Category: Tips

Symptoms of Diseases

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It is sometimes difficult to determine if your pet is ill, especially since many pets have subtle signs of illness that they easily hide from owners. Here are 7 basic areas you should observe on a daily basis to help determine if your pet needs an exam by one of our doctors.


Watch your pets daily eating habits for :

  • difficulty chewing
  • odor
  • swelling
  • pawing at its muzzle

Since dental disease is so prevalent please follow the link to learn how this can affect your pet’s eating.


When your pet is at rest count the number of times it breathes per minute (watch it for 15 seconds and multiply that number by 4). A typical dog or cat breathes 30-40 times per minute, although this can be variable based on breed and external temperature. The important thing to watch for is an increase in its respiratory rate over a period of time. Trend this on a piece of paper weekly so you can see this trend as it gets going. This can be a subtle but very important parameter to measure since an increase here can be for many serious reasons.


Look for any changes in the following:

  • Urinating more often or in greater amounts than normal
  • Urinating small amounts frequently
  • Straining to urinate
  • Inability to urinate
  • Licking at genitals

In female dogs it can be difficult to assess some of these parameters, so try to pay close attention when she squats to urinate.


Any significant change here is important:

  • Continual diarrhea of any type
  • Straining to defecate
  • Licking at anus
  • Scooting
  • Any blood on feces


Obvious lameness is readily noticed. Also look for a pet that is leaning more towards one leg or the other, tires easily after walking or playing, is slow at getting up after resting, or is reluctant to go up or down any type of elevation like stairs or jumping into a vehicle.

Mental Status

  • Lethargic for more than a few hours
  • Depressed
  • Aggression
  • Crying, moaning, or vocalizing
  • Disorientation (ataxia)
  • Walking in circles
  • Pressing head against the wall
  • Gazing up at the sky
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • XS salivation


  • Sore skin
  • Bleeding from an unknown source
  • Bleeding from the nose, mouth, ears, penis, vagina, or anus
  • Vomiting
  • Distended abdomen
  • Swelling anywhere
  • Redness patch on skin that comes and goes

Now that you have observed your pets daily habits lets look at how you can perform a basic exam at home by going to our In Home Exam page.

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Restraint Technique

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Brushing your pets teeth is not the easiest thing in the world to do, especially if your pet is not used to you handling it near its mouth. By getting your pet used to you working around and in its mouth at a young age, you will make the process of tooth brushing go smoother when your pet is older and needs brushing. Proper restraint is the key to getting your pet to cooperate. We will show you some techniques that can be used by one person or two people in cooperation.

A good time to start is when you are watching TV at night and your pet is in your lap. Get your pet used to your hands around its face, and eventually insert your finger in its mouth. Dipping your finger in food that tastes good to your pet is helpful. Eventually you will be able to use the finger brush to gently brush the teeth. If you are patient, take your time, and make it fun, you stand a good chance of being successful.

Restraining Small Pets

The key to restraining a small pet for tooth brushing is to use as little force as possible. One person can restrain while the other brushes the teeth, although one person can usually brush a small pets teeth alone.

Start by putting your friend on a table while talking in a soothing voice and petting it. Have your tooth brush or finger brush already on the table. Hug your pet to you with one hand while simultaneously holding its head and neck gently with your other hand. This method works well with many cats.

If your pet uses its front legs to push your hands out of its mouth you can solve this problem by holding the front legs, always with one of your fingers between the legs.

A towel can be used for some additional restraint. Wrap it loosely around the body and hug your pet to you. If necessary, the front legs can be held also.

It is sometimes advantageous to include the front legs in the wrap. This towel will need to be wrapped tighter if you want the legs to stay in.

Once restrained you can introduce your finger, a piece of gauze, a finger brush, or a tooth brush into the mouth. Rub in a gentle motion while talking in soothing tones to your pet.

You can turn the head gently or completely reposition yourself to do the other side.

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Scaling and Polishing Teeth

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Proper dental care involves more than just scraping tartar off the teeth. Thorough dental care involves scaling, probing and polishing. These can only be accomplished on an anesthetized pet. It is not realistic to think that somebody can scrape tartar off of an awake pet and be as thorough as we can on an anesthetized pet. When these procedures are performed properly we can reverse the gingivitis process and keep the teeth and gums healthier for a longer period of time.

Scaling & Polishing

Scaling teeth is greatly facilitated by a special instrument called an ultrasonic scaler. By vibrating tartar off the teeth with the scaler we cause minimal trauma to the tooth enamel. In addition, the rapid manner in which it removes the tartar minimizes anesthetic time. The gentle nature of the scaler allows us to clean under the gumline and not irritate the gums.

A special dental instrument is used to crack off large pieces of tartar before we use the scaler. This enables us to clean the teeth faster, another method to minimize anesthetic time. It also reduces wear on the ultrasonic scaler tip.

We use a specialized ultrasonic scaler that is made for animal teeth

The tip vibrates 18,000 times per second, and literally vibrates tartar off the teeth. It does not harm the enamel, and lets us clean the teeth faster than doing it by hand. It continually sprays water to minimize heat buildup which could irritate the gums.

When the tartar is heavy, like this canine tooth, it takes longer to remove. To minimize any trauma to the tooth’s enamel or gum, we drip additional water on the area being scaled. Without the scaler this tooth would need hand scaling, a process that would take substantially longer.

The ultrasonic scaler does a thorough job of removing the visible tartar. It also excels at removing tartar under the gumline where it can not be seen. This is a critical part of the scaling process. Only when this step is performed are the teeth properly cleaned.

After scaling a special dental probe is carefully inserted under the gum to determine the degree of involvement. IF there is a pocket we will pack the opening with doxycycline to restore the gums to normal health.

After the teeth are scaled and probed we spray them with chlorhexidine to further help eliminate the bacteria that are causing gingivitis.

Polishing the teeth makes them look whiter. It also smoothes off the enamel surface and makes it more difficult for bacteria to adhere. Once bacteria get re-established, the cycle of plaque leading to tartar and eventually gingivitis gets started all over again.

