Visits to the veterinarian are a part of everyday life and can be stressful for dogs and humans alike. Since we can’t talk our pups through everything that’s going to happen — although we may try — here are some tips and tricks to help make these visits more positive.
1. Help your dog get comfortable with “vet touch” at home (no shots of course). If you’ve had a puppy, you know all about getting them comfortable with human touch and handling — this process is similar. Add looking at their ears, teeth, eyes and paws to your handling regimen. If you find that your dog doesn’t like something, grab a treat and slowly desensitize them to the experience. We recommend starting the exposure of what happens during a vet check right away. It will help your dog understand that this type of touch happens and isn’t a big deal.
A good example of what some dogs struggle with is nail trimming or looking at paws. Since most owners are not comfortable with trimming their dog’s nails, this will sometimes get overlooked in the big picture of touch. You can help your vet or groomer to do it for you by practicing the motions that go into a nail trimming at home. That way, when you take your pup to get their nails trimmed, it isn’t a foreign or scary experience. Start with a treat in one hand and pet the top of their foot while giving them a treat. The goal isn’t to completely distract with a treat, but to reward them for staying calm and allowing you to touch their feet. Depending on your dog and how they react, work toward being able to pick up each foot, massage it, look in-between their toes, and touch each nail. Using treats throughout this type of training helps reinforce acceptance of all sorts of touch. If you’re not sure what a vet check-up consists of, ask your local vet.
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2. Understand why your dog might be scared, such as new people, new smells (chemicals, drugs, etc.), other dogs around, exam tables, things poking them, multiple people handling them at once, exam rooms . . . the list goes on. It’s hard for a dog to process this type of environment right away. By keeping things positive, you can work through their fears together. If you find your dog is scared about one thing in particular, ask your vet if you can come back and make training sessions around that issue. If you’re a new dog owner, keep in mind that if you start taking your dog to the vet young enough, they are less likely to think it’s scary.
3. Help keep them calm. If your dog gets overly anxious the second you walk into the vet, wait outside or in the car until they can put you directly into an exam room. Sometimes waiting in the lobby with the other dogs builds stress and anxiety.
4. Bring super high-value treats and give them to your pup generously. Even though most vets have cookies, sometimes they just don’t cut it when working to create a positive association. Give some of your high-value treats to the vet techs and the vet to give to your dog. When I was helping my puppy get used to the vet, I used Zuke’s Lil’ Links as the high-value treats that she only received at the vet’s office. Now, she runs in, greets everyone, and puts herself on the exam table.
5. Ask questions. By understanding the whole process of a vet check-up, you can practice more effectively at home. For example, if they did something that your dog didn’t particularly enjoy, you can take that information and work on it at home to make the experience more positive.
6. Take some trips to the vet for cookies, and cookies only. If you find yourself driving by the vet with your dog, stop in to say hi and get a treat. Or, if you have a dog that is fearful of the vet, make a point to stop in for a little training session for treats. Depending on how your dog does, this could be a simple in-and-out visit, or you could sit down for a couple minutes, get an up-to-date weight, and then take off.
By taking a more proactive approach to your dog’s vet visits, you can help reduce stress and make everyone’s experience more pleasant. Your dog and vet will thank you for it!