10 minute session, especially when addressing something the dog is fearful of or has anything but a happy "so great to meet you" attitude about.

Things she was fearful of, I would start with 30 second and 1 minute increments and build up from there.

Anything I tried to do in longer sessions, I had to re-do over with her because she wasn't solid at it. Lots of short sessions seems like it takes much longer, but the reality is, do it slow and do it right or do it over again.

Just my experience, for what it's worth.


The rushing noisy air curtain that blows in your face when you go into Home Depot or BJ's was a bugger for us. She absolutely HATED that door way and would freak when I would try to walk through it with her.

So I ditched BJ's for awhile and would train at Home Depot because I could walk right by the door at the edge of the area where the air reached and go in the Garden door. Then I would come back out the garden door and walk by the edge of the air curtain.

Next trip, I'd walk about 6" to 1 ft inside the area where the air curtain reached with blowing, but just walk right through and go in the other door, coming back out the other door, through the edge of the curtain and into the truck.

Then I would walk 1 ft to 18" from the edge of the air curtain.

I gradually decreased the distance from the blowy thing as she began to be less afraid of it. Then I just had Autumn RUN her right through the door one day and praised her when we got in and that was that. Now she could care less about the noisy, blowy door.


At some point when he is ready, maybe incorporate a high value treat as part of your "walk through" the vet's office? See if you can have someone in the office put the treat somewhere that you agree on, walk him in, let him get the treat and go. Then have a vet tech hold the treat, so he can grab it and go?


We did that with elevators, the guy operating the elevator cooperated with us. We'd walk in get the treat and leave, no ride at first.

Then we'd go up one floor get a treat while it was moving and then get off and go down the stairs. Next time we went UP the stairs, got in, went down one floor, got a treat and got off.

And added a floor until she didn't get nervous, shake, pant and panic in the elevators. When we were done, I gave the elevator guy that worked with us a $60.00 certificate to a nice restaurant.
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Postby amazincc » June 28th, 2007, 7:39 pm

As always, all suggestions are welcome! Now that I have my head back on straight, the one-minute session sounds completely reasonable for Mick... less is definitely more than enough for him.
Thanks, all... :)
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Postby gooeydog » July 1st, 2007, 12:27 am

In addition to what's already been suggested, if Mick knows some form of the "focus" command, you may try using this as well, first just around the outside of the building, then just passing through, building up to longer periods of time, if he's got his eyes on you, he's not going to be freaking out at everything else (as much). IME it is easier on a fearful dog if they have a task of their own to set their attention to as you take over the task of leader/"protector", and the more enjoyable this task is, the more focus they'll put into that. Make sure you're careful in timing with praise/rewards so as to not reward bad behavior on his part, as it sounds like some of his issues stem from him thinking he needs to be in charge in threatening situations, and you definitely do not want to encourage that. He may be sitting calmly, but if he's crammed in front of you, hard-staring the vet, that's not a behavior I would look to reward.

I think it will be helpful to you to learn more about dog body language, as with practice, you'll be able to read Mickey better and anticipate his outbursts. There are multiple books on the subject in general which I think would benefit you a lot, but you'll learn a lot about Mickey by watching him, his eyes, ears, tail, overall posture and noting the behavior that follows.

Hope things go well with the behaviorist!
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Postby Malli » July 1st, 2007, 2:40 am

I don't think he was trying to lull you into anything :|

unfortunately, the environment at the vets is not ideal for training. Procedures, blood collections, and handling needs to be done quickly to keep up with the schedule of the business; it is not a place where time is plentiful as needed in training, and even if it were, clients have so many different ideas about training and behavior of their animals that there would never be agreement enough for their to be a standard. With sick animals, our key focus is to keep stress to a minimum and keep things as fast as possible, often times that unfortunately means working around behavioral problems and fears.

I think the vet speaking to him was too much too fast. She should come up, talk to you guys, and just toss him treats and not say a word. We use a lot of praise at work (I can only speak for my work!) with patients, I think in his case its just backfired and he might be taking it as a clue that she is about to do something he doesn't like, so decides he may as well cut her off before she gets that far; her saying "good boy" could mean to him "now I'm going to hold you down, or poke you with a needle" etc. Does that make sense?
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Postby amazincc » July 1st, 2007, 5:16 am

Hindsight and all that...

I think you're right, Malli... "good boy" at the vet definitely means unpleasant things are about to happen.
gooeydog... that's exactly what I did - reward the "staring -at-the-vet" behavior. :o

Well, I think we will be starting from scratch on Monday, and try to incorporate all the advise given here... I will keep it short and as low-key as possible, and without any other people involved, for the time being.
I know how to behave at the vet, and I was a little anxious... I can't imagine what Mickey must've thought...
We'll practice walking in and out of the building for now and see how that goes. :)
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Postby gooeydog » July 1st, 2007, 1:18 pm

gooeydog... that's exactly what I did - reward the "staring -at-the-vet" behavior.