Please return to our Dental Page to learn much more about this important problem.

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How We Diagnose Liver Disease

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A thorough approach is needed for a correct diagnosis of any liver problem. An organ like the liver that is so intimately involved with other important organs will exhibit symptoms that mimic disease in these other organs. Also, what initially might appear as a diseased liver is in reality a disease elsewhere in the body that is involved with the liver secondarily. This is why it is crucial to follow a thorough and methodical approach called the diagnostic process.


Liver disease can occur in pets of any age. If it occurs in young animals we tend to think more of toxicity, a liver shunt or a viral disease like adenovirus in dogs, or FIP in cats. In older pets we tend to think more of inflammation and cancer, in addition to cholangiohepatitis and gall bladder problems, as the cause of the liver problem.

Several canine breeds are prone to getting liver disease:

Bedlington terrier’s, Skye terriers, Doberman pinschers, and West Highland White terriers get a problem with excessive copper accumulation that results from failure of normal biliary excretion of copper.

Cocker spaniels have an increased incidence of chronic hepatitis.


Early signs of liver disease are subtle, and might exhibit as some of the symptoms described above. It is important to remember that some pets do not show any symptoms early in the course of the disease. This is another reason for yearly exams, along with blood and urine samples in dogs and cats 8 years of age or more. Even though many cancers do not show up in a blood sample, we can sometimes get indirect evidence there is a problem, leading to additional diagnostic tests that might find cancer.

The recent use of pesticides, insecticides, and drugs might give us a clue. A history of poorly controlled diabetes mellitus might also clue us in to liver problems. Pets with liver shunts might have stunted growth and become depressed right after eating. In cats with hepatic lipidosis the history usually involves a lack of appetite (anorexia), especially if the cat was previously obese.

Symptoms of liver disease are variable and subtle in the early stages of the problem. The classic symptoms are:

Poor appetite (anorexia)

This is a common symptom and one of the primary reasons pets are brought to us for an exam.

Weight loss

The poor appetite that occurs in liver disease eventually leads to loss of weight. Improper metabolism of fat, carbohydrates, and proteins complicates the situation also.

Polyuria/polydypsia (PU/PD)

This is excess urinating and excess drinking of water. This can occur in liver disease, although several other important diseases cause these symptoms also, notably, kidney diseaseCushing’s disease, pyometra, and diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes).


Poor appetite and disruption in normal physiologic processes leads to this symptom. Anemia adds to this lethargy, along with ascites due to the discomfort it causes.


Improper nutrition from a poor appetite, along with disease in the hepatocytes will cause this.

Light colored stool

If the biliary tree is prevented from secreting normal bile pigments into the intestine the stool will lack pigmentation and appear lighter in color.

Bleeding disorders

The normal clotting system is impaired since it depends on a healthy liver.

Distended abdomen due to ascites or hepatomegaly. If the distention is severe enough breathing might be labored from pain or the pressure on the diaphragm.

Vomiting (emesis), nausea, or diarrhea

Sometimes blood is present in the vomitus (hematemesis), especially if a gastric ulcer is present. The ulcer comes from a complex interaction of histamine, nitrogen, bile acids, Gastrin, portal hypertension, and an altered mucous membrane lining the inside of the stomach.


Due to distention of a diseased liver.

Orange colored urine

Yellow mucous membranes

This is known as icterus or jaundice. It is a yellow discoloration of any part of the body that is white.  It can also be caused from a severe anemia, so it is not always liver disease that can cause this.

This dog has a subtle icterus. It can be seen as the yellowish tinge to the white part of the eye (the sclera)


The icterus in the mucous membranes (gums) of this dog is obvious

Behavioral changes-

Circling, head tilt, heap pressing, and seizures, particularly right after a meal. These might be due to excessive ammonia buildup, seen often in a liver shunt.

In a recent study it was found that dogs with liver disease can also have high blood pressure. This is called hypertension, and should be monitored to see if therapy is needed.

Physical Exam

A physical exam on our patients is one of the most important ways to make a diagnosis in any disease

Distended abdomen due to enlargement of the liver (hepatomegaly) might be found. This can be palpated in some situations, especially in the smaller animals. an enlarged liver from a disease other than liver disease can cause hepatomegaly. This includes heart disease and Cushing’s Disease.

Enlarged lymph nodes due to secondary bacterial infections or spread of a primary or metastatic liver tumor.

This cute Sheltie is having its submandibular lymph nodes palpated as part of our routine exam

Bruising (hematoma) might be observed under the skin, or when a blood sample is obtained. This is due to the liver’s affects on the clotting mechanism.

Fever- a rectal temperature of greater than 103 degrees F could accompany liver disease when inflammation or infection is present.

Skin infections and wounds that do not heal, or recur after antibiotics are stopped.

Anemia might be observed by checking the mucous membranes for a normal pink color.

Diagnostic Tests

Several tests are used as an aid in making this diagnosis.

Blood Panel

A CBC (complete blood count) and BCP (biochemistry panel) should be run on every pet 8 years of age or more, especially if they have any of the symptoms of liver disease.

The CBC might show a decrease in the number of red blood cells (RBC’s). This decrease in RBC’s is called anemia. The white blood cell count (WBC) might be elevated (leukocytosis), normal, or decreased (leukopenia), mostly depending on the cause of the liver problem and how long it has been present. A change in the WBC’s does not necessarily indicate there is a liver problem.

The biochem panel (BCP) might show an elevation in the liver enzymes. If a dog or cat has normal live enzymes on the blood panel, it still could be liver disease. This is because the liver cells are so scarred down (cirrhosis) that there are no enzymes in them to leak out into the bloodstream and detection by our blood panel.

Bile Acids

This is liver function test, not an enzyme test, and is not a routine part of the BCP. We will request this test when we suspect a liver problem, whether the enzyme tests are normal or not. This test is performed by taking a blood sample, giving a meal, then taking another blood sample 2 hours after the meal. Comparing the pre-meal and post-meal blood results gives us valuable information. The bile acids test is an accurate measure of liver function.

