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Understanding the difficult canine patient

As a veterinary technician you will come into contact with some very cute puppies, super-friendly dogs, and some other characters. These are dogs young or old that may have had a troubled history. Some of these dogs may have had a previously “bad” experience at an animal hospital, have a generally nervous disposition, were abused, or plain old dominant. Any animal has the potential to bite no matter how sweet they are normally. Some patients are great at home but once they set foot at the vets office, the gloves come off and they are ready for a fight. It is your job as a technician to treat these animals with the same care, just as you would for your more agreeable patients.

  • The Nervous Dog: This poor guy would love nothing more than to grab his owner’s car keys and make a break for it. You will usually see him hiding under a chair in the waiting room with an embarrassed owner at the other end of the leash. Approach the owner first, if you are not familiar with the dog and ask about his “shy” behavior. It is best to downplay any behavioral issues as sometimes the owner may be very sensitive about it and might get upset if you let them know that Fluffy is “growling” at you. Use humor to lighten the conversation. “Oh, Fluffy seems to be smiling at me.”, or “Boy, does he do a great Elvis impression or what?” See if the owner can assist you in making the patient as calm and confident as possible. Often times getting this patient in a quiet exam room quickly with the owner can help a great deal. Less is more with this character, the less people in the room or involved in the restraint process the better he will feel.
  • The Tough Guy: This patient rules the roost at home and often the owner is even afraid to handle him in certain situations due to his aggressive nature. The best place for these guys is a lift table with a safely secured slip-rope with a safety tether. The tether will ensure that if he does a “crocodile roll” on the table he will not be at risk for strangulation. If his head and neck movements are limited the risk of injury to all parties is greatly reduced. Figuring out the area needing examination on the patient will determine if you will also need to use a muzzle. In many cases having the owner constantly keeping the dog’s attention by talking to him or if possible giving treats will help facilitate a quick but thorough exam. By the way, all of this may be impossible if he is really ready to brawl. In this case the use of injectable sedatives is the only safe choice.
  • The Loose Cannon: This patient may be ready to rumble faster than you think. Often times these dogs have always been a little “off” since puppyhood and the behavior has only gotten progressively worse. This dog has the potential to deliver a “rattlesnake” speed bite all because you happened to be breathing nearby. Super-unpredictable, impossible to read, may kiss and snuggle with one of your co-workers and then out of nowhere latch on to another. Exercise extreme caution with this type of dog, he is an accident waiting to happen. Always keep your eye on him so you can make a move before he does. Muzzle this patient if at all possible, more is usually your best bet with these guys, as the aggression is not usually dominance based. The need for chemical restraint is also a possibility in this case.

Always consult your more experienced co-workers or the patient’s doctor if you are unsure how to proceed with any animals care.