Today I Made A Mistake

Today I took Pumba to the vets. At the time of writing, we were in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic which meant that the vets had put measures in place to ensure that social distancing was adhered to throughout the appointment. The appointment wasn’t for anything major, Pumba’s cytopoint injection, which occurs roughly every 6 weeks. He’s a champ with injections and I don’t recall a single incident where an injection hasn’t gone to plan. However, due to the pandemic, the injection had to happen outside in the car park, where Pumba has never had any veterinary procedures done, nor have we practiced any there as there’s never been any need. Even worse, I had to be a lead’s length away. 

Pumba does have issues with strangers coming into his personal space and the lack of previous history of any form in the car park scared the hell out of me. Were I able to feed primula and just get through the appointment then I would have done, but I had to stay a lead’s length away. I was also entirely unable to go and train anything in the environment to prepare for it as I would have been breaking the lockdown restrictions doing so. I would also typically have asked for a preferred vet that Pumba has a relationship with to do the appointment but at this point beggars couldn’t be choosers so I accepted that it was going to be who it was going to be and moved on. 

So, with all of my preferred options gone, I decided that Pumba would be muzzled throughout the appointment to keep the vet safe. This also meant that he could have food throughout the appointment whilst I remained at the appropriate distance. I prepared the muzzle by smearing a generous amount of primula all over it. My mistake was letting my anxiety about the situation get to me and not giving Pumba the amount of time and options I could have. It turned out that the appointment was being done by my preferred vet, who knows how I like to handle injections and has a great relationship with Pumba. I didn’t think to ask if he had time for me to introduce the muzzle to Pumba the worst he could have done was say no and I’d have been left with the option I took. 

As Pumba had to have this appointment, and with the appointment being hard enough to organise in the environment at the time, I knew I wasn’t going to cue Pumba to wear the muzzle. He has muzzle up on cue and willing shoves his head in it. However, with the new environment, the chance of him choosing to not muzzle up was high and I couldn’t afford to respect him saying no. My mistake however was not giving Pumba the opportunity to see the muzzle and give it a go based on how I presented the muzzle. I literally stepped over his back and shoved it on his face. Justifiably he was not pleased with this. He walked backwards and actively tried to remove the muzzle, although he was licking the cheese from the end of it. I should have given Pumba the time to investigate the muzzle, chances are with what previous learning history he does have that he would have chosen to put his nose in the muzzle anyway and there would have been no need for any negative experiences to occur. 

Lessons learned: 

  • When there’s a scary situation, breathe and ask questions, the worst those around you can say is no which leaves you with no fewer options than you had without asking 
  • Take the time to train any cooperative care behaviours you rely on in the car park of your vets and with your vet, you never know when there will be a pandemic which removes the elements of a behaviour you rely on 

I’m incredibly lucky that Pumba is such a resilient dog. We have since revisited the muzzle and there were no issues with putting his nose in it. Duration and the straps being done up needs a bit of tuning up again but that’s not the end of the world. I’ve made notes on how to move forward from here and how we can prevent it from being a problem in the future, as well as how to improve on what we did should we be locked down for the next batch of medicine he needs. I felt absolutely awful about letting my boy down and I’ve told myself that mistakes are okay and really having some cheese put on his nose, even if it was a surprise isn’t really the end of the world. 

Even the best of us make mistakes and it’s important to turn them into opportunities to learn not pity parties or the start of an even deeper hole we may dig. 

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