This one is very high. This pet has a liver shunt


A urine sample can give us important clues as to the existence of liver disease. The specific gravity might be below normal, an indication that PU/PD is present. Bilirubin might be present, a finding that is always abnormal in cats. There also might be ammonium biurate crystals, a sign of improper ammonia metabolism found in Hepatic Encephalopathy.

This spillover of bilirubin from the bloodstream to the urine is a sign of liver disease, especially in the cat


Analysis of the fluid obtained from a pet with ascites can give valuable clues as to its cause. There are numerous causes to ascites, some of the more common ones are heart disease, liver disease, and cancer.

Fluid is removed from the abdomen with a special needle and syringe

Liver Biopsy

This is a very valuable test in the diagnosis of liver disease. A sample of the liver can be obtained during an exploratory surgery or during an ultrasound procedure. The pathologist can look at the hepatocytes microscopically and determine if disease is present and what the cause is.

This is how we take a liver biopsy during an exploratory surgery

This report is from a very ill cat.

It is helpful to run a coagulation panel prior to any liver biopsy. A diseased liver might not be able to clot properly, and a biopsy could cause hemorrhage into the abdomen.

This Coagulation Panel is normal, so we are OK to biopsy this liver and not worried about hemorrhage 


A dog that excretes stool without normal pigmentation could indicate liver disease. It occurs when there is obstruction of the biliary system and normal bile pigments are not secreted to cause the normal dark color of stool.


An enlarged liver on a radiograph is called hepatomegaly, an abnormally small one is called microhepatica. Either one can be a sign of a liver problem.

In addition to plain radiographs, contrast media can be put into the arterial or venous system to help outline the liver. These tests go by various names; cholecystography, portal venography, and hepatic arteriography.

The liver in this radiograph is enlarged because the edge of the liver is protruding far beyond the last rib. The edges of this liver are very sharp and clearly outline its borders.

This radiograph also shows hepatomegaly, but in this case the borders of the liver are not as sharp. This could be due to a swelling of one of the lobes or fluid in the abdomen. An enlarged spleen can look like this also.

Some radiographs of a liver with hepatomegaly don’t show the routine shape of the liver lobes. This case of a liver cancer has a very rounded appearance. A tumor of the stomach, spleen, or intestines can also have this appearance.

Sometimes we diagnose hepatomegaly or microhepatica indirectly by looking at the angle of the stomach This picture shows the angle of the stomach in a normal radiograph of the abdomen. Compare it to the radiograph below.

This enlarged liver is pushing the stomach (S) towards the rear, an indication of hepatomegaly, even though it is difficult to clearly see the liver.

Sometimes we can not say for sure whether an enlarged organ on a radiograph is the liver. This mass, located near the liver, could also be an enlarged spleen, small intestine, lymph node, stomach, or even pancreas.


Ultrasound is highly beneficial in the diagnosis of liver disease. We recommend ultrasounding a liver when the liver enzymes tests are elevated over time, or the bile acids test is abnormal. Ultrasound has replaced exploratory surgery in many cases because it is less expensive, far less invasive (all we need to do is shave the tummy) and highly accurate when performed by our radiologist Ann Reed.

You can easily see a lobe of the liver in the center of this abdominal ultrasound of a dog

The internal structure (called parenchyma) can be analyzed, and post-hepatic liver disease can be differentiated from hepatic liver disease. This can be very important because disease in the liver can often be diagnosed with a biopsy during the ultrasound. Post-hepatic liver disease cannot easily be diagnosed in this matter. Instead it is diagnosed and treated with an exploratory surgery (called a laparotomy).

This liver ultrasound reveals a mass in the liver. Can you see its circular appearance at the arrow? It also shows abdominal effusion (this is the ascites described previously).

This is what liver cysts look like on ultrasound

This is the detailed ultrasound report we get when the liver and other abdominal organs are analyzed

The gallbladder, which lies in-between liver lobes, is circled

When there is a serious problem with the gallbladder it needs to be removed. This requires the expertise of an experienced surgeon because the gall bladder is so closely associated with the liver.

Our surgeon is using a sterile Q-tip to gently dissect the gallbladder away from a lobe of the liver. Click here to see the full surgery. 

Our next page on Liver Disease shows graphic pictures of a surgery. You can skip this section and continue on to routine medical treatment of specific liver diseases by clicking here.

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Traveling With Your Pet

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Before you hit the road or fly the friendly skies there are numerous preparations and precautions to take to make the experience easier for you and your pet. Traveling with pets can be nerve racking and frustrating, so after you take your own dose of valium to calm you down here are some things to think about.

A copy of your pet’s recent medical problems and the phone number to your veterinarian’s office should accompany you. Knowing the phone number to an emergency hospital along the way if you are driving, or at your final destination if you are flying, can also be information you should gather ahead of time. If  you are a client of the Long Beach Animal Hospital and you have an emergency when you are out of town call us and we will interrupt one of our doctors to talk to you or another veterinarian.

When crossing state lines or flying it is always a good idea to get a health certificate within 10 days of leaving. If you are traveling to a different country this is mandatory. Certain countries do not have some of the diseases we encounter in the U.S. and have very stringent requirements upon entry so as to keep these diseases out. Please be sure to research these requirements carefully, and even think about hiring a professional pet travel service to guide you in this paperwork if you are going to an unusual destination. Plan far in advance to sort out this paperwork because of inefficiencies in other countries and stringent requirements (not to mention the bureaucracy).

Put a current ID tag with your phone number on a secure collar. Microchipping is very popular, and most locations have scanners to properly scan your pet.  If your pet is crated place your name and contact information, along with a copy of your pets medical records, on the outside of the crate.

When deciding on a crate or carrier size is important. Make sure your pet has room to stand up and turn around during the trip. Check with your airline for their policy on type and size of crate, and whether your pet will go under your seat or in the cargo hold.

In cold weather and in the cargo hold of an airplane put in several fluffy towels for warmth. Let your pets spend time in this crate prior to travel. Every airline has specific policies so check with them first.

