Taking an aggressive dog to the vet

    • Gold Top Dog

    Taking an aggressive dog to the vet

    The short version of the background is that Maya has a lump. The point of this post, however, is her behavior. She loves "the pack." My husband or myself could cut her toes off without fear. Outside the pack is a whole other ballgame. We've been working on her issues but to be honest she came with quite a few and this hasn't been the highest priority.

    We're obviously not making it to her letting a vet examine her voluntarily in a reasonable amount of time, so I've ordered a few muzzles to be overnighted and I'll try to acclimate her to the best fitting one as quickly as possible. I plan to let the vet's office know when I call and see if I can schedule the first or last appointment of the day, and my husband will be going with me so one of us can give her our full attention (or take her outside) while the other is checking in/out. I've never been on the owner side of the aggressive dog before though. What else can I do to make this go as smoothly as possible? What can I do to help keep her calm without encouraging tantrums? I plan to use a wire basket type muzzle because I want her to be able to drink and pant (it's already hot here). Should I give her treats between the wires? Assuming of course that she has a calm moment and isn't confused and likely to bite me by mistake. Are there disadvantages to the basket muzzles I should watch out for?

    And for those of you with experience owning or working around aggressive dogs is it easier to handle the dog with the owner in the room or to take them into the back? My other dog has a severe needle phobia and truly does better if he can see someone he knows, so I may be bias, but if it's probably going to be easier on Maya the other way then I'll start preparing myself to *not* reflexively argue. Also, how does it work if she has to actually stay for a surgery?

    This is a whole extra area to stress over in addition to the actual implications of a lump, so any advice, even hypothetical advice would be greatly appreciated.

    -Rebecca W.
    • Gold Top Dog

    You need to acclimate the dog to the muzzle before taking her to the vet - do not let her associate the muzzle with bad things only. Give her certain treats that she ONLY gets when the muzzle is on.

    That said - let the vet know her behavior, and let them decide what they need to do. Honestly, as a tech, it is easier to work on a dog without the parents around. Generally - the dog will be MUCH calmer with out a worried mom or dad hanging over their shoulder. They feed off of YOUR nervous energy - and it really makes things worse, IME.

    Now - MY personal dog is a lot like this. We have a muzzle he wears when anything medical is done to him. But - when I need something done (without a vet) I have a friend that he trusts do it, and I hold him. BUT I am not nervous in the slightest. I have full confidence in myself and friend *and the vets I use*. My vets know I am a tech, and allow me to assist as needed - but I do my own vaccines and blood tests at home.

    The basket muzzles tend to not be the strongest - and I've gotten hurt with them around - dog whips around, smacks me in the face with the basket - it HURTS. Ask your vet which they prefer. I prefer the solid black ones - that are a bit firmer, but tight and not painful. The muzzle should not be on long, and I would not worry too much about drinking. Put the muzzle on in the car before going in, and take it from there. It may not be needed, honestly, but I do not know your dog or what your vet prefers.

    If she has to stay for surgery, they will know how to handle it. Your dog is not the only client they have with aggression issues, I guarentee it.

    Keep yourself as calm as possible, and your dog will feed off that calm energy.

    • Gold Top Dog

    Has she already shown aggression at the vet's office? If so, what type?

    I have a lab who came to us with some fear aggression. She seemed nervous but okay at the 1st couple of vet appts she had but then one time she growled at the vet before the vet even got close to her. That led to them muzzling her and I worried that visits from then on would be a nightmare. We ended up switching vets (for a variety of reasons) and I was really proactive about the situation from there on. I let the new office know what had happened when I made the appt. When I brought her for her 1st appt, I had a baggy of cut up carrots (her favorite treat). I gave them to her on the drive there, in the parking lot and thru the entire visit. The vet tech that greeted us actually got on the floor and allowed Sassy to come to her to be petted. That was a huge, positive first step. The vet was the same way and to this day Sassy loves to see her. I'm not saying that this approach for work for you, but I do think that it's possible to turn even a visit to the vet's office into a positive experience.

    • Gold Top Dog

    I strongly suggest a basket muzzle.  My female is "reactive" although I've noted that she is far calmer without me in the equation.

    • Gold Top Dog
    Thanks for all the quick replies! I didn't even think to ask the vet's office if they have a preferred muzzle type, but I definitely will now. I also ordered a basket one because I can't find anywhere around here that carries anything but the flimsiest mesh ones. I don't think I could guess her size accurately in a tighter fitting cloth type.