It's an easy and common mistake, as it really seems like much better behavior than actually aggressing at the vet, but he's basically right out front warning the vet "come any closer and I'll defend myself". That's not to say that a scared dog looking away from a person won't possibly bite, but a scared dog making direct eye contact is a much more forward type of fear, less likely to try and escape, more likely to either stand its ground and bite or even advance and bite ("I'll get you before you get me" mindset). Any of the above types of behavior is a sign that the dog is feeling threatened, so you want to try to avoid them for desensitization purposes.
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Postby Red » July 3rd, 2007, 2:45 am

He also rolled on his side and wagged his tail, and the vet praised him for that... but the words were no sooner out of her mouth when he lunged at her w/out any warning.


Christine, go back to when this happened and see if you can recall any change in Mike's body language before he lunged.When the mind shifts the body shifts, it is a natural consequence.In nearly all cases there is something.Subtle maybe but it is there.On top of learning your dog's body language you really have to pay attention to every little changes in the environment that might set him off.It could be the vet shifting his weight from one leg to the other, moving slightly forward, a different tone of voice, a hand moving.Anything can be a reason enough for a fear reactive dog to go off.Even something you never though of.Fear does not disappear all of a sudden and even when it looks like a dog is "okey" something minor can cause a reaction.
The dog was also down on his side, which takes all defenses away and can intensify a response out of fear, after he picked up on a trigger.

The fact that the dog lunged is a major concern because you were not able to anticipate it.Owning dogs like Mike safely means to realize what's coming before it actually happens.Like someone said the vet place is not where you work on desensitization, not when his reactions are still so important and you miss triggers.It is best that you make the vet visit as quick as possible.

Vet visits are a stressful moment for the fearful male I am housing as well.I don't want anyone to interact or speak to him and the handling is left to me the majority of the times.There is people there who knows nothing about proper behaviors around troubled dogs and therefore they can't be put in the position to deal with it.It is my job to make sure the dog won't cause any trouble.
I put the muzzle on right before the vet is about to check him out, restrain him myself and the vet does what he needs to do.I only allow one vet assistant to briefly interact with him because she does exactly what I tell her to do.She comes in, ignores the dog and avoid eye contact and talking directly to him.She talks to me and toss a treat without stepping into his space in the wrong way.She could be standing there touching his chest with her leg without any problem because her behavior is non threatening.
Every dogs has a different idea of what is a threat and what is not.With some you can't even be at 10 feet of distance without the dog freaking out for the mere presence of a human being.
To be around fearful dogs require some knowledge of fear related behaviors and it is hard to find people who does.That is why it is best to avoid any interaction unless you can work with someone who knows what to do or has the time to do it.Your dog has big limits and your first concern has always to be safety, no matter where you are.

I have a few books on fear related issues in dogs I can suggest to you, and some resources.If you want any feel free to PM me.
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Postby amazincc » July 3rd, 2007, 3:49 am

Red... she made eye contact and took a half-step in his direction while she praised him. So... yep... we definitely and completely overwhelmed him and I was stupid for doing/allowing it - and our vet seems to know less than I do. :P

Today we walked in and out of the building without Mick having a major anxiety attack since it was quick... took about 15 seconds or so. This will be our focus for a while until I think we're ready to sit on a waiting room bench very briefly, w/out any interaction from the staff or the vet.
I am realizing that five years of "bad coping" behavior is going to take a long time to "unlearn" and trying to rush the dog through it won't work.

On a good note - we were hanging out on our front steps today and our neighbor had some visitors knocking on his door. This is usually of great concern to Mickey and he will try to push past me (to stand in front of me) while barking/growling... sometimes even lunging. Tonight I told him to sit, and even though he grumbled a little to himself at first, he sat and watched them, but didn't "stare"... ears were up, tail wagged a little, I could tell he was unsure. I made him sit behind me to show him that I had it "under control". The people and I had a short conversation and they completely ignored him (at my request) - he stayed where he was and didn't make a peep.
Baby steps... :)

Oh, Red - Mickey is always leashed and I take every safety precaution necessary when taking him outside. I know that he has the potential to be very dangerous and I never let my guard down. Even when he lunged at the vet I had a very good grip on him and he didn't get close to her.
I think, when he was down on his side, it was his way of telling me "Okay - I'm trying to figure out what you all want from me, and this is my last effort to show that I don't really want to harm anyone - let's just leave already!" I should've picked up on that, but instead I totally misread him... :oops:
I can usually tell what he's going to do - his muzzle tightens, his lip might twitch, he sort of puffs himself up, his ears go flat on his head, his toes splay out more, his eyes get bigger, etc. ...
I am not making excuses, but I want you to know that I do realize how serious the situation is, and that I would never put anyone in harms way -
Mickey wears a muzzle at all times whenever we interact w/other people.
And I will pm you for those books and resources... :wink:
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