Your pet should not be loose in your car, so use that carrier again.  It is far too easy for a scared pet to bolt out of an open door at a rest area, or fly out of a crack in the window. Cats are masters at finding the most inaccessible areas of your car when they are scared, especially under the power front seats. You might even have to go to the car dealer to have the seat unbolted to retrieve your cat. Also, what will you do when you apparently calm cat gets scared and one second later goes under the driver’s feet and ends up under the brake pedal? These scenarios, although unlikely, have happened before.

Since most pet travel is in the summer heat stroke can occur easily. Stop often for bathroom breaks and to let your pet drink fresh water. Never leave your pet in the car unless it is in a shaded area and several windows are rolled down for proper ventilation. Solar powered fans are available to circulate air and keep your car cooler. When in doubt do not leave your pet unattended in the car due to the serious potential for heat stroke and death.

If your pet suffers from anxiety please see your veterinarian about tranquilization. This medication also has an anti-vomiting effect to help prevent car sickness. Give the medication several days prior as a test dose to see how your pet reacts. On your travel day give the tranquilizer several hours prior to leaving to make sure it has time to take effect before the last minute commotion of departing.

Try to schedule feeding so your pet eats only after the day’s car ride or flight, although make sure it has access to water. Feeding the night before the trip is an easy way to minimize car sickness and having to clean up a mess in your car. Take your car-sick prone pet on short car rides prior to any long trip helps in conditioning.

Familiarity can help soothe your pet and keep it calm. Bring blankets, bedding, towels and toys your pet is familiar with. Don’t forget its favorite food and a leash.

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Puppy’s First Vet Visit

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To prepare your puppy to be handled, restrained, groomed, and vaccinated throughout its life.

Tools you will need

Your pup, some yummy treats, and some time.

Yummy Treats


Ask any veterinarian or groomer what they dislike most about their profession, and they are likely to say, “Handling uncooperative or aggressive dogs!” In many cases, the aggression that veterinarians and groomers deal with could be avoided if we taught our dogs, from a very early age, to put up with the discomfort that often accompanies visits to the doctor and the groomer. We can accomplish this by “desensitizing” our puppies to many of the typical procedures they will encounter through life.

Between the ages of seven and sixteen weeks of age, your puppy goes through an important developmental stage. This is the time when puppies learn (whether we teach them or not!) which things in life are good and which are not. This developmental stage used to be called a “fear period” by many behaviorists because this is the period when many animals develop lifelong fears. Now commonly referred to as a critical socialization or developmental stage, this is a rare window of opportunity for us to teach puppies to become confident, psychologically healthy dogs.

Unfortunately, this is the exact same time period during which puppies receive their first examination and vaccinations from your veterinarian. Many puppies learn to be afraid of the veterinary office and staff during this time, and some puppies actually will learn to growl and/or bite during subsequent visits.

It is very important, then, to take some basic steps to help your puppy avoid such negative, lasting impressions. Your puppy will be happier, and so will your veterinarian and his/her staff!

Our Handling and Grooming page provides specific instructions for teaching your puppy these valuable lessons. This section addresses how to prepare for your puppy’s first veterinary visit, which unfortunately, must take place during one of the puppy’s most sensitive developmental stages.

Step-by-Step Tips

There are three things you can do to help prepare for your pup’s first visit to the veterinarian.

Encourage Participation of Clinic Staff

Call your veterinarian and ask for an appointment at the quietest time of day. Tell the staff that you want your puppy to have a good experience, and ask if there is time on the schedule for a few extra minutes that may be needed so that the puppy isn’t stressed by having people moving too quickly. Be willing to pay for extra time, if necessary. ask the staff if you can come by a couple of times before the appointment and just let staff members pet and give treats to your pup. Make those first experiences positive and upbeat.

Handling Exercises Before You Go

See Preventing Behavior Problems page for specific exercises to practice before going to the veterinarian for an examination or vaccinations.

Desensitization and Counterconditioning

Sometimes, you simply don’t have the opportunity to adequately prepare (as outlined above) for your pup’s first visit. In that case, follow the instructions below.

Desensitization/Counterconditioning for Veterinary Visits


Lore I. Haug, DVM

Texas a&M University Veterinary Teaching Hospital

College Station, TX

(used with permission)

Many dogs experience considerable anxiety and fear while at the veterinary clinic. These dogs may show aggression, escape attempts, or severe fear reactions. Dogs with these reactions are more difficult to handle, and, subsequently, are often subjected to heavy restraint techniques to allow the staff to accomplish the required procedures. Over time, these behaviors typically worsen as the dog has repeatedly more unpleasant experiences.

This situation places the animal, the owner, and the staff at risk for harm, particularly if the dog is showing aggression. In addition, the dog may receive suboptimal medical care due to his or her inability to be examined and handled safely. Most of these behaviors can be modified with a well-planned desensitization program.

Depending on the level of the dog’s anxiety, the program can be started at various points. Most dogs begin showing anxiety before actually entering the clinic. This may occur in the parking lot or as early as when the dog is put in the car at home, especially if his or her only car rides culminate in veterinary visits. For such dogs, the desensitization process should begin with the car, not the vet clinic. Once the dog is comfortable riding in the car, the following program can be implemented.

During the program, your behavior toward the dog will be important in aiding the dog’s success. At no time should you try to punish or comfort the dog if he or she shows anxiety, fear, or aggression. If the dog reacts in any of these ways, calmly abort that trial. Resume the program at a previously successful level and remain there until the dog is completely comfortable. Progress to the next phase only when the dog is comfortable (not showing any anxiety or stress) at the current step. During the modification program, the dog ideally should not undergo any routine veterinary attention. Vaccination schedules may need to be altered to allow the dog to complete the entire program before being subjected to “the real thing.” Discuss these options with your veterinarian.

Step 1 – Take the dog to the parking lot of the veterinary clinic. During the first several trials, and depending on the dog’s anxiety level, you may only be able to drive through the lot without stopping. Alternatively, you can park the car but remain inside. Play with or food-reward the dog in the car for a period of time and then drive home.

