Wrigley is an Australian Shepherd mix who had a rough start in life. He was a feral puppy from Oregon and was transferred to a Seattle area rescue group before he found a permanent home with his owner in 2012 when he was 3 years old. As can be common with dogs that miss out on appropriate socialization when they are young, Wrigley was extremely fearful and very reluctant to let anyone into his life, but over time he has made important strides.
At Wrigley’s first visit to Hawthorne Hills Veterinary Hospital his owner and Dr. Robin Riedinger discussed Wrigley’s fears and created a plan to help develop trust and enable the veterinary staff to do the things that would be necessary to keep Wrigley healthy. During his exam and vaccinations Wrigley needed a muzzle for his safety, for the safety of the staff and also his owner.
However, we discovered that Wrigley is very food focused and loves food more than he is fearful. We were able to capitalize on this by getting him to focus on a tasty treat and ignore being touched or handled. To help Wrigley get more comfortable to life with people and all of the various things that he would be exposed to, relaxation and positive reward protocols were implemented which the owner could use at home.
It is important to practice techniques in a variety of settings and not just at the veterinary hospital and the owner was on board with doing whatever would help Wrigley. She found several dog playmates that Wrigley got along with so he could learn how to play, she took him on walks to ‘meet and greet’ other people and dogs in a safe fashion, she took him hiking to give him an outlet for his energy and she practiced every day with Wrigley at home.
In addition, Wrigley started visiting Hawthorne Hills Veterinary Hospital for regular monthly nail trims – to help with his aversion to having his paws touched, but also to help create a trusting environment with the veterinary team. We play an iCalmDog® music player in the room which is designed to help dogs relax and Wrigley has a routine:
- get weighed
- go to the same exam room
- have the same employee(s) work with him
- get a plate of tasty food while his nails are trimmed
- get positive attention and then go home.
Over time, the muzzle has come off, Wrigley will accept being examined, and will remain calm to have one person trim his nails. Recently all of the owner’s hard work paid off. Wrigley was out on a hike and somehow punctured his belly skin jumping over a log. The wound was not serious but Wrigley needed anesthesia to treat it appropriately. Because Wrigley was comfortable with our team, we were able to administer his sedation with him remaining calm, he woke up without distress and he allowed the team to attend to the wound at his recheck visit without complaint.
It can be challenging to live with dogs with severe anxiety and in most cases the dogs will never be 100% happy-go-lucky dogs. However, it is important to know that help is out there. It does require an invested owner to work with the dog on a daily basis, and because not every dog has anxiety about the same issues, and not every dog responds to the same treatment plan, it is important to work closely with a veterinarian. We are so glad to see the progress Wrigley has made and know that he will continue to enjoy a great life with his dedicated owner.
- Dr. Wailani Sung, Seattle area Veterinary Behaviorist: http://allcreaturesbehavior.com/about.html
- Dr. Sophia Yin – website with excellent articles: https://drsophiayin.com/
- Article on addressing ‘Fear of Going to the Vet’ – Victoria Stillwell: https://positively.com/dog-behavior/behavior-problems/fears-and-phobias/fear-of-going-to-the-vet/