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Practicing “focus”

Between the issues both Mauja and Atka have been experiencing, we’ve been at the vet a lot. Atka doesn’t mind vet visits. In fact, I think he enjoys them. Any situation that offers him snuggles and treats is great in his mind!

Unfortunately, Mauja doesn’t share the same level of enjoyment in vet visits. To her, they are pretty much the worst thing ever. She pants, whines, and makes noises I never knew a dog could make. Obviously, vet visits are something we will never be able to avoid completely, so I had to figure out a way to survive these visits.

When Mauja’s anxiety was at its peak earlier this year, it was impossible to get her to focus on anything when she was in an uncomfortable situation. This made training and desensitization extremely difficult. She wouldn’t take treats and praise didn’t phase her. Eventually, we made the decision to start her on Prozac so we could actually reach her brain. Since starting the medication, we’re finally able to work through difficult situations.

If we're not working, she's distracted by even the tiniest noise.
If we’re not working, she’s distracted by even the tiniest noise.

The best way that I’ve found to survive these stressful situations is to keep her mind busy so she can’t focus on the extra stimuli. I keep her busy and distracted by “playing games” and doing basic trick training. Now, Mauja definitely isn’t a “trick dog”, but she does know a few basics.

We try and find a quiet corner in the waiting room to sit and work. I always go to the vet with a bag full of because I know I will be using a lot as we wait! Some simple tricks we use include:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stand
  • Shake
  • Touch
  • Leave it
  • Focus

“Leave it” is a very versatile game because it’s easy to mix it up and it’s also the one we play the most. Mauja knows how to leave treats on her paws, my hand, my legs, the bench, and anywhere else I can come up with in the waiting room.

Our second favorite is “focus”. For us, focus means to look at me until I give the release. In very stressful situations, I’m thrilled to get just a few seconds of uninterrupted focus from Mauja. One year ago, I never would have gotten her to look at me.

Not the best picture to tell, but here Mauja is displaying "whale eyes" Whale eyes are a commonly overlooked sign of stress where the dog shows the whites of her eyes.
Not the best picture to tell, but here Mauja is displaying “whale eyes” Whale eyes are a commonly overlooked sign of stress where the dog shows the whites of her eyes.

This technique, if you can even call it that, can be used in so many different situations. This was one we frequently used at BlogPaws this year to survive really busy events. I’d love to hear if you use this method to decrease your dog’s stress as well!

How do you handle stressful situations with your dog?

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