Step 2 – Drive to the parking lot, and take the dog out of the car. Walk the dog around the lot and play with or food-reward the dog during this time. When the dog seems relaxed (and not concerned about entering the clinic), take the dog home.

Step 3 – Repeat Step 2, but play with or food-reward the dog on the front porch of the clinic near the entrance. Remember to not progress to subsequent steps until the dog is very comfortable with the step at which you are currently working.

Step 4 – Take the dog into the waiting room and repeat the reward steps described above. Over consecutive trials, have the veterinary staff also play with or food-reward the dog while in the waiting room. During each session, these periods of play and/or food reward should be alternated with short periods where the dog is asked to sit or lie quietly. This helps teach the dog to be calm and more closely mimics some of the usual waiting process.

Step 5 – Repeat Step 4 in the examination room. Do not progress to Step 6 until the dog is comfortable waiting in the exam room and having both the technical staff and the professional staff (i.e., veterinarian) repeatedly enter and interact with the dog (playing, petting, etc.). The staff should periodically assume postures and positions near the dog that are routinely observed during physical examination and restraint, although no such procedures should actually be done to the dog at this stage. Small dogs who are normally handled on the table should undergo an additional step where the counterconditioning process occurs on the table.

During the above steps, you should begin handling exercises at home. This involves conditioning the dog to being handled and manipulated. Handle and gently restrain the dog’s body, head, legs, and feet. In addition, you should begin gently rolling the skin on the dog’s neck, back, and sides between your fingers. Progressively apply slightly more pressure (e.g., mild pinching) as you do this. Always reward the dog during these sessions if he or she remains cooperative. Remain calm, and do not lose patience with the dog. This should become a game associated with fun things (e.g., food, play, and attention from you).

Step 6 – This step should be discussed with your veterinarian to solicit his/her personal approach. These are my personal recommendations as a practicing veterinarian and may or may not be the same steps taken by your veterinarian.

Ask the veterinarian to begin a partial physical exam. This should not start with the dog’s head, as many dogs find this phase intimidating. It is typically easiest to begin with chest auscultation. Distract and reward the dog with food or a toy during this process, even if the dog does not stand completely still. The goal at this point is not to actually do the exam, but to accustom the dog to the procedure in small increments to aid the dog in overcoming anxiety. During subsequent sessions, progress through the process in a more thorough manner. The staff should repeat the same handling exercises that you have been doing at home. Make this fun!

When your dog’s vaccinations are due, have only one injection given the first time. If the dog requires more than one vaccine, schedule another appointment (one to two weeks later) for the remainder. You may have to schedule a separate appointment for each injection. During the dog’s first few “real” veterinary visits, it is important to maintain a fun, relaxed atmosphere and avoid overtaxing the dog’s tolerance level. Over time, practice doing slightly more aversive procedures with the dog, using food rewards or toys to distract the dog during the procedure.

Step 7 – Once your dog has become comfortable with the above steps, it will be necessary to take the dog to the clinic for fun visits periodically throughout the year. For example, drop by the clinic and, if there is a scale in the waiting room, simply weigh your dog, feed him/her some treats, and go home. Many dogs will revert to their fearful behavior if they resume going to the vet only once or twice a year for procedures. The more frequently you and your dog are able to visit the clinic and staff, the more comfortable your dog will remain when being handled there.

Recommended Reading

The Perfect Puppy: How to Raise a Well-Behaved Dog by Gwen Bailey

Good Dogs, Great Owners by Brian Kilcommons (Note: only pages 60-61 address veterinary visits; ignore other training sections that promote physical corrections as a training method.)

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Socializing Your Puppy

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Goal of Socialization

To help your puppy get along well with others; to become a well behaved member of the community; and to be a confident and psychologically healthy dog.

Tools you will need

Just you and your dog and some yummy treats and fun toys.


There is an important developmental stage that occurs in all dogs between the ages of seven and sixteen weeks of age. This is the time when puppies learn (whether we teach them or not!) which things in life are good and which are not. Now commonly referred to as a critical socialization or developmental stage, this is a rare window of opportunity for us to teach puppies to become confident, psychologically healthy dogs. We do this by exposing them to the myriad of things they will encounter in their lives: people (young, old, different colors, male, female, with mustaches and beards, with eyeglasses, with hats, with mailbags), other animals (cats, dogs, horses), sights and sounds (trash trucks, blimps, fireworks, thunder, lawnmowers, weedwackers), etc.

Although weeks 7-16 are the most critical, it is important to continue to expose your pup to sights, sounds, animals, and people through the first year or two of her life. Otherwise, your pup may become fearful and timid, and suffer from unnecessary stress throughout his/her life.

Note: Many veterinarians recommend waiting until after all vaccines are given, often four months of age, to take your dog outside of your home. Talk with your veterinarian and your trainer to come up with a workable socialization plan that won’t put your pup at danger for infectious diseases, but one that will still adequately socialize your pup. For example, use good judgment: don’t go to dog parks (too many unknown dogs and feces); carry your pup to places where there are a lot of people (malls); and don’t let your pup around other dogs’ feces.

Step-by-Step Tips

Try to go on socialization outings two to three times a week or more. Hunt out things your pup hasn’t seen yet. Make a list (for an excellent socialization chart, see the appendix of Gwen Bailey’s “The Perfect Puppy,” listed under Recommended Reading), and take it with you to ensure you aren’t missing something that will become a problem when your pup gets older.


