No nervous breakdownstips for keeping puppies from driving veterinary clients crazy

FirstlineFirstline January February 2020
Volume 16
Issue 1

Veterinary behaviorist Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, shared tricks for setting puppies up for success with their new owners at Fetch dvm360 conference in Kansas City.

It's critically important to get pet owners off to the right start with puppies, for the sake of both the puppy and the owner, and to preserve the bond between the two, Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, told attendees at Fetch dvm360 conference in Kansas City. Often pet owners don't have the right foundations on which to build the relationship, and that's where the veterinary team comes in.

Set the puppy up for success at home

The first few visits to the veterinary clinic are a great time for technicians to counsel the puppy owner about home behaviors.

Dr. Hunthausen stresses that supervision, or confinement if the puppy isn't being supervised, are very important in the first few months after the puppy joins the home. If the puppy has to be confined, he recommends that it spends no more than four hours at a time in the kennel confinement.

“Confinement is fine, but if the puppy is crated for eight hours a day while the owner is at work, and then again all night for sleep, that only leaves a few hours in the evening to burn off its energy, and that can lead to unwanted behaviors,” he notes.

More often, he recommends an open playpen-type enclosure as an alternative to a kennel. It doesn't allow total freedom but does give more space for the puppy to move around and burn off some energy during the day.

Dr. Hunthausen also encourages the use of leashes in the house if the pet owner is not actively watching the puppy, like when they're working on the computer or cooking, because it keeps the puppy from wandering off and getting into trouble in other parts of the home.

“This is especially important if there are small children in the home,” he says. “You want to make sure that all interactions between children and puppies are safe and positive and something won't happen that will damage the relationship between the two.”

Another important part of the home environment? Toys. Lots and lots of toys to keep the puppy engaged and out of trouble. Puzzle toys that the puppy can be fed out of work wonderfully, Dr. Hunthausen notes.

Continue the success in the clinic

If the puppy comes in for its first vaccination visit and already seems fearful, Dr. Hunthausen recommends the pet owner leave and then return to the practice each day for a short period for about a week. At each of those visits, ask the pet owner to bring a high-value treat like chicken or cheese, and then the receptionist can greet the puppy with a treat. Walk around and have the technician greet the puppy with a treat, and then the doctor as well. “Often you can see remarkable improvement in just a few days,” he says.

Fight fear at the first appointment

At that first visit, the veterinary team can teach the pet owner how to get the puppy comfortable with some of the most common handling techniques that it will encounter at the veterinary clinic.

“Show the client how to go home and play doctor with the pet. Have the client look in its ears and mouth and handle the paws,” Dr. Hunthausen says. “Have them take an object and touch it to the puppy's chest as if it were a stethoscope, and then run a hand down its belly to examine it.”

While doing these mock exam techniques at home, the pet owner should be giving the puppy treats and positive reinforcement to explain that touch is OK. Then when the puppy comes into the clinic, there's less fear, anxiety and stress for everyone.

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