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Monday, May 4, 2015

Positive Training for Vet Exams

Today I am joining the Positive Dog Training Blog Hop. I thought I'd talk about a very simple "trick" that I've taught Shyla that has proven to be useful as well as fun! I taught her to lie flat on her side. I taught her this "trick" by luring her into this position using a treat, and then rewarding her while she lay in this position. There's a short video about how to do it at this link.

I call this trick "relax", and my hand signal tells her which side to lie on.

This is her favorite side. For some reason, it was the only side that she was willing to lie on until quite recently.
K also had a favorite side for lying on, and I learned during her bone cancer treatments that it would have been much better if she'd known how to lie on either side. I'm fixing that error with Shyla.

With Shyla, I have to take everything at her pace. For some reason, lying on her right side was very scary to her until quite recently. She made a big breakthrough while we were practicing her "relaxing" on her favorite side. During that session, without any urging from me, Shyla suddenly decided to lie on her other side. I was surprised, to put it mildly. We had a treat party while she lay on that side for the first time, and then I immediately followed up by teaching her to roll onto that side when I requested it. Now it's easy for her!

Here she is, on her previously "scary" side.
She does, quite literally, seem to "relax" whenever she lies on her side. Indeed, she even doses off in the middle of the forest.

This "trick" can be very helpful at the vet. A few weeks ago, Shyla had to go to the vet because she ate something bad when we were outside and was very nauseous. The vet wanted x-rays of her GI tract to check for an obstruction. Before the vet took her to the x-ray room, I quickly taught the vet how to have Shyla "relax" for her x-rays. Afterwards, the vet reported that it worked perfectly. By having Shyla "relax", they quickly got good pictures of her stomach and intestines.

Since we usually practice this "trick" out in the forest, I was thrilled to hear that Shyla was willing to do it while being x-rayed in a vet's office!
Just a short note about what happened with Shyla's GI issue. It turns out that someone near us is trying to compost food garbage but without any barriers to animals getting into it (long-time residents use electric fences and other barriers to bears and coyotes). As we biked past their land, Shyla bolted to the compost because there was animal fat on top of the pile. Fortunately for Shyla and me, the "composting" hadn't really started - it was just a pile of food waste that was not decayed.

What I didn't know until Shyla's illness is that compost is highly toxic to all mammals, including dogs. The decaying process produces a neurotoxin that causes grand mal seizures and frequently results in death. We were super lucky that the decay process hadn't started.

Due to that knowledge, I am now hyper-vigilant about not allowing our dogs near the unprotected compost unless they're tightly controlled. I wanted to share this information with all of you because I suspect that others, like me, don't know about the toxicity of compost to dogs and wildlife.

So, I wish that we hadn't needed to go to the vet and that Shyla hadn't been so ill. However, I was super happy that our "relax" command made the x-rays and exam easier.
Living in a place like you see in the photo above is wonderful but it has its own unique challenges. Training a dog to be off-leash safely is a long and ongoing process. The biggest challenge to me is when a new temptation unexpectedly appears in our world, like the pile of food waste. Then, it is a big challenge to teach my dog to resist the new temptation.

We've made huge strides in that direction just since last week's incident but I won't be letting down my guard anytime soon.


  1. Gosh, I am the first comment! This is a fun trick and we may try to teach it to Ruby.

    I had no idea about compost! That's really scary as I (and probably many others) would have assumed it was natural and therefore OK. Thanks for the information.

  2. Shyla, you are a super smart gal!

  3. Okays, Ma says she's gonna try to teach me this...BOL!!!!!! No, seriously, she is...
    Oh, I don't knows if it's the same in doggies, butts in peeps the Left Side is the 'rescue' side to have peeps lay in when they are in distress. This might be why, or not...I gots no idea! BOL!!
    Anyhu, those are FABulous tips!
    Ruby ♥

  4. I had no idea about the compost stuffs. I will admit I bury some treasures in our compost area. MOM said from now on I am not allowed to do that and from now on she will always keep the gate closed to that area so mishaps will not happen. Thanks for the info.

  5. That's very good trick for a dog to know. I didn't know that about compost either, good safety information.

  6. We watched the amazing video too!
    Shyla is so smart to learn that trick!
    We did not know that about compost either. Thank goodness Shyla was okay.

  7. Crikey ..... I'm glad Shyla's ok. I lie on my side on command for Mum too but I will only do it on one side. Mum's going to try to get me to do it on both sides now. I MIGHT co-operate if I get HEAPS of treats.

