Confidence Lost

After a recent medical issue, and our article about Fear Free veterinary visits, I am making remedial trips to the vet.


When Woody (my three-year-old pit bull-mix) was a tiny puppy, just another one in a litter of nine that I was fostering for my local shelter, he was always happy to receive medical attention (vaccines, deworming, and even neuter surgery!), as it came layered with happy attention from the shelter veterinary staff. He loves people, so it was all good.

Woody’s friendly, happy attitude about having a stranger greet and handle him in an intimate way survived all those visits, as well as many more visits to a regular veterinary hospital. Let’s see… there were at least one or two vaccine visits; one “dietary indiscretion” incident (he ate all the food I had set out for the 11 Great Dane foster puppies, after I had already fed him his dinner); the time he swallowed a friend’s dog’s mini-tennis ball; the staples he needed on his rear legs (slashed his wrists on something sharp in the grass, sliding for a ball); the time he tore a toenail (mostly) off; a foxtail visit or two; a weird bump on his face that required minor surgery to remove it… He’s been to the vet a lot! And until last year, he was always happy to trot into the hospital, hop onto the scale, be examined by anyone, and even go “into the back” for his staples or bandages or injection of “Let’s make you vomit!” medication.

And then he got sick with a gastrointestinal bug that left him seriously dehydrated, and I left him to be hospitalized overnight. I am certain they didn’t mistreat him in any way! But ever since I left him there that night, when I take him back to the vet now – most recently for a canine influenza vaccine – he is reluctant to enter the hospital, and he shivers and shakes in the waiting and exam rooms.

I’ve started trying to remediate this anxious response, stopping by the practice to just weigh him and feeding him tons of high-value treats in the minute or two that we are there. And, because scared and/or anxious dogs have the potential to bite, and I wouldn’t blame any veterinarian or veterinary staff member if they felt safer working on my big, muscular dog if he were wearing a muzzle, I also am going to start acclimating Woody to wearing one. I want it to be a familiar, reinforcing experience in case we ever need it, rather than an incredibly scary thing suddenly strapped to his face in a medical emergency.

But after working on the article in this issue about Fear Free veterinary practices (see page 6), I’m also going to encourage my vets to seek out Fear Free certification – and keep my eyes peeled for a Fear Free certified veterinary practice to switch to if need be. Because I think I am going to need a whole team of people to get Woody past his newfound apprehension about receiving medical care. And that is just no way to go through life – particularly if you are as accident-prone as my goofy Woody.


  1. Very helpful sharing. Thank you. We have an 11 month old Springer who has loved people, other dogs, the boarding kennel, the vet – albeit still young. Recently he has begun exhibiting some strange fear aggression that is concerning us, especially since we are well aware of the dreaded, albeit rare, spaniel rage syndrome. We have been able to take him everywhere, Lowe’s, parades, outdoor cafes, garden fairies, anyplace with action and distraction and he is happy, well behaved, and gregarious, so when the first incident occurred at a local outdoor market over a man with a floppy hat and carrying a table, causing our big puppy to go berserk in crazed defensive barking and snarling, we were horrified. We have now had four such incidences and are documenting. All seem to be connected to something visual and when the suspected object is removed or he is allowed to really examine he settles down. Still it is strange as it is very random and the most recent incident I actually feared he might bite. Hence we are suspecting our seemingly laid back boy may have some anxiety issues we might have to address.

  2. Sadly, I have discovered that “fear free” vets simply offer medication to allow your pet a “fear free” experience. I, personally, did not choose to give my 4 month old puppy drugs to sedate her to trim her toenails. Medication equals profit for veterinarians, and the easier an animal is to treat, the more animals a vet can treat in a day. Personally, I’d choose the muzzle.

    • Sandy, I’m sorry for you and especially for your pup. I have used only Fear-Free Certified Vets since the time my dog was drugged and pinned behind a prison-type, floor to ceiling iron gate up against a concrete block wall, just to give him vaccines. Insane. Over the past 4 years, my experience has been exactly the opposite of what you have mentioned. At 3 different offices, the Vets even certified their staff. It is not a simple or quick, or inexpensive certification. The Vets and their staff are so well trained, that they always stop the exam on a positive, before my dog has reached his fear threshold. Two Vet Techs simultaneously performed a blood draw and gave vaccines at his rear so quickly, the dog didn’t know he’d been touched. I do keep a Baskerville muzzle on him. I trained him to love it. I took Karen Pryor Academy Better Vet Visits course and highly recommend it. The Vets trust me to perform any restraint, should it be needed. And we practice happy visits as often as possible. Wish you the best in finding better Vets in your area.

  3. It’s very possible when your dog was admitted for the gastrointestinal bug that he was given a injection of Cerenia, which can be very painful for the animal. That happened to our Springer when we brought her to the ER for vomiting/diarrhea/gastrointestinal issues one Labor Day weekend. I did not know at the time that she could have been given a pill instead of the shot — my advice is to do that if you have this issue again moving forward.

  4. RHONDA….my sweet and very affections PowderPuff has done the exact same thing as your precious pup. I finally traced back the first instance…a stormy day inside a coffee place. As she woke up in her stroller to leave a man was walking by from behind her. She let out a ferocious bark. I had never heard her bark before like that. He wasn’t close not making a noise. Hurts my heart because she’s the sweetest thing and wants to play. I would be scared to let my pup near one barking as she does in those situations. She’s actually scared we thinK

    PAM….thank you for that. Not possible in a hospital emergency but in the Vet’s office I prefer they do everything in the room with me. Not because I don’t trust them but my pups are more peaceful, less scared than when walked away. Plus, I want to know what gets done. Pups can’t tell us

  5. My Australian Labradoodle has almost perfect behaviors. She loves people and travels easily and frequently in trains, planes and automobiles. The only issue is she hates to go to the vet and groomers and refuses to get out of the car. When I finally get her out of the car, she attempts to buck her collar off. On a few occasions, she’s ended up in the middle of heavily-trafficked streets. (We live in busy Washington DC).

    She ignores treats and other behavior-modification tricks. And because it’s a traumatic event whenever we approach the vet and groomers’ location, I haven’t stopped by for quick fear-reducing visits.

    How can I get my dog to overcome her fear and cooperate on necessary visits?

  6. My dog has never really been afraid of vets. That being said we also haven’t really had to go besides for the routine check-ups, but the last time we went to bring her to the vet she wouldn’t stop barking or trying to bite people. Now I’m thinking that we might have try to use a muzzle.