  • Adults (men, women, different sizes, shapes, colors, facial hair)
  • Crying babies
  • Toddlers
  • Young children
  • Teenagers
  • Delivery people
  • Postal service employees
  • Gardeners
  • People in uniform
  • People in wheelchairs
  • People walking with canes
  • People with umbrellas
  • People who are loud
  • People who are shy
  • People with big boots (see “Real Life Lesson” below)


  • Clanging and banging (things dropped, things banged/clanged)
  • Sirens
  • Trash trucks
  • Motorcycles
  • Balloons
  • Veterinary offices
  • Groomers
  • Boarding kennels
  • Shopping malls
  • Schools
  • Others’ homes
  • Dog shows


  • Other puppies
  • Adult dogs
  • Cats
  • Birds
  • Horses
  • Cattle
  • Any other animal you want them comfortable with

Of particular importance is to introduce your puppy to other puppies of different sizes, shapes, hair length, and age. Many dogs become afraid of other dogs simply because they have not had the opportunity to mingle with their own kind. Dog-dog aggression (fear-based) is a very sad behavior problem that can take months to overcome at older ages.

Additionally, many puppies who are never introduced to babies have a hard time later on adjusting to new family members. Many dogs become aggressive with children, not because they have been teased by them (although that does happen a lot), but because they are simply not accustomed to the way they look, act, and sound.

Real-life Lesson: Panda and the Mukluks

This is a story Pam, a friend of mine, told about her Australian shepherd puppy, Panda. Pam is an experienced dog owner and trainer. She knows all about the importance of socializing her pup to a variety of things in the early months of life. Pam introduced Panda to all kinds of people, sights, sounds, animals, and so on, thinking she had done a pretty good job. At seven months of age, she took Panda with her on a trip to colder climates than she is accustomed to in Southern California. During this trip, they met a lot of new people, one of whom Panda took a strong dislike to. She tucked her tail between her legs, folded her ears straight back, raised her hackles, and barked and growled before “escaping” to a safe distance. What was this all about? Panda loves everyone! As Pam watched Panda, looking for clues, she realized Panda was barking and growling at the person’s big boots, the kind with the big tread and heavy fur lining. Aha! This was something Panda had never seen on human feet before. Imagine what it must have looked like from the puppy’s perspective. Dead animals instead of human feet? Yikes!

Although everyone tried to convince Panda that the boots were safe to approach, she was having none of it. Pam’s homework: Go to a thrift store or army surplus store and buy a pair of big, furry boots, and desensitize Panda to them by associating them with fun things, like treats, games, and dinner.

Recommended Reading

The Dog’s Mind: Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior by Bruce Fogle, DVM, MRCVS

The Perfect Puppy: How to Raise a Well-Behaved Dog by Gwen Bailey

Superdog: Raising the Perfect canine Companion by Dr/ Michael W. Fox

Genetics and the Social Behavior of Dogs: The Classic Study by John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller

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Puppy Behavior Training

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More dogs are euthanized for behavior problems than for any other reason. In almost all of these dogs, early, correct, and persistent training techniques will reverse this dismal statistic.

This section contains information about a variety of canine training techniques and behavior modification programs that will help you teach your dog basic manners that s/he needs to live in human society.

Learn how to solve common behavior problems like house training, puppy mouthing and biting, adolescent destructiveness, teaching Fido to come when called, and preventing aggression. The information you find here is based on contemporary humane training techniques that are fun for both you and your dog(s).

Puppies from 6-16 weeks

Now that you have that cute puppy in your family how are you going to mold him or her into a productive member of our society? If you don’t have an organized approach, with time set aside to enforce your training, that adorable little thing will soon become a monster that controls your life.

What your pup learns (and fears) during its first 4 months will be carried in its memory for the rest of his/her life. Therefore, it is imperative that you set aside the time and patience to turn these first 4 months into a positive experience for both of you.

In all honesty, few of us know enough about dog behavior to properly train a pup. Never fear, we are here to help you. We have enlisted the aid of Terry Long, a dog trainer par excellence. With her guidance you will soon know exactly how to approach the training of your pup.

We have complete information on what to do when you first get that pup home and until your pup is 4 months old. This is probably the most important time in your pups life, since it is during this time that your puppy will learn the behaviors it will carry into adulthood. We have 7 sections to cover, so grab those valium and lets get started.

House Training

“Excuse me, but I prefer Pampers”


“Hey, anybody got a cigarette”?

First Visit to the Veterinarian

“I might be small, but I’m in charge”!

Leadership and Guidance

“You’re going to do what with that thermometer”!

Basic Manners

“Do you think there’s a surprise at the bottom”?

Preventing Behavior Problems

“Honest, I was just along for the ride”! 


Who, me worry? 

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Handling Your Puppy

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To prepare your puppy to be handled, restrained, and groomed throughout its life.

Tools you will need

  • Cotton balls or plain cleansing pads
  • Nail trimmers and short, wooden match sticks
  • Scissors
  • Electric clippers
  • Brushes and combs
  • Strips of an old t-shirt or sheet (or real gauze)
  • Yummy treats



One of the saddest things to see is a dog that is absolutely terrified of something as simple as a nail trim. I have seen dogs lose control of bodily functions, scream in terror, struggle violently, and bite and scratch in their frantic attempts to avoid having their nails trimmed. Some dogs have to be sedated or even anesthetized for this simple procedure. Others go without nail trims, which might results in dangerously long nails that can get caught in carpeting and can also cause the dog to adopt an unnatural gait which can cause joint discomfort. It doesn’t have to be this way. All dogs will eventually have to be groomed, vaccinated, examined, restrained, etc., so it’s best to teach your dog, early in its life to, if not enjoy these procedures, to at least allow them to be carried out.

The following procedures apply equally to young and older dogs. A gradual process of desensitization to the equipment as well as the discomfort associated with many handling procedures will help your pup avoid the psychological trauma described above.


Step-by-Step Tips

There are several things you should address in routine handling exercises throughout your dog’s life:


It is easiest to teach a young pup to cope with being restrained if you teach it at a very young age, e.g., 6-10 weeks of age. Older puppies will struggle more and have developed more strength and coordination to resist your efforts. Regardless, in no case should this procedure turn into a wrestling match or a test of who is “dominant.” It is a natural reaction for animals to resist being restrained. It is not a show of dominance! It’s scary to be restrained and fight they will since they are hard-wired to do so.

