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Lack of Natural Dog Behavior Knowledge

The back right side of a brown brindle with white Boxer that is standing in a veterinarians office

As you can imagine, with Bruno's two ACL surgeries in a row I have been to a lot of vet’s offices in the past year—vets, vet techs, surgeons, office staff for veterinarians, animal hospitals, even MRI facilities. Often times the vet techs take Bruno into the back for things like x-rays or blood work while I wait in the room for them to return.

When they come for him, if I say nothing to the person taking Bruno into the back they tell Bruno to go first. I am sure the human does not even think about it. They take the leash and their arms automatically go out in front of them, inviting Bruno to lead the way, even though Bruno does not even know in what direction he is supposed to be going.

The back of a brown brindle Boxer that is looking into a room and waiting for the vet

I started to make it a point to ask the person, often times a vet tech, who is leading Bruno away to please make him heel and not to let him lead them out the door. Bruno is the type of dog that will behave very well, totally ignoring other dogs and looking up to the human for direction. But if you allow him to lead you around, not asking him for respect, he forgets his manners and he's not as easy to handle. If another dog approaches him in a dominant way while Bruno was allowed to believe he is making the decisions, he just may growl back. I explain that he will behave very well for them if they ask him for a little respect, however if they allow him to lead out the door and pull them down the hallway they will have a harder time getting him to listen.

The head of a brown brindle Boxer that is sitting in a veterinarians office waiting room there is a white with brown bulldog standing across from it.

The responses I get from the vet techs vary, but they often look at me like I have three heads. Sadly 95% of them do not know how to make a dog heel. I get responses such as, "Oh I don't know if I can do that," "Ask him to do what? Heel on a leash? I will try but I'm not sure I can." Most of the techs tense up, pull their arms up, elbows bent at chest level, and try to keep him heeling with strength, preparing for the worst I suppose. Most of the time on their return they, contrary to my request, are walking with Bruno out in front allowing him to turn corners before them and pull his way inside the door.

A few times when I knew Bruno would be staying at the office overnight, I demonstrated to the staff taking care of Bruno how to stay relaxed and calm as they asked a dog to heel. Dogs will not listen to a tense human at the other end of the leash.

From what the vets themselves have told me, two things they don't teach at vet school are proper dog nutrition and natural dog behavior. Nutrition is often taught by some major dog food companies with the goal of promoting their product line, and natural dog behavior is barely touched upon.

Bruno the Boxer sitting on a tiled floor in the veterinarians office staring at the door waiting for someone to come see him

One instance that stands out in my mind is the time Bruno had to go into the back and get an x-ray. They first wanted to try it without sedating drugs. They told me they could only get the x-ray if he was calm and lay still and they would not know if it was possible until they tried. I explained to them if they establish a little respect before they leave, ask him to pause at the door and they themselves stepped out first, asked him to heel on the leash and do not talk baby talk to him which would get him all excited he definitely could lay still. When they get back to the x-ray machine they should ask him firmly and very calmly to lay down, making an "Atttt" sound should he start getting excited he will lay still for them. I explained that if they themselves are excited talking sweet to him, allow him to lead them out the door and pull them down the hallway, their chances of getting him to calm down for the x-ray were very slim. The tech looked at me like that was a crazy idea and yelled into the back, "We have to be mean to Bruno!" as she walked away with Bruno, tensely holding the leash with her elbow bent up to her chest. Granted she was kidding, but it really opened my eyes even wider to the world’s dog behavior problems. Not even the professionals understand how the mind of a dog works.

The left side of a brown brindle with white Boxer that is laying down in a veterinarians office

Depending on how long Bruno spends at the vet, when I get him back I have to then remind him that he's no longer in charge—starting on the way out of the vet’s office. I do this with a few light tugs to the leash and a sound, sometimes a knee block at the door if he thinks he is going to pull his way out. Bruno always snaps back for me and will heel, suddenly remembering his manners, but depending on how long he had been at the vet it sometimes takes me more effort to calm his mind back down.

The back left side of a brown brindle with white Boxer with acupuncture needles in his back laying on a rug

When Bruno started getting acupuncture and laser therapy I was pleasantly surprised and pleased by the way that particular vet’s office was respectful to my requests to ask Bruno for manners and to be calm in order to keep Bruno calm. Acupuncture requires Bruno to stand or lie still for a minute while they put the tiny needles in his skin. He must then stay still for another 15 minutes. If he gets too excited the needles could fall out. Laser therapy requires him to lie still for about 10 minutes as well. Bruno absolutely LOVES going to the vet, any vet, and can easily get very excited. I explained once to this vet’s office that in order to keep this big boy calm, everyone in the room had to be calm and firm with him, or else he would be too excited to lay still. This office was one of the few who not only knew how to make a dog heel but was very respectful to the concept. Bruno, as a result, always happily lay still for his treatments. They loved Bruno just like the other vet offices, but their mannerism was different, they never forgot the respect. They told me more than once that they wish every dog that came into their office acted like Bruno, stating their days would be so easy and pleasant.

The right side of a brown brindle with white Boxer that is laying on the floor at a veterinarians office

The thing is, Bruno was not born with manners and he is not well behaved because is from a breeder who bred the perfect temperament, or because he just got lucky in his genes. It's not even because he is well "trained". Bruno is a good boy because he lives with humans that ask him for respect, understand how to communicate in dog language and work every day to satisfy not only his exercise needs but all of his instinctual needs. If humans understand natural dog behavior, all dogs could be as mentally stable and happy as Bruno; it's up to the humans and their willingness to learn.

Written by Sharon Rose© Dog Breed Info Center® All Rights Reserved