Q: My dog is afraid of the vet and tries to bite.

Fear aggression is a behavioural disease that could put your pet’s life at risk. If the medical team cannot safely examine or handle your pet in an emergency, that could mean the difference between life and death.

Luckily, fear is something that can be trained away. It is really important for dogs to have positive experiences at the vet. If left untreated, fear aggression can escalate with age, making it very challenging to work with those patients if they do have an emergency.

For all dogs that have fear in vet clinic settings, I recommend putting in a lot of work in the "Vet Socialization” department with the assistance of a trained behaviour specialist. That basically means- go to the vet as often as you possibly can just for Trick-or-Treating and practice. I have some dogs that come by our clinic a couple times a week just to learn that it is safe to walk in the front door, do some tricks, get treats, get on the scale, meet strangers in blue outfits (scrubs), etc. They gradually work their way up to stethoscopes and more uncomfortable things like pokes, etc. There are some great behaviourists that use positive reinforcement and desensitization to help train fear away (the animal shelters will always know the good ones if your vet doesn't have a recommendation).

Ask your veterinarian or local animal shelter for recommendations on the best behaviourists and trainers that use positive reinforcement training. Many pets are surrendered to animal shelters for behavioural disease, so it is best to treat it before it gets worse.

Here are a couple of videos that show a LOT of desensitization (slightly different scenario), just so you can see. You expose them to things little by little, with lots of repetition. Same principles. Horse trainers do this too. Hope that helps!

Stanley's diary (an amazing transformation story of a dog that I met with SEVERE fear aggression).

Dog bites

The summer of 2012, there were 3 people killed by dogs in my community (a woman jogging, a 3 year old child, and a 76 year old man watering his garden). Pet owners need to be held accountable, and any dog bite incidents (affecting people AND other pets, especially from dogs at large) MUST be reported to your local authorities. Many of these animals have prior bite/aggression histories that were never reported to authorities. Animal control workers are here to protect people and pets from serious injuries and death. It is the responsibility of all pet owners to ensure that their dog is not a danger to the public. Muzzles and leashing are not just rules...they save lives.

Here are some dog bite statistics (the Canadian data is lacking relative to US data):

  • The number of victims: The most recent USA survey of dog bites conducted by CDC researchers concluded that in 2001, 2002 and 2003 there were 4.5 million American dog bite victims per year (1.5% of the entire population). (Sacks JJ, Kresnow M. Dog bites: still a problem? Injury Prevention 2008 Oct;14(5):296-301 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18836045.)
  • Dog bites send nearly 316,200 victims to hospital emergency departments per year (898 per day). (Holmquist, L. (Thomson Reuters), and Elixhauser, A. (AHRQ). Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involving Dog Bites, 2008. November 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb101.pdf)
  • Approximately 750,000 dog bite victims require medical care each year. (J.J. Sacks, M.Kresnow, and B.Houston, Dog Bites: How Big a Problem?, Injury Prevention, March 1996; 2: 52-54, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1067642/.)
  • In 2015, more than 28,000 reconstructive surgery procedures were performed because of dog bites. (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2015 Plastic Surgery Statistics, p. 9, http://www.dogsbite.org/pdf/2015-plastic-surgery-statistics-report.pdf.)
  • 16,476 dog bites to persons aged 16 years or greater were work related in 2001. (Ibid., Nonfatal Dog Bite–Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments — United States, 2001, MMWR 2003;52:608.
  • 5,900 letter carriers were bitten in 2012. (US Postal Service.) Los Angeles is the worst city in the USA for mail carrier dog bites. (Read the article.)
  • Getting bitten by a dog is the fifth most frequent cause of visits to emergency rooms caused by activities common among children. (See Weiss HB, Friedman DI, Coben JH. Incidence of dog bite injuries treated in emergency departments, JAMA 1998;279:53)
  • Dog bites have risen in number and severity since the 1980s. Langley, Ricky L. (March 2009). "Human Fatalities Resulting From Dog Attacks in the United States, 1979–2005". Wilderness & Environmental Medicine. PMID 19364181.
Additional Resources:

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