I’ve written previously about my aversion to letting veterinary technicians take my dogs “in the back” for blood draws and other quick procedures. My main reason for not wanting to send Otto in the back is that he has an irrational fear of slippery floors. As soon as he thinks a floor is slippery — it doesn’t even seem to matter whether I find the floor to be slippery or not — he starts to walk like Bambi on a frozen pond, scrambling in such as way as to ensure that he will fall.
He’s actually made a LOT of progress, largely because I’ve never dragged or forced him across a floor that freaked him out (contrary to LOTS of advice from the kind of trainers I don’t listen to). He may quail for a moment at the entrance to a pet supply store, when he steps off the entry carpet and finds himself on a sea of tile, but then he will gather himself and walk cautiously along with me. His turns will be wide and wobbly, and he will pant a bit with the effort of staying upright, but he’s game, he’ll go. That’s hard-won progress — and admittedly, I don’t put him through it a lot, or for no good reason. Any time we have to navigate a super slippery place, I make it as rewarding — and brief — as possible for him.
Veterinary clinics almost always have tile or other hard, smooth floors — they are the easiest to keep clean. But they present a challenge to Otto, and knowing this, I protect him as best I can by telling the techs, as they lead us to exam rooms, “I need to let him go slow and pick his own path; he’s really cautious on slippery floors.” And — usually — I don’t allow them to “take him in the back”, because they don’t know this behavior as well as I do, and I don’t want him to backslide. If he gets scared and puts the brakes on for a second, I can encourage him with a word and he will start walking again. At clinics, they will almost always respond to a dog locking up by just dragging the dog — gently, but dragging nonetheless! — through the door into the back. Most dogs are afraid to leave their owners and are fine (if not better behaved) once the door between the “back” and their owner is closed. Otto is happy to go with the techs, he likes them! Inconvenient though it may be, it’s really all about the FLOOR.
My son was visiting over the weekend. He was delivering his young dog, Cole, to me to dog-sit while he and his girlfriend take a short vacation (spring break). We took both of our dogs to the vet on Sunday. Eight-or-so-month-old Cole needed to be weighed again (he’s growing like a weed) to make sure we are giving him the right amount of heartworm preventive, and to receive said preventive; and he received his first rabies vaccination. (It was given later than usual, as we have been sorting out his immune response to his other vaccines.) Otto needed his annual examination to renew his prescription for heartworm preventive. I also wanted the clinic to take a blood sample to send off for his annual vaccine titer test. (He hasn’t been vaccinated for anything but rabies since I adopted him in 2008; his titers come back strong and positive every year.)
As usual, Otto hesitated at the door of the clinic, and then walked into the waiting room carefully. He happily got onto the scale, which was covered with a paper advertisement for some veterinary product, and which made the scale less slippery than the floor. And within a minute, we walked into an exam room. He was doing GREAT, for him. He started panting a bit, but otherwise looked happy enough to be there. The tech came in and greeted both dogs, and took the temperature of each, and administered Cole’s rabies vaccine. Then she asked if she could take Otto in the back for the blood sample.
I hesitated for a moment, but he was doing great, and she seemed to have a good handling technique with him. I actually considered for a moment that I didn’t want to come across as nutty and overprotective. So I broke my own rule, and said, “Sure, you can take him in the back.” To my credit, I also said, “Please just let him take his time, don’t pull him if he stops for a second, he’s just REALLY cautious on the slippery floors.” She said, “No problem!” and she chirped at him, and he went with her through the door into the back quite cheerfully, no hesitation or balking — though with the usual “walking on ice” gait he uses on slippery floors.
They were gone a bit longer than it takes to take a blood sample, and my son and I were discussing what might have gone awry when the tech and Otto walked back in — accompanied by the unmistakable odor of released anal glands. My son quickly pulled his shirt over his nose and mouth, as I asked, “What happened?! He’s usually good with blood draws!” The tech said, “Oh, he was really good! He did that right afterward, for some reason. We tried to clean it off . . . do you want us to bathe him for you?”
I answered no; I didn’t want him back out of my sight again! And I was instantly so mad at myself. Why is it so hard to trust one’s own instincts, and just gently request (then insist, if need be) that the procedure be done right there, not “in the back”?
On the way home (with the car windows open), my son and I discussed what we thought probably happened; we were both certain that he must have stalled on the floor at some corner and someone tried to pull him along, forcefully enough to panic him, if just for a moment. The tech said that he was good for the actual blood sample, and I would expect him to be; I’ve been present many times for the procedure with him, and he’s never seemed to notice or mind either the restraint or the needle.
I know that veterinarians and technicians have many good reasons to prefer the dog to be “in the back” for routine procedures, and in some cases, it might be truly necessary. However, this was a reminder to me that I need to insist, every time, that for simple things like blood samples, Otto stays in the exam room with me.
Otto is mature enough now that I don’t think the scary event will scar his sensitive psyche; he was perfectly cheerful and comfortable with the veterinarian’s exam immediately after this. And he was due for a bath anyway. But I feel like I failed him — and it could have been worse.
What’s your policy on this practice at the vet’s office?