The value of knowing your dog

Knowing about typical breed (or crossbreed/mongrel) characteristics is all well and good, but the value of knowing your dog is priceless.

This was really brought home to me this week as we’ve had Bodie six months now. And it was time for his six month health check and booster vaccination.

He’s not the best at being handled. He’s an affectionate dog in many ways, but he does still struggle with basic ‘husbandry’. Before we got him, he’d had eye infections as a puppy. So he was very scared of anyone touching his eyes or running their hands going over his head. You could only stroke him from under his chin and chest to start off with. He’s also not good about having his paws touched or held. He’d obviously not had positive experiences of being touched and handled early on and getting them used to this as a puppy is so important.

If you’re not already, start gently doing paw touching, ear sniffing and gum rubbing etc. to get them used to it. Even if they’re not a puppy, you can help them at any age. Just start with what they are comfortable with, give rewards as you’re going and build it up at their pace.

So we’re a step behind with Bodie. But we’ve done a lot of that over the six months we’ve had him. Doing it when he’s in a nice relaxed mood, just stroking his legs, stroking the parts of his body that he’s better with us touching. And then a little bit of paw twiddling and touching between his toes, nails and all that kind of stuff. We’ve been building up slowly, obviously feeding him nice things while we’re doing it. He’s still not great, but it’s getting better. So that’s a work in progress for us.

So I knew the vet check-up would be a little bit challenging for him. To help prepare him we’ve done quite a lot of popping into the vets without doing anything. We go in there and just get him stand on the scales, and hang around for a little while. Or the nurses in reception feed him some dried liver, and we take him out again. So he’s got more used to it, but there’s obviously cats and dogs and lots of strange smells. So it’s still an exciting and stressful place.

I’d been thinking about a backup strategy if he couldn’t cope with what the vet needed to do in the treatment room. A lot of the ‘desensitisation’ work that I’ve done with him is when he’s clipped into the boot of the car after a walk. Once he’s in the boot I’ll use ‘Clean Sheets’ (textured wet wipes) for dogs. And I’ve been stroking his body with them, cleaning his paws, legs and belly. Even up and over his head. With the other hand (or useful boyfriend if he’s with us!), I’ll be feeding him to help distract him and give positive associations to what’s going on.

So I thought as a backup plan, I would see if the vet would do some of the work with him the boot of my car! Bodie did relatively well for most of the appointment. The vet was amazing; he was really sensitive to how Bodie was reacting. He didn’t mind having a face wash from Bodie as he was going in for an ear inspection! His teeth are all lovely and clean as a puppy’s should be, but we do give him lots of natural chews and bones to keep the plaque off his teeth. The vet managed to gently feel his body, while stroking him, he was very good at disguising the fact that that he was getting a check up. The stethoscope was a bit of a challenge, but he spent time letting him sniff it as I fed him dried sprats.

I’ve been doing prep for an injection by picking up the scruff of his neck and just poking him gently with a pen helping him getting used to that feeling. But by now we’ve been in there for 25 minutes and I think Bodie had reached his limits and the sprat/chicken distraction wasn’t working any more. So I suggested we get him back in the boot of the car to do the injection and the vet was totally up for that.

So we take him outside, he hops up into the car nicely now and I was just feeding him chicken and before he’d even noticed, he got the injection and we were done!

I’m so pleased I’d thought about what I was going to do to help him in advance. And because I’d thought it through, I was calmer going in, expecting it to be fine. He would have picked up on me not being worried. In another six months’ time he’ll be even better and it should just get easier.

So all I wanted to say was just the importance of knowing your dog and knowing what knowing what’s right for them. And not being afraid to ask for what they need.