Dog trauma


It’s time for our dog Spike’s annual checkup with the vet. Like many experiences – meeting other dogs on a walk, shiny garden rocks on the back deck, teeny weeny baby turkeys in the garden – the vet terrifies Spike. The emotional support she needs around checkup time starts weeks in advance.

Spike is a fluffy apricot-blond cavoodle, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel crossed with a poodle, one of the new ‘designer’ breeds. Cavoodles are supposed to inherit the poodle’s high IQ and the Cavalier’s calm and gentle nature. Spike is gentle although I suspect she has a Cavalier intelligence, such as it is, and her world view is that EVERYTHING is dangerous! I suppose we might side with the original oodle breeder, Wally Conron, who said recently that he regretted crossing a labrador and poodle to get the first labradoodle because the new breeds have so many problems.


To prepare for the vet, the psychologist neighbour has suggested gradual desensitisation therapy in which we’ll show Spike pictures of the vet practice staff, take her to sit in the waiting room,etc. before the actual checkup visit. We’d be starting from a low base. On walks, Spike goes into reverse from several houses back if we’re approaching the vet practice. One night, a long way down the road, she started straining at the lead. I checked behind us. No dogs. I looked across the street. No dogs. But there was the vet himself, whose name is Fraser, heading home. Fraser waved and called hello. Spike refused to look at him and scurried off, extending her extendable lead its full 15 feet in order to put as much distance between herself and Fraser as she could. I yelled behind us that Spike was hurrying home for dinner. I suspect Fraser knew better. 

You might assume that Spike has had a negative experience at the vet. I don’t think so. The staff love animals, even caring for sick wildlife out of the practice’s pocket. It was Fraser who diagnosed Spike’s chocolate overdose and macadamia nut poisoning – Spike has addiction issues – but he was professional, discreet, and even Spike couldn’t have faulted his kindly care. No, I think the problem with the vet practice is that there are dogs there. Spike doesn’t like dogs. At three and a half, she’s settled into a form of canine dissociative disorder that manifests as her believing she is many other creatures as long as they are not dog. We went through a cat period, where she pined for the white cat across the street, and then there was the possum she licked the floor after, but her most enduring self is human. The only other dog in the world she’s friendly with is Charlie from up the street, another oodle, but that’s because Charlie thinks he’s human too.


I don’t know why Spike thinks she’s human. Perhaps it’s a problem with the breed. It can’t be anything we’ve done. It’s true she sleeps on the beds, but the floor here is very hard, being made of wood. And the psychologist neighbour does carry Spike around in a papoose but that’s a reparenting program that’s very important for her mental health, particularly around vet checkup time. And I know you’re supposed to teach dogs that they are at the bottom of the pack by not feeding them until you’re finished, and then only pellets, but it’s hard to do that with Spike. She looks at you with those big dark eyes and you give her your scrambled eggs. You weren’t that hungry anyway.

The psychologist neighbour is confident that even if Spike isn’t quite ready for the checkup this year, the reparenting program will mitigate the worst of the damage. But I’m wondering if we should also tell Spike she’s taking us to the vet, giving her some sense of control over her experience. I’m sure Fraser could give me an injection of something and then check on Spike quickly at the end.

As for Wally Conron and his Dr Frankenstein comments about the new breeds, I for one love the oodles of oodles we see on our walks, and I’m certainly grateful that Spike is in the world which is brighter every single day for her presence.


Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend  on 1 March 2014. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch,  tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!