WHO’RE YA GONNA CALL?

Late last night, at the end of our business day, at around 10:30 in the evening we picked up our business messages. One of the messages came from a new puppy owner who was obviously frantic. “Call quick” the message said. “We don’t know what to do!” The message had been left on our day off (when we don’t check messages) through the middle of the day. The message had been sitting for about 36 hours. There were three more messages from the distraught owner over the following few hours, and no messages from them yesterday. The owners were obviously distraught and obviously felt that we could help them, but they left no details other than the fact that this was terribly urgent and they wanted to talk to us.

We are a large dog training school and part of our philosophy is that we ought to have the most educated instructors. We do a LOT of continuing education about behaviour and training and a little bit about the health of the dog. We are very good at seeing lameness because we work with sports dogs and if they are lame they cannot work, so we are really good at seeing lameness. We can pull out a tick, and we know what to do in the event of an injury such as a cut or a bug bite. We know how to get to the emergency veterinarian in the event of a serious emergency. What we don’t know how to do is be veterinarians. We are dog trainers and not veterinarians.

The man sitting in the grass is a dog trainer. The man putting eye drops into the husky's eye is a veterinarian. When you need to get help with your dog's health, even in an emergency, you really should not call the dog trainer. If you need to come in, the veterinarian's office will tell you if you need to come in or if you can treat your dog at home. Photo credit dog trainer: Lucy Martin 2015 Photo Credit Veterinarian: Copyright: vadimgozhda / 123RF Stock Photo
The man sitting in the grass is a dog trainer. The man putting eye drops into the husky’s eye is a veterinarian. When you need to get help with your dog’s health, even in an emergency, you really should not call the dog trainer. If you need to come in, the veterinarian’s office will tell you if you need to come in or if you can treat your dog at home. Photo credit dog trainer: Lucy Martin 2015 Photo Credit Veterinarian: Copyright: vadimgozhda / 123RF Stock Photo

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The event last night reminded me of a situation that occurred about 15 years ago. John and I had gone to a wedding, and while we were away from home a client called to tell us that their dog had vomited and to ask what to do. They called every half an hour from three in the afternoon until about 11pm when they called to tell me that their dog was feeling better and had gone to sleep. I arrived home at about half past one in the morning, and happened to pick up my messages. Frustrated and angry, I called these owners for an update. Sleepily they answered the phone and said that their dog was fine; just sleeping it off. I asked them to go and wake him up and double check. Not surprisingly to me, the dog wouldn’t wake. When I had them expose his gums they were pale and sticky. I sent them to the emergency vet, who diagnosed the dog with a severe gastrointestinal illness and severe dehydration. The dog spent the better part of the week at the university teaching hospital in ICU. Had I not called, the dog would have died. As it was, he had sustained a much more serious illness than he should have.

After the dog came home and was back to class, I asked my clients why they had not called the vet in the first place. They didn’t want to disturb the vet came the answer. Over and over this has happened to us. When new puppy owners get a dog, they may not be prepared for what to do if the dog gets sick. We are a regular contact for a lot of new dog owners, and we try and work at sharing information about training behaviour and husbandry. Husbandry is the fancy term for “how to take care of an animal.” We share things like “don’t let your dog exercise immediately after eating a big meal because you increase the chance of torsion or bloat” and “you can tell when your dog is overheating by the shape of his tongue, and the white sticky saliva”. We know these things the way a football coach knows that his players need to be hydrated and to rest in hot weather when they are working out. The thing is that the coach is not a doctor and the trainer is not a vet.

Everyone should be blessed with vets who are as contientious as our vets are. When we visit the vet’s office, we ask a lot of questions. We ask things like “how do we know if our dog has a fever?” or “what should we do if our dog splits his toenail”. Over the years we have amassed an incredible amount of knowledge. Over the years we have learned to recognize when a dog is in serious trouble, and we share this information when needed with the clients we meet, with the caveat that they must talk to their veterinarian.

In class if I notice that a dog has a red eye and some discharge, I will send that dog home and then I will suggest they see their vet. When one of the dogs in my class split a toenail I helped to clip it down with my nail clippers so it wouldn’t catch and told them that if it was catching on things, they should go see their vet. It healed up without having to see the vet. When a dog has diarrhea in class, I send him home, disinfect the floor and suggest that they see the vet. Once, when a puppy guzzled back the entire classroom water bowl while the instructor was outside helping the other students to toilet their dogs, I called the local emergency vet and gave the client a map and sent them to the vet.

I am qualified to do what amounts to canine first aid; I can assess when something is a “band aid” level of injury and treat it at home, and I can tell when an injury or illness is more serious, and then I send my clients to the vet. When you call me up and don’t leave me any details, I cannot help you. As a training school, we don’t have the sort of emergency services that a veterinary hospital has. We don’t even answer the phone as often as they do!

Here is a chart to help you decide what to do:

Problem What to do
Vomiting Call your vet
Diarrhea Call your vet
Snagged or tore a toenail If minor, clip nail back. If you can see the quick, Call your vet
Cuts and abraisions Treat as you would a human cut; if it is minor wash it out and cover it up. If it is more serious, Call your vet
Hit by a car Call your vet
Stopped eating for more than three days Call your vet
Excessive drinking Call your vet
Found a tick or flea on your dog? Call your vet and ask them to teach you what to do next time
Snotty nose Call your vet
Goobery eyes Call your vet
Bleeding from the mouth Check the mouth and if your puppy has lost a tooth, don’t worry. If your adult dog has lost a tooth, call your vet.
Falling over Call your vet
Limping Call your vet
Sneezing or coughing Call your vet
Sudden weight loss Call your vet
Bite wounds from a dog attack or fight Call your vet
If you showed me this in class, I would tell you to call the vet. I am not a vet, and this is the sort of injury that I cannot treat beyond cleaning it with soap and water, but it really should be seen by a vet in case there is an infection or a thorn or something in the wound. Copyright: photoraidz / 123RF Stock Photo
If you showed me this in class, I would tell you to call the vet. I am not a vet, and this is the sort of injury that I cannot treat beyond cleaning it with soap and water, but it really should be seen by a vet in case there is an infection or a thorn or something in the wound. Copyright: photoraidz / 123RF Stock Photo

The short answer to who you should call is “the vet”. They will tell you if you need to come in and get your dog checked out. If they are closed, their message machine will give you the number of the emergency service they use. Talk to your vet beforehand so that you know what to do if you are overwhelmed by something your dog does. Have a plan in place and know where you will go in the event of an after-hours emergency. As dog trainers, we would really like to help you, but the bottom line is that we often cannot help, and what we will tell you is to call your vet.

WHO’RE YA GONNA CALL?

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