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Preparing your dog for vet visits

23/08/2021 - Advice

Taking your canine companion for a vet visit can be stressful for both of you. So here are some top tips on preparing your dog for vet visits.

  1. Don’t wait until your pet is poorly - get plenty of preparation in beforehand
  2. Ask your vet practice to help you with some familiarisation exercises
  3. Work on tolerance to touch in the safety of your own home
  4. Train your pet to do useful tricks such as the chin rest
  5. If your furry friend is nervous of meeting strangers, ask a dog trainer for advice on socialisation
  6. When you do go to the vets, try not to rush the journey (unless it’s an emergency!) give yourself plenty of time so that you are nice and calm
  7. Has your dog had a bad experience at the vets? Talk to a canine behaviourist to avoid a repeat performance.

Preparing your dog for a veterinary examination

Start with the building…
Dogs and vets are a bit like people and dentists. Even though they may never have had a bad experience, some of them are really not comfortable in the surgery, the waiting room or even the car park.  As a pet parent, you won’t be able to explain to your dog in words that the veterinary team want to help them. Instead, you must help them to associate the veterinary clinic with really positive things.

Building a great relationship with the vet surgery starts BEFORE your pet needs treatment. Depending on your canine companion’s character and previous experiences, training could start with something as simple as taking them to the car park for a sniffari and lots of treats.
After a couple of car park visits, you could progress to the threshold of the waiting room. Just open the door a crack and let Fido smell all of those wonderful smells. You could reinforce the feel-good feeling with some really high value treats such as cooked chicken. The idea being that Fido’s brain will learn to associate the scent of the surgery with yummy stuff.

Then introduce the people
From the doorway, progress to the waiting room itself (ideally when there are no other pets in there) and from there, work on cuddles from the nurses and receptionists. Gradually, very gradually, you can progress to the treatment room itself.
Engage your veterinary team in the process. In my experience, they are always pleased to help. After all, it makes their lives easier if their patients are nice and calm. Many veterinary nurses will help you to devise a progressive programme for your pet and they’ll arrange a good time for you and your pet to visit the surgery and just chill out.
Finally - the touch
A simple veterinary examination involves touch. The vet, or the nurse, will look in your dog’s mouth, ears and under their tail. They will give the tummy a feel and perhaps run their hands over your pet’s neck to feel the lymph nodes. It’s all very gentle, but for a dog who is not happy with touch, it can be quite stressful….especially if they are in pain.
You can accustom your furry friend to being touched, by, guess what, touching them.  I always start this from when a pup is very young, however if you have adopted a dog, it’s never too late to start.
Be guided by your pet, it’s important that you avoid making them anxious. Tiny steps are what are needed, along with lots and lots of positive reinforcement. If your dog is loving the attention, that’s great, build on it.  For pets that are not so keen, reward them for the tiniest achievement. Letting you touch their paws - treat, treat, treat. Allowing you to stroke their tail, more treats - and high value ones at that.  Gradually, very gradually, by doing a little training every day, your pet’s trust and confidence will grow.
Trick training to prepare for the vet’s
I love trick training with my dogs. It’s not just fun though, it can be really helpful in unusual situations.
The chin rest for example is a really cute trick. Once your dog has learnt to do a chin rest, You - the pet parent - will be able to hold out your hand and your pet will lean his or her head on your hand for as long as you want him too. It’s a great way to encourage someone to stand still whilst being examined.
A more advanced version can be used in permission based training. Which is a particular passion for Ryan - one of the Nosey Barker team members.  Your pet can let you know when he wants you (or the vet staff) to stop what they’re doing.  Resting his head on your chin means “OK carry on” while picking his head up means “please stop”. What a brilliant way to communicate!
Want to discover more about permission based training? Get in touch today for an informal chat.
Meeting strangers
Some dogs are quite shy and the idea of being touched by someone they don’t know is really distressing for them. The polar opposite of this is the super-friendly, really bouncy dog who can’t sit still long enough to be examined. Although there’s no risk of being bitten, these guys can be a challenge to vet staff too…. Some impulse control training might be in order for the enthusiastic jumper-uppers. We can talk about that in another blog.
Again, fear of strangers is something that can be addressed by training, socialisation and great communication with your veterinary surgery.  Training and socialisation are not speedy solutions, for some dogs they can take weeks of gentle progressions. Which is why, talking to a dog trainer or a canine behaviourist at the earliest possible opportunity is really important.  If a dog feels threatened, fear can lead to biting and to long term trauma.  It’s best tackled before anything awful can happen.
Your pet’s personality will dictate how you introduce them to the idea of meeting strangers.  A good way to start is to have a few nice, relaxed people watching trips. Just sitting side by side in a non-threatening environment, while humans of all shapes and sizes go about their business. The local park would be a good starting place.  If anyone approaches, you must stand up for your pet and ask people to give him or her plenty of space.
If your pet is reactive to strangers, (barking, growling, lunging) you MUST talk to a dog trainer ASAP. It’s your responsibility as a pet parent to make sure that your dog doesn’t hurt anyone and keeping them on a short lead whenever you go out is not a practical long term tactic.
Recovering from a bad experience at the vet’s
Being in pain, scared and in a strange environment is of course, traumatic for your pet. And naturally, after a bad experience they may associate the vet surgery will awful stuff. When it’