Going to a veterinarian with your dog can be a pretty traumatizing experience. These tips can help make it less stressful for both you and your dog.
- Prepare your dog in advance. Practice handling your dog in ways he’ll be handled at the vet: look at his teeth/mouth, handle his paws, lean over him, pick him up, hold him, etc. Use treats to associate the handling with a positive feeling. Remember to incorporate sounds and smells as much as possible too: rubbing alcohol, disinfectants, bleach, bright lights, recordings of other dogs/animals making noises, machine beeps, etc. Using tools like brushes/combs, clippers and even wrapping him with gauze is also a great way to prepare him for things he may encounter at the vet. Always make your “playing doctor” sessions highly rewarding and keep it under his stress level.
- Take your dog in just to visit. This will help him get more familiar with the vet office and will give you some time to also pair it with more positive experiences to create a good association: treat him for being calm there and take him afterward for a good walk, or a ride to a nice hike, or something else he really enjoys. Give treats to the staff to give to him, too, while there.
- Make sure your vet is patient and has gentle handling skills. If your vet is too rushed or has a fast-paced way of going about things and you have a very timid dog, it might be best to find a vet that is better at moving more slowly and gently, if your vet can’t slow down. Always let your vet know what works best for handling your dog and work with her to ensure everyone is safe and comfortable.
- Remember to keep a loose leash. It is important for everyone’s safety that you ensure your dog is close to you and not in another patient’s space. At the same time, remember that too much tension on a leash can make your dog feel stressed or fearful, so it’s important to keep it loose and relaxed. Tension on a leash can mean more tension for your dog.
- While waiting, give your dog something constructive to do. Basic obedience such as sits and downs are great, but my favorite tool is to hand target. Teach your dog this skill in advance: have treats ready to give with your right hand and present your left palm (or even the back of your hand if your dog is very sensitive or timid). Once your dog touches your palm with his nose, say yes or good dog (or click if you use a clicker for training) and give him a treat. You can start moving your left palm more and more once he gains better skills, and add the cue “touch” right before you know he’ll target your palm to introduce the verbal cue. You can also bring items that may help him be calmer, like favorite toys or a blanket, or a stuffed Kong or similar toy that will take time and focus for him to enjoy instead of being stressed in the office.
- Acclimate your dog to a muzzle and crate. Especially if your dog is extremely fearful and possibly reactive, it may be best to acclimate him to a basket muzzle to wear to the vet. This will keep everyone safe and make you feel less nervous, if he is apt to snap or bite out of fear. You can also treat through a basket muzzle, and he can still pant and drink water if needed. Introduce the muzzle at home for brief periods: first just show it to him and reward him for any curiosity he shows, like smelling or looking at it. Start putting a treat in the end of the muzzle so he puts his face into it of his own accord to get the treat. By building on this gradually, he can get used to the muzzle at his own pace and not be stressed by wearing it. You should also seek help from a qualified professional to address fear/reactivity and possible aggressive behaviors. Likewise, crate training is important: even if your dog isn’t crated at home, chances are he could be at a vet, so get a crate that is large enough for him to turn around in and introduce it with lots of yummy treats and stuffed Kongs. Praise him for being calm in the crate and never use it as punishment, or force him in or out of it. The crate should always be a safe space, and associated with good things!
- Be calm and reward calm behavior. As your dog is being examined, praise him and treat him every so often as he is calm and able to tolerate handling. If he gets too nervous, consoling him in a soft voice is fine. Remember to be calm yourself, and take deep breaths. Distract him as you need so he can be examined calmly: have him look at you and have treats for the techs and doctors to use to make it a positive experience.
- Consider using other calming/relaxing tools. There are many options from which to choose: pheromones, calming collars, Thundershirts, calming caps, Composure treats, Rescue Remedy and other products may be of use to your dog. Experiment with them: every dog is different and different combinations may work better than others. These tools are easy to use and are becoming more widely available in pet stores.
Need help? Contact us for more information and to set up your training sessions today! Right now we’re offering $25 off Delightful Doggy Finishing School through 1/31/14 in honor of National Train Your Dog Month. We’ll be offering other discounts throughout the month so check back for more!
Owner, Delightful Doggies