Start by getting some yummy treats handy

Hold your puppy comfortably in your lap. Gently place your hands over his/her shoulders with the heels of your hands on the top and your fingers wrapping around toward the chest. Briefly (no more than a second or two) apply a small amount of pressure, say “Yes!” for the puppy not reacting (if she/he reacts, you are using too much pressure or doing it for too long), and give the pup a treat and pet and praise him/her. Gradually build up until you can exert a little more pressure for longer periods of time without your pup resisting. Reward profusely each time.

When the puppy is accustomed to having his/her shoulders held, use the same gradual process to accustom the pup to:

Having his foot held


Having his leg (each one, one at a time) held


Having his shoulders held


Having his hips held between your hands


Having his head held between your hands


Having his entire body held (tucked against your side, with the front end held by your hand and the hips tucked in by your elbow)


Having his head held in the crook of your arm (do this only if you have successfully performed all of the above, and be sure to keep your face away from your dog’s mouth)


If your puppy fights, struggles, growls, or bites during the beginning stages of these exercises, obtain the services of a positive reinforcement trainer to help you. Practice these exercises with your growing puppy and throughout his/her life!

Physical Exams (including tolerance for discomfort/pain)

Accustom your pup to a variety of “mock examinations.”


Gently open your pup’s mouth an inch or so. Say “Yes!” for the puppy not reacting (if she/he reacts, you need to back up and just briefly touch the puppy’s lips or open the mouth less), and give the pup a treat and pet and praise him/her. Gradually build up until you can open the mouth wider, move your fingers around the lips, and gently press down on the tongue.


Reward profusely each time. One trick that works well after the puppy is accustomed to having you handle his lips and mouth is to open your pup’s mouth and press a treat down on his tongue for him to eat. Surprise!


Lift or touch the flap of one of the pup’s ears and gently and briefly touch the skin around the ear.


Say “Yes!” for the puppy not reacting, and give the pup a treat and pet and praise him/her. Gradually build up until you can touch all areas on the outside of the ear and eventually press a fingertip into the inside of the ear (don’t poke down into the ear canal; just the surface outside it). Reward profusely each time. Next, take a cotton ball or plain cotton pad (sold in stores as face cleansers), and gently wipe the ear flap and the area just outside the ear canal. Again, reward profusely each time!

Feet and Toes

Gently hold your pup’s paw in your hand and reward him/her for letting you hold it for longer and longer periods of time.


Gradually apply a little bit of pressure to the paw &endash; think of what it looks like when you hold the paw while doing a nail trim. Make this process fun by feeding one of your pup’s favorite treats. Gradually build up to the point where you are touching each toe and exerting mild pressure on each toe to the point where the nail is lifted. Many dogs dislike their feet being touched, so go slowly; this is the foundation of a nail trim and for checking between toes for those nasty foxtails (plant seeds that cause pain and abscesses).

Nail Trims

Here is a great exercise developed by a very creative British trainer named John Rogerson. In separate handling exercises, accustom your pup to the sight and sound of the nail clippers by placing them on the floor for the puppy to sniff.


Reward for any curiosity or interaction with the clippers. Next, pick up the clippers and flex them in your hands so the pup gets used to them in your hands, both the sight and the sounds.


Take a wooden matchstick, and clip the matchstick into several pieces, tossing the pup a treat each time you clip. Clipping the matchstick sounds very similar to the sound made by trimming a dog’s nails!


Only when your puppy thoroughly enjoys having his feet and toes handled and is accustomed to the sound of the clippers clipping the matchstick do you go to the next stage: fake clipping of the nails. Pick up the puppy’s foot and place a matchstick under the foot and clip the matchstick while it is in the same hand as the pup’s foot


Reward, repeat, reward. When your puppy is used to this, trim the very tip only of one of the pup’s nails


Reward profusely. Stop. Do

additional nails in several other, separate sessions and only gradually build up until you can trim several nails in one session.

This may sound like a lengthy process; however, with daily sessions many dogs can be trained to tolerate nail trims in a very short period of time, i.e., a week or so. It’s worth the effort!


Practice this exercise only after you have completed Step 1, Restraint, above. Use gauze or cut an old t-shirt or sheet into strips about an inch or so wide and several inches long (this will vary depending upon whether you have a Papillon or a St. Bernard). Gently wrap a few inches of the cloth around your pup’s front leg or foot


Reward frequently for not pulling the foot away or for grabbing the cloth. Make this a pleasant activity. (It is recommended that your do this exercise when your pup is relaxed or sleepy and not at his/her highest energy time of the day!) You may want to have a helper hold the pup while you do the wrapping. another variety of this exercise is to “dress” your pup in old t-shirts so that she/he gets used to having items placed on and around his/her body.

Note: Inappropriate use of bandaging can cause more harm than good. This exercise is to get your pup used to having bandaging material placed on its body only after supervision of your veterinarian.


Accustom your pup to all of the different tools used in grooming. This includes brushes, combs, scissors, and electric clippers. Place each item on the floor for the puppy to sniff

Reward for any curiosity or interaction with each item. Gradually build up to placing the brush in your hand and gently brushing.

It is especially important to get your pup used to the sound of electric clippers even if your dog will not be routinely groomed with them. Many veterinary procedures involve the use of them, and dogs are often afraid of the sound if they have never heard them before. Let the pup sniff them on the floor with the power off and give him/her treats for sniffing them. Next, hold them and reward the pup for sniffing them. Then, turn the power on (be sure to hold it a few feet away from the pup initially) and toss treats!


Gradually build up so you can have the clippers next to your pup’s body so she/he can feel the vibration. Congratulations! You’ve just acclimated your pup to something that has the potential for being pretty scary!

Discomfort and Pain Tolerance

If you can get your pup to tolerate all of the exercises above, you can then try and teach him/her that brief discomfort and pain are also a part of life. Using the gradual desensitization procedures as you’ve used in the prior exercises, we will now teach your pup to tolerate discomfort. Again, with yummy treats handy, take a small fold of your pup’s skin between your fingers (on his/her back or between the shoulders).

