Harley, my 3-year-old bulldog mix, doesn't go to the veterinarian often because he gets aggressive whenever he does. During his most recent visit, the vet recommended we consult a veterinarian who specializes in behavior problems to help Harley feel less anxious at the animal hospital. My question is why bother since the vet was able to give him his rabies vaccination.
A First I'll explain "why," and, if I do that successfully, I hope you'll read on for the "how."
Most dogs that react aggressively at the animal hospital are actually anxious or frightened. Do you really want Harley to feel stressed when he could instead feel confident and happy when he visits his veterinarian?
Moreover, if a trip to the vet is so stressful that you don't take him regularly, then he's not getting the preventive care that could spare him serious illness.
What happens if Harley needs surgery or gets sick enough to require hospitalization? He should feel comfortable having people treat his condition, give him medications and tend to his IV fluids. If he won't let the veterinary staff provide the necessary care, he won't heal.
If those aren't enough reasons, let me share some statistics. While 92% of veterinarians have been bitten by a dog, I assume Harley hasn't bitten his veterinarian yet, and I'm certain you don't want that bad mark on his medical record.
Furthermore, the primary reason dogs are relinquished to shelters is behavior problems. Vow to address Harley's so you'll never have to think about giving him up.
Since there's no evidence that dogs grow out of behavior problems on their own, let's talk about what you can do to correct Harley's aggressive behavior at the animal hospital.
First, take your vet's advice to consult with a veterinarian who specializes in animal behavior. Ask whether an anti-anxiety medication would help, at least during the initial phases of therapy.
Train Harley to enjoy riding in the car so he's relaxed when he reaches the animal hospital. Drive him to places where he can have fun and meet friendly people and dogs, making very few of his destinations stressful.
Car training should be gradual, and it will be more successful if you employ the relaxation pheromone Adaptil, lavender oil, calming music such as icalmpet.com, a compression wrap such as a Thunder Shirt or Anxiety Wrap, or a combination of these stress-reduction techniques.
Also, train Harley to accept common veterinary procedures. Start with the physical examination, ensuring he is comfortable having one person hold him while another checks his teeth and gums, ears, paws and elsewhere. Practice having someone hold his front leg out in front of him, as though a veterinary technician were drawing blood.
Enroll Harley in a group obedience training class. He'll become comfortable with other people and dogs, and his self-confidence will improve as he performs new skills and hears your praise.
With some work and perhaps medication, both Harley and you will come to enjoy his veterinary visits.
Q I have cats, and I use a Swiffer WetJet. A friend told me she remembers hearing something about it being toxic to pets. Is this true?
A No, that rumor was debunked long ago. If you follow the manufacturer's directions, the Swiffer WetJet is safe to use in homes with pets.
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at