    I don't have much of a frame of reference for her usual vet trip behavior. The last time she went was when I picked her up at one. She had come straight from a shelter (as a stray, so no useful history there) and was so terrified of everything that anytime someone reached to pet her she flipped belly up at them. I may be overestimating her aggression. If any of it is rooted in territorial behavior that should be minimized, but I want to be prepared for the worst. This way I won't be surprised and that gives me the best chance of keeping totally calm.

    -Rebecca W
    • Gold Top Dog

    Most vets have muzzles you can use, but in this case I would agree that having one to get use to it is great advice.

    Mine wears a muzzle to the vets, cause he is also reactive at the vets office. He has come along way since the issue began, I talked to the vets and have 2 that will see him with his little problem, both incidently are women.

    And, like some others, he does much better when im out of sight.

    Good luck.

    • Gold Top Dog

    and was so terrified of everything that anytime someone reached to pet her she flipped belly up at them.


    This might be a good sign of submission. I don't blame you for wanting to be prepared and better to prevent an accident. I have another dog who is more like you're describing though and I never worry about her biting out of fear. She mainly just wants reassurances. I hope the visit goes really well for all of you.

    • Gold Top Dog

    I would let the vet know about her behavior and see what they say.  I would think most vets and techs have experience working with these types of dogs, and they might even prefer to see her without you there.  For some dogs, the vet is so stressful that having the owner right there is not going to be valuable enough and can make the dog freak out even more, if the owner is stressed as well and giving off that vibe.

    I have one dog that is fine at the vet's office, but the particular vet that I like to see for her is a man and she's afraid of some men.  However so far I've been able to pretty much do what needs to be done as far as rolling her over (She had a staph infection on her belly), show her eyes, open her mouth to show her bite, hold a sore foot up, etc.  She is otherwise a very calm, cool, collected dog and is not at all phased by the environment (she likes going to the vet, just not the vet!), just specific people.  

    So, it depends on the dog and the reaction, whether it works better to have you in the room or not.

    • Gold Top Dog

    And for those of you with experience owning or working around aggressive dogs is it easier to handle the dog with the owner in the room or to take them into the back?

    Willow is a different dog as soon as they separate us.  They even take the muzzle off sometimes.  If I am in the room, I drop the leash and let them take it.  So, it's like she's with them and not me.  And, I don't hold her or in any way give her the impression that they are coming for "us" when they come in the room.   

    I usually muzzle her before we go in.  It's much more difficult after she's in there and all worked up.  I've got my own muzzles now but I've never had them offer a basket muzzle when I first got her and was much less prepared and/or the few times I've forgotten our own. 

    However, they can still bite thru a nylon mesh muzzle and there have been times in her life when they have double muzzled Willow.

    Frankly, with her new vet she barely needs anything so it's all in the handlers too. 

    My usual routine is muzzle her in the car, leave her in the car while I check in, if they are ready I bring her in, if not I wait with her outside until they are ready.  Then they go from there.  When it's time to leave, I take her out and then go back inside and pay and finish up. 

    I bring a short, 4ft leather leash too. 

    Willow's got this really pretty muzzle called a Happy Muzzle, it's red with daisies on it.  They have other designs too. 

    Good luck at the vets. 


    • Gold Top Dog

    I wanted to add, write down your questions or concerns ahead of time.  I've had many a time when she was so distractiing that I forgot to say what I needed too. 

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    • Gold Top Dog

    I am not a fan of the metal basket muzzles, for the same reason that Casey's mom described.  They can hurt quite a bit if the dog actually decides to strike at someone or another dog.  Might not happen, but if it does, they really do hurt.  If you want to go basket muzzle, try the beige plastic ones like this: http://www.dog.com/item/plastic-basket-muzzle/

    I worked at a Doberman rescue which means dogs with high drive and many/most had unknown backgrounds.  Their bite inhibition was unknown for the most part until tested.  Aggression was common, so we always muzzled the dogs for their weekly baths, regardless if it was the nicest dog in the kennel.  We used regular black nylon ones because, again, if the dog did strike, the impact would hurt less, and if the dog was going to struggle with a muzzle, then the basket ones have holes that can catch toes digging at their faces.  Clearly, you'd be controlling the dog better than that, but, the image stuck with me that the dog could catch that basket on something.