Exert a small amount of pressure. Say “Yes!” and reward for not mouthing or struggling. If your pup does react, you have to take a step back and apply less pressure. Eventually, you want to be able to build the pup’s tolerance to a mild pinch. Think of how much easier it will be on the pup when she/he is vaccinated and always gets treats and praise for these brief moments of pain or discomfort!

Recommended Reading

The Perfect Puppy: How to Raise a Well-Behaved Dog by Gwen Bailey

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Preventing Behavior Problems

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To teach your pup specific behaviors that will help him/her avoid developing annoying and/or dangerous behavior problems.

Tools you will need

  • Food bowl and food
  • Yummy treats
  • “Home alone Toys” (Buster Cubes, activity Balls, Kongs, etc.)


More dogs are put to sleep annually in animal shelters than die from diseases. Most of these dogs are under one year of age. The reasons are many, but certainly a major contributor to this sad state of affairs is people’s expectations of what dogs are all about, and people’s failure to successfully guide their pups into healthy adulthood. Many of these dogs have not learned even the most basic manners (see Basic Manners page), and some have more serious behavior problems such as aggression. and many, many families live with dogs who have behavior problems that cause stress within the family and, in some cases, danger to others in their communities.

This section addresses some of the most common behavior problems and suggests preventive measures that can be used to avoid them.

Step-by-Step Tips

In addition to the basic manners and leadership exercises described in previous pages, the following preventive exercises are very important in raising a well-mannered puppy who will stay in its home for life.


All puppies chew, dig and bark. In most cases this is the result of boredom. Dogs are very bright, as well as energetic, animals. To avoid annoying behaviors such as destructiveness, barking, and digging, they must be provided with activities that exercise both their minds and their bodies.

Daily exercise, play, and training are critical. Provide your pup with safe, appropriate chew toys, and restrict his/her access to items you value, such as remote controls, shoes, clothing, purses, etc. Block off (with temporary fencing) areas of the yard you don’t want destroyed. Many puppies outgrow some of their tendencies to dig, but many continue this habit because there is nothing else to do.

If your pup spends several hours alone while you are gone during the day, leave him/her with “home alone toys” such as Buster Cubes, activity Balls, and stuffed Kongs. Consider having a neighbor or pet sitter drop by and play with the pup midway through the day.

With proper preventive measures, we can protect our belongings as well as provide adequate entertainment for our pups so that their teething and natural tendencies to chew are kept to a minimum.

Aggression Around Food

Many pups have no problem when people come near their food bowls. Unfortunately, we are sometimes surprised to find that puppies who growl in warning when they are young often bite when they are older.

First, teach your pup to sit before you put the bowl on the floor. This is very easy to teach. You can teach it separately (see Basic Manners page), or you can simply stand with the bowl patiently until your pup sits. Say “Yes!” and put the bowl on the floor. Gradually increase the amount of time you require the pup to stay sitting before putting the food down.

Second, teach your pup that good things happen when people (of all ages, especially toddlers and young children) approach his/her food bowl. Take some yummy treats like hot dogs or cheese, and toss them into the bowl while the puppy is eating. Sit next to the pup with an empty food bowl and fill it a few pieces of kibble at a time, sometimes tossing in something really yummy.

Pick the bowl up and put something great in it and put it down

Feed the pup in different locations so she/he doesn’t become protective of one spot in the kitchen.

Note: If you have a dog that stiffens, growls, or snarls when you approach him/her around the food bowl or when she/he is chewing on a toy or treat, get professional help from a positive reinforcement trainer or behavior specialist. A more extensive behavior modification program will be necessary.

Aggression Towards People

The reasons dogs become aggressive toward people are many, but in many cases it is because of an underlying fear based upon poor early socialization. The best way to ensure that your dog is safe around people of all types is to religiously practice a socialization program from a very young age. See Socialization page.

If you have a dog who appears extremely fearful of people (avoidance, tail between the legs, ears flattened, etc.), obtain the services of a positive reinforcement trainer or behavior specialist. A desensitization/counterconditioning behavior modification program may be necessary.

Aggression Towards Other Dogs

The reason dogs become aggressive toward other dogs is primarily because of poor early socialization. (It can also result from a traumatic incident such as being attacked by another dog.) The best way to ensure that your dog gets along with others of its own species is to religiously practice a socialization program from a very young age. See Socialization page. Lifelong exposure to a variety of different dogs is important to avoiding this all-too-common problem.

Again, if you have a dog who appears aggressive around other dogs, obtain the services of a positive reinforcement trainer or behavior specialist. A desensitization counterconditioning behavior modification program may be necessary.

Separation anxiety

This is one of the most common behavior problems presented to veterinarians. It is a complex behavior problem that can have its root in many causes. However, to ensure that your puppy doesn’t suffer from anxiety when left alone, make sure that you avoid having the puppy become overly dependent upon your physical presence. From a young age, accustom your pup to being alone for a few hours. Start by having your pup stay in another room of the house where she/he can see and hear you, but not be with you all the time.

A barrier such as a baby gate can be very helpful

Build up to longer periods of time and, eventually, to having your pup stay in a room of the house where she/he cannot see you, but can hear you. Next,she/he should learn to tolerate time alone with you in the house when she/he cannot see nor hear you. From there, you should not have a problem with being out of the house for short periods of time and, eventually, longer and longer periods of time.

Many puppies suffer separation anxiety when people bring the new puppy home over a holiday or summer vacation. The pup is surrounded by people 100% of the time for several days (or months!), and then when everyone goes back to work or school, is suddenly left all alone. Avoid this scenario by implementing the steps above on a regular basis and, minimally, several days or weeks before you return to work after a long period of absence.

If all else fails there is medication that is extremely helpful with this problem. ask your veterinarian if this applies in your situation.

Recommended Reading

An Owner’s Guide to Dog Behavior by Dr. Ian Dunbar

Behavior Problems in Dogs by William Campbell

The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

Toolbox for Remodeling Your Problem Dog by Terry Ryan (Don’t be fooled by the title; this is an excellent resource for avoiding problem behaviors by teaching the right ones from the start.)

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