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Friday, May 6, 2011

"It's okay..."

"It's okay" is a phrase I hear all the time in the waiting and consultation rooms. It is a phrase that should never, ever, be uttered to a dog. Our reaction to our dogs' fears and anxieties, however, is entirely understandable. We immediately want to extricate the fear reaction by telling our dogs that "everything is okay." But it's not. You are simply rewarding a dog for negative or unwanted behaviour, invariably telling the dog that it's okay to be fearful of loud noises, to be fearful at the vet, fearful of a stranger, to growl or bite the vet, to walk across the street, to bite the hand that feeds him. You are reinforcing a negative behaviour.
I tell clients that it's entirely natural to say "it's okay," as we are the dogs' caregivers, we love our pets. It's natural, but it's not okay.
Redirecting a fearful response is far healthier for the pet and will stick long-term. You can do this by using the dog's favourite treat (literally: something the dog loves to snack on). When your dog is exhibiting fear or anxiety and you find yourself starting to utter "it's okay," bite your tongue (often literally), and have the dog perform a simple command like "sit" or "stay" or "heel" and reward them immediately for having completed the task. This redirects the behaviour away from a fearful one and rewards the dog, rendering the entire experience a positive and beneficial one.

This is never okay!


emilene said...

Never thought of it that way! I'll certainly go to the vet armed with treats from now on - thx for that!

Rachel said...

You are a great writer and I'm sure, a great vet! It was good to meet you in Miami! Hoping that you had a great time there, and a safe, comfortable trip back home.

Rachel B.

Once Upon an Equine said...

Oh my goodness. What a coincidence I would stumble upon your blog today. I was just at the vet this morning with my dog and I was saying "It's okay, it's okay. You're alright. It's okay, girl."

Your post makes a lot of sense. Next time, I'll be careful how I console my pet. Thanks for the advice.

Tom Foolry said...

I've had to take my dogs to the vet several times before and, I confess, I would always say that! It never occurred to me that that was the case.

On a side note, what are your thoughts on a veterinary compounding pharmacy? Do you do any of it yourself?

TorontoVet said...

Like anything, compounding pharmacies may be good, or not so good. They are so important nowadays as we are using so many different types of medications, and many of these must be compounded to suit the needs of our patients.

001mum said...

Distraction- I do it with the dogs
(it takes practice) when my kids were little and now have perfected it with an elderly parent.
It really,really works.
However I only give the (yuck) lamb lung (yuck) treats to the dogs!

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