  8. I've never thought to teach Lucy to lie on her side. But I definitely will do so now.

  9. We did not know about the compost either. And thanks for the training tip, wonderful that it was helpful at the vet
    Mr Bailey, Hazel & Mabel

  10. We're sorry to hear you ate something bad but congrats on being such a great patient for the vet. You've come a long way Shyla.

  11. That's so awesome that she was able to do that for her x-rays! We've been working on it but I don't think Phoenix will ever get there with strangers.

  12. Oh, what a good idea! I taught Rita to "play dead" and lay on her side so I could probably easily use that at the vet. Now just need to get her to also lay on her other side!

  13. I had no idea about the compost and the decaying concerns! Thanks for sharing! I hope that Shyla is feeling better!

  14. Thanks so much for the info about compost...I had no idea either!

  15. Thanks for the good information about the food and I am so glad that Shyla is ok. The relax that you taught her is really great. I wish I could get Sasha to do that.

    Anne and Sasha

  16. Great post! I'm passing it on to our local Friends of the Shelter.

  17. I am very sorry that the compost warning for the rest of us came at the expense of a health scare for Shyla but I really appreciate the knowledge. I had no idea! Here in the city, we have to compost in an enclosed bin. I always thought that law was for smell/germs but maybe it is also for animal safety!

    One of my dog training teachers encouraged teaching a "relax" trick like this. She did say it was helpful for vets and groomers but she never mentioned the need for it to be on either side. Again, I am sorry about how you came to know this mattered but thank you for encouraging the rest of us to teach it. I need to get back to proofing it. Huxley especially will only lay on one side. He had a traumatic experience at the vet when he was younger (he had a wound on his belly and they had to pin him down to shave/examine it... I wish they'd have let me do more to prevent the aversive tactics and we have since left that vet!) that has made him very wary of laying on his side and he is choosey about which side. Thanks for joining the hop this month. I was just thinking today that it seems like forever since I have visited your blog! I lurked though your desert camping posts but now I need to catch up on your spring blizzard romps and loveliness. I am glad Shyla is a-okay!

  18. We had no idea about the dangers of compost. We're so happy that you're okay, Shyla!

  19. we fortunately removed our compost as I came (and loved this dirty place). the trick is fabulous, it's not only a trick it helps even at the vet... we will try it too :o)
    easy rider

  20. We too learned something new about compost dangers. Thanks for sharing.

    Another good training tip - just might have to work on this one given the number of vet visits we seem to have to make.

  21. Such a handy command to have at the vet for sure. And being able to get that relaxed in the forest is amazing to me - I have a hard enough time in our own backyard on occasion. Thank you so much for sharing that tip about compost being toxic - I had no idea. We have a composting "plant" (one guy that has 5 acres of compost) right down the street and I see our neighbors dogs going in there all the time...

  22. Thank you for sharing that info about compost, I did not know that.
    I didn't have much luck when trying to teach our dog Luke to roll over, but I'm thinking doing this relax command could be a good way to work up to that, and come in handy at other times as well!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

  23. A very useful trick. I use it for grooming sometimes. I took a first aid workshop and they told us that eating compost/mold is one of the top ten dangers for Northwestern dogs and it's pretty common here because most people compost.

  24. My aunt's Labradoodle nearly died from consuming what we suspect was compost. It seems there are so many dangers for our dogs! Living in an urban area, we are having to avoid the springtime pesticide/herbicide treated lawns.

    Ruby knows the "relax" trick, too, but I've never tried to teach it on the other side...a good idea!

  25. Howdy Mates. We too know of the dangers of compost as our cousin Tyler (the choc lab) ate some of his neighbour's compost (probably about 18 months ago) and became seriously ill within about 6 hours. He had body tremors, eye rolling and was put on a drip and was on valium for 48 hours to stop the shaking. It was scary indeed. He was a lucky boy to survive. He didn't learn his lesson though, because six months after that he ate rat poison (unbeknown to us and our daughter, it was left out at a friend's holiday house). He got through that too! The relax trick is a fabo idea. I, Rory, am fabo at the drop and when dropped lay on my side too. It has come in so handy at the Vets while I went through all my feet troubles. Take care mates. No worries, and slobbery love, Rory and Stella

  26. What a great trick! I did not know that about compost!
    Hope Shyla is all mended!

  27. That is a useful trick! I should have trained my dogs to sit still in certain positions so I can cut their nails!


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