When you love a dog like Cooper–a scaredy dog who reacts poorly when frightened–it takes effort. All of it.
There is, of course, the training piece. It’s a big part of it because diminishing the fear through counter-conditioning or teaching coping strategies through positive reinforcement can help with the reactivity. There is, too, the management because at the end of the day, a dog hard-wired to behave in fear won’t ever be 100% calm or safe, no matter how many reactive dog classes you take.
Once you have some training down and once you figure out management strategies, the rest becomes a matter of anticipating and planning.
Where the training, managing, anticipating, and planning all come to a head: the vet’s office.
There are strange people. There are dogs. There are sometimes even other animals like cats and guinea pigs. There are weird smells and scared animals and unusual noises. There are slippery floors.
Cooper likes none of that.
But, there’s no getting out of the vet. I mean, there’s literally no reason for us to take him to a fair or to an outdoor patio or to a pet store or whatever, but there’s no avoiding the vet. For most dogs, an annual exam is just the bare minimum. Cooper this year should start his senior dog (can’t you believe it?!?!) twice-yearly visits. And that’s assuming–knock on wood–no other sicknesses or issues that would necessitate another trip into the office.
When I wrote that we were searching for a new veterinarian, a big piece of that search included finding a practice that could accommodate Cooper’s special needs.
So, I wanted to come back today with the follow-up tale of Cooper’s new vet!
How We Found Our Vet
We started our search through the usual routes: Google searches, Facebook reviews, even the Nextdoor app. We asked a few friends who they use and have had the opportunity to visit another vet in town. Then, we realized there was a vet’s office one mile from our house, directly across from the place we get breakfast every Saturday. Why not try close to home?
John called and explained to the office manager that we wanted to come in for a meet-and-greet with the vet. Two awesome signs came from that initial phone call:
- They requested Coop’s files be sent over so the vet could review them before the appointment.
- They gave us the last appointment of the day on a Saturday so that there wouldn’t be any dogs in the lobby when we left.
If you’ve been around for a while, you know Cooper’s experienced many health issues. I appreciated that he wanted to do his due diligence before we even signed on as clients. I also appreciated how accommodating they were when John explained that Coop is a reactive pup.
We arrived at the office a few minutes before our appointment. We could hear other dogs in the building, but none were in the lobby. Regardless, they put us right in a room to fill out paperwork. The vet tech came in and introduced herself. She sat on the floor while reviewing our paperwork with us. Cooper never approached her, but she kept a positive, calm, cheerful conversation going the whole time. Before she left the room, she said, “And now for the most important question: Can he have cheese?”
The entire time she talked with us, Cooper squished himself up against the door, clearly like, “OK, guys. Enough’s enough. Take me home.”
When the vet came in, he walked in the room unwrapping a slice of American cheese. Cooper’s nose visibly perked at that, and he inched away from the door.
The doctor sat on the floor a few feet in front of Cooper. He handed me a piece of the slice and suggested I give it to him first. After that first bite, Cooper decided to give the guy at least an inch.
Over the course of the next hour, we–John and I, the vet, and the vet tech–chatted. We talked about Cooper and his quirks. We talked about benign stuff like running. We talked about pet food. Meanwhile, the vet kept giving Coop pieces of cheese, and ever-so-slowly, he worked in pats, then he worked in a listen to his heart. Then, he waited for a while while we all just talked and gave Cooper cheese and pats, then he looked at his teeth and his eyes. A quick glance in his ears. More cheese. More pats. That was it.
The vet conducted a basic physical exam… without Cooper ever realizing it. Sure, he was still afraid, but he calmed down enough to settle for a few seconds at a time, and he allowed everyone to pat him. He never had the chance to go from scared … to terrified … to reactive. He stayed pretty calm (for him).
We asked all our questions (check out this post for more on that) and got to discuss many of Cooper’s issues in depth because, first, the vet was already versed having read his files, and because, second, we had an un-rushed hour to just sit and talk.
This is what sealed the deal for us:
They encourage “social visits.”
Basically, we call them up and say, “Hey, we’d like to bring Cooper by for a social visit this week.” They suggest a day and time that’s light or quiet. We arrive at that time and bring him in to get cheese from staff in the lobby, step on the scale, and say goodbye. That’s it! A couple quick minutes of positivity at no charge. Imagine your reactive dog feeling less scared at the vet because it’s a kinda-sorta happy-ish place. (I harbor no delusions that this will “fix” his issues at the vet, but it can’t hurt and will likely help at least to a small degree!)
It’s not *quite* as perfect as it sounds. The practice is small, so they’re missing a few services we hoped for and had at our previous vet, but we decided that all the rest more than makes up for it. Kindness and compassion for a special pup like ours, not rushing us through the visit, spending time getting to know him and us… they won us over.
THEN we got a thank you note for joining their practice. #blownaway
So, yeah, Coop has a new vet. We scheduled him for his annual in October. I thought he was due in April but couldn’t remember why I thought that. Once we were home and I was updating his records, I realized it’s because he’s supposed to start his twice-a-year visits (GAH!) so was due for a baseline blood panel in April to start up his senior status. I need to call them back to schedule that, but there you have it.
My big takeaway and piece of advice: If you’re not happy with your vet, call around or visit vets until you find one you are happy with. It’s an important relationship, and you and your pets should absolutely find a place that feels comfortable!
Have you ever sought a new vet? How did your experience go? What were your big takeaways? Please share ’em in the comments so we can all learn together!