Understanding behaviour and having experience can help in tackling many issues and to a big extend it can prevent issues from developing…But sometimes circumstances just work against us. I’m sure you all have stories about dogs (cats, horses or people doesn’t really matter) who used to be completely fine until something just changed them. We can develop phobias based on one dramatic event, however sometimes initially small fears can grow out of proportions simply because of many negative events that came together. And the tricky thing is that for every individual it will take different amount of experiences.
For example Chili (an anxious dog) used to deal well with vet visits. I invested time into it, she actually had good experiences and did not show sigs of anxiety. Till one day she woke me up at 5 a.m. her whole face swollen. Her ears looked like little balloons. I had to take her to emergency clinic where she had to go through a pretty unpleasant examination. We didn’t know if something was not blocking her throat, if something wasn’t stuck. After swelling went down her both ears turned into one big opened wound. She was in pain, and she had intense bad experience at the clinic. After that it took me 8 months to make her comfortable with going to the clinic. And it’s still not ideal, I do think that even though she had more positive than negative experiences there, it still would only take one bad experience to tip her over.
Fenix on the other hand likes people and is not an anxious dog. Till he was 8 months old he had only positive experiences with the vets. Till the day when he run into piece of metal and ripped his chest open. We had to go to the same emergency clinic. His physical state was actually worse than the one of Chili. He had big pieces of skin hanging loose from his chest, had to be x-rayed, bandaged, get IV in his vein and go into surgery. And he was amazing. We played together through all of it, it was his coping strategy. Later taking stitches out (twice) and he was still amazing. I used loads of food, didn’t allow doctors to be invasive if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
Two dogs, two unpleasant experiences different consequences. Why? Differences in personality for sure. Differences in previous experiences, maybe. But it doesn’t really matter that they are different. What matters is the fact that we cannot always predict what will be an outcome of an experience (good or bad). So it is important to have our eyes wide open, to be proactive and not judge another being from a stand point of our own perception. Chili’s fears are real to her. Fearful dog is not pretending, it is not acting out. They are legitimately afraid. And who am I to judge that fear? I can think it is unreasonable, out of place. But it doesn’t make it any less real for her.
Fenix’s story unfortunately isn’t over yet. He started limping and had to have another unpleasant examination and x-rays. And I saw that this was that one time too much for him. He was not as accepting anymore (we were also unlucky that we had to wait very long in a busy parking lot, doctor had emergency surgery). Nothing happened but I could already see that he had too much.
After we did more handling exercises, went to clinics just so he can have positive experience, and he behaved as if nothing happened. Yet I do think his operation will have a negative impact on his attitude towards the veterinary clinics. And I will work by butt off to fix it but I think it is important to remember that sometimes shit just goes wrong. That’s why I will never say ” this dog will never bite anyone” or “this person will never lie/hurt someone”. We are all slaves to circumstances and as much as we love to believe in free will, experiences we have, good or bad impact the way we perceive life, how we behave. And it is the same for dogs.