    I agree that your dog is NOT the first aggressive dog that needs to go to the vet.  I imagine those who are in horrible pain who are reactive in ways that their owners would never expect, simply to protect themselves out of instinct.  A good vet will want to know ahead of time and only have the best vet techs handling and working on your dog.

    • Gold Top Dog

    Half of the battle is in you, your anticipation, fear and imagination (aka the "what if";) will contribute to her aggression, if she sees that you are nervous then there is more chances that she will think that something bad it's about to happen. I know it's easier to be said than done but you MUST remain calm to not throw more "wood to the fire"

    Remember, if you are tense you will make her tense, if you are calm she might still show the behavior but it wont be as "bad"

    • Gold Top Dog

    Acclimation to a muzzle is great forethought on your part.  If it were me, I'd still go with a basket muzzle because I trust them more, but make sure it fits well and is plastic or leather vs. metal to avoid potential for problems with swinging heads as others have mentioned.

    Now, this isn't related to the muzzle part, but I feel the need to say it: if you are EVER uncomfortable with what a vet or tech wants to do or is doing with your dog, you *do* have the right to speak up, stop the interaction, and/or ask questions about what they are doing

    I have seen way too many of my students let vets and techs do things to their dogs that were unnecessary and potentially problematic because the vet and the tech are "authorities" and "shouldn't be questioned by a pet owner".  Your dog is relying on you to keep them safe, reduce their stress, and speak for them when needed.

    Another fyi: *DON'T* let you vet prescribe Ace or any other med for making handling easier without asking about what it does (ace is a paralytic, so handling is easier but your pet is still totally as freaked and worried as before and thus may be more anxious at the next visit since at the last one they couldn't escape the stressor) and making sure you pet's whole being is being taken into account, not just the "bitey" part.

    I may be extreme, but I have left a vet's office after a tech refused to listen to me about how to handle my fearful dog.  No one gets  to tell me that it's ok they pick up my fearful, highly stressed dog because "they know how to do it" after I've said that I will do it since it's very stressful for her and we're already there for stress colitis!  I do NOT want my dog to have a bite history because of someone else's ego. 

    We now go to a vet whose staff listens to owners, has vets that allow dogs time to get to know them before handling, and explain to me why they do things a certain way or require techs to restrain animals before doing it - everyone deserves to have a vet and vet staff that respects them and their animals like that!

    • Gold Top Dog

    I agree - it's a great thing to get a dog to think of a muzzle as just another accessory to 'fun time' just like a leash and collar. Makes life much more pleasant. That being said I don't trust basket muzzles at all - I got one for my dog rupert and although it's fitted correctly he can hook his feet in it and still get off if he wants to, it needs a strap between his eyes across his head to the part that goes round the neck behind the jaw, if you got that type you're probably safe. I like the nylon ones that leave the nose/ end of the muzzle free but just fit around the mouth, clip and tighten behind the ears, I always tighten his collar then put the muzzle on in the car a few seconds before we need to go in(we wait and take a 2nd person to check in) and the extra strap of the muzzle is easily tied to the collar - I have yet to have him get that configuration off and he's seriously tried. If the muzzle is just held on by the strap behind the ears he can get it off, tied to the collar makes all the difference.

     I NEVER let anyone take my animal out of my sight - ever. Did it once, never again. If a vet won't let you stay for a surgery my thoughts are, "What are they hiding?" I have walked out of clinics in the past when they refused to let me observe.

    • Gold Top Dog

     Sequoyah goes to the vet in her muzzle.  She thinks the muzzle means salmon brownies.  She also thinks that the vet is ok, but she is not happy being confronted with other fearful dogs in the waiting room, and would probably snap if someone reached for her reactive little a$$.  So, in she goes like an Aussie "Hannibal Lechter"  Same at the groomer.  Once she's out back, the groomer takes the muzzle off, as she has known her since puppy hood, and is considered a pal.  At the vet, she wears it the whole time, but is usually a good girl whether I'm there or not.  We do it so that she will not have a "mistake".  Most aggression does arise out of fear, so I commend you for being willing to put your dog in a muzzle for visits.  With a lump, the likelihood is that the vet may want to do a needle aspiration to get a sample for observation to see if it's a lipoma or something that needs further study.  So, the dog will be feeling a pinch from the needle (minor - my other dog just had it done yesterday with no numbing and no muzzle).  But, with fearful dogs, better safe than sorry.  Morrco.com has a selection of Italian basket muzzles - plastic - and sizing instructions.  Plus, they have a nice instruction sheet on good ways to acclimate the dog to the muzzle.