A Guide To Regular Health Checks for Your Dog

As we continue on our journey toward canine wellness our next path takes us to the learning about health checks for our dogs.  An overall body exam only takes a few minutes and makes sure that everything operates the way it should. If you find any unexpected lumps, bumps, cuts, sore spots, etc. then you can to make an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian.

My wish, is that every dog has a health check at least once a month. Even though my dogs are on flea and tick preventative I do a daily body exam to make sure that ticks didn’t catch a ride on them. It is important to remove a tick as soon as possible to reduce the risk of disease transmission. My dog Abby (RIP) had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and I never even knew she had been bitten by a tick.

Performing regular health checks help you know your dog’s overall wellness and helps your dog learn to enjoy the body exam – even from your veterinarian. Imagine that – a less stressful veterinary visit for your dog!

Linda Michaels, M.A. reminds us in the Hierachy of Dog NeedsTM that it is our responsibility to take care of more than our dog’s biological needs – we are responsible for their wellness too. Performing an overall body exam and health check can help ensure your dog’s wellness. So let’s go that extra step and look out for our dog’s overall well-being.

There are a couple of ground rules when you do a health check on your dog. First off, they are for non-emergency routine care. The information you gather in no way replaces a visit to your veterinarian and your dog should continue his regularly scheduled veterinary appointments.

Throughout the process observe your dog. If at any point your dog shows signs of discomfort – stop what you are doing. Make a note of what you did – were you leaning over him or was your touch too hard? Maybe there is an injury or maybe you startled your dog. Pay attention because an injury may require medical attention but a startle response does not. If you determine your dog is healthy yet is reluctant to be handled then please contact a trainer or behavior consultant in your area for assistance. Don’t force your dog to be touched in an area or in a way that makes him uncomfortable.

Approach – your dog from the side. If you approach directly from the front your dog may take that as an aggressive approach. When you approach from the side – or present your body sideways, you are considered less threatening. Extra tip – wait a moment for your dog to come to you. Giving your dog a moment to decide that he wants to participate make all the difference in the world.

Position – you should not restrict or block your dog’s movement. If you restrict his movement he may feel trapped and become reactive or aggressive. There is a difference between containment and restraint. You can contain your dog in a small area without restraint. When you do this your dog has some choice and is more likely to accept being touched even in sensitive places.

Distance – don’t crowd or lean over your dog. Most dogs have an interesting response when you lean over them, especially near their head, most of the time they will jump up and that can cause you to be bumped. The times when this doesn’t happen is if  the dog has been trained not to jump. Have you noticed that if you crowd your dog she may do things like spin, jump up, give you a kiss, and many other behaviors; pay attention to see what your dog does to increase space. Other dogs don’t do what we consider “friendly” warnings instead they go straight to growl and bite. Be kind and respect your dog’s need for space. Don’t wait for her to growl or bite before you listen to what she is telling you.

Duration – your movements should be efficient and fluid/smooth. If you hesitate and are jerky when you work with your dog then he will not be comfortable. If you are consistently hesitant or jerky then your dog may learn to be fearful of the health checks. If you are not confident about this exercise please practice on a stuffed dog first. Your dog will thank you.

Pressure how you touch matters. Too light of a touch tickles and too hard of a touch hurts. I call this the Goldilocks effect – you want your touch to be “just right.” Experiment to find the right amount of pressure your dog likes. Remember that what feels good on the shoulder may not feel good on the hindquarters. Another handy tip – what feels good after a nap may not be the same as what feels good before or after a workout.

Safety – ALWAYS practice safe handling and have an escape route for yourself.

Here are two pages of illustrations to guide you through the health check/overall body exam process.

My next posts will go into more detail about the different sections and the body language in each section. Please feel free to comment/ask question

For a downloadable file click here: HealthChecks-Dog-01

For a downloadable file click here: HealthChecks-Dog-02

References:
The Hierachy of Dog NeedsTM Linda Michaels, M.A

Hierarchy of Dog Needs

Forbidding Forecast For Lyme Disease In The Northeast, March 6, 2017 5:00 AM ET Heard on Morning Edition http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/03/06/518219485/forbidding-forecast-for-lyme-disease-in-the-northeast

How to safely remove a tick http://www.petmd.com/dog/parasites/how-to-remove-a-tick-from-dog-cat

Acknowledgements:
The Guide to Health Check  illustrations were made possible by a grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.

Diane Lewis of Diane Lewis Photography and Lili Chin of DoggieDrawings.net who illustrated them. The illustrations would not be here without these two amazing women! Both are dedicated to improving the lives of animals and the lives of dogs.