Depending on who you ask, you get a vastly different answer to the question of whether it’s a good idea to pet a frightened dog (or other animal with whom you have an established relationship and that enjoys your touch) during noisy (scary) events.
In the scientific literature, the overwhelming majority of articles (if not all…?) recommend not petting, meaning that petting fearful dogs inadvertently reinforces the anxious behaviour.
Is your dog or cat offered treats during the visit to the veterinarian?
I can think of two reasons why this might not happen.
The vet is unfamiliar with how extremely useful treat feeding is in preventing, reducing and eliminating fear in the veterinary clinic. After all, it’s typically not something they learn in vet school (although thanks to organizations like Fear Free, that’s now rapidly changing!)
The vet doesn’t dare feed treats in case the animal needs to be sedated, thinking that “animals need fasting before sedation”.
For several years, I’ve been teaching about fear, anxiety and stress (FAS) in pets during veterinary visits. Among several topics, I’ve spoken about why treat feeding is such a powerful technique to reduce and eliminate – and prevent – fear and fear learning. This is called counterconditioning.
But in the various groups of veterinarians and vet technicians I’ve lectured to over the years, I’ve kept hearing the same objections over and over again:
“That sounds great”, the vets would say. “But if we need to sedate them, we can’t feed them so soon before we put them under”.
That got me curious, and I started asking questions:
How soon before sedation can we feed, then?
What if you just feed a teeny weeny little tidbit?
How about broth – liquids surely must have really short gut passage time?
How big is the increase in risk if you do feed before sedating?
How dangerous are the complications, anyhow – would the benefits be worth the risk?
As a scientist, my knee-jerk reaction was to look for the article that addressed those questions.
I didn’t find one. There wasn’t any. Nobody had looked at that!