It’s tough being a big guy in veterinary medicine. I’m not sure why so many dogs don’t like guys, but its going to be a big hurdle for me as my work continues with both small and large animals. Just today I met someone’s dachshund who did nothing but chase my ankles barking, growling, and snapping his teeth. Any attention or efforts to be friendly only seemed to increase his wrath, and ignoring him completely just encouraged him to be more brave (and not in an investigative way, more of a tactical strike way). Most dogs who dislike men aren’t so overtly aggressive, and just feel uneasy or fearful. One of the ways we try to make these dogs more at ease, in many situations, is to use Dog Appeasing Pheromone. I’ve often suggested that I wear a DAP collar myself so that I can exude a calming presence and change my smell profile, because once they see me and decide to become anxious, DAP won’t do much good.
I was thinking about methods for calming animals after reading this article about the “White Coat Effect” in greyhounds. Just like in humans, greyhounds and other dogs get anxiety and higher blood pressure in response to the stimulus of the veterinary clinic and veterinarians. Anything from the smell of latex, seeing white coats and scrubs, or a combination of several factors could be the stimulus. Not every dog reacts this way, but I imagine most do to varying degrees. Whenever we get a high strung dog, we would spray the counter or a towel with DAP, and hope it helps. One of our veterinarians swears by it for her own dogs (border collies mostly), and I think that it makes a difference.
There are a couple studies that support the use of DAP in creating a calmer environment in different situations, and really, anything helps. For my part, I just try to do the obvious things to make myself less scary: look smaller, don’t face the animal, slow movements, soft voice etc.. My newest thing has been observational learning, so for example, if I can talk to the owner or interact with their other, less fearful animal, before even approaching the nervous dog/cat, I’m hoping that they may not generalize me as just another man.
All I can really hope for is that if I work long term in a clinic someday, I can build a relationship with both the clients and their animals. It may be that there will just be some patients that will be better served by seeing a female veterinarian, and that’s okay, not everyone can be a perfect fit. Hopefully though, working with larger animals will be a better fit for me as a veterinarian, and I’ve got a few more years to decide on my approach to alleviate the fear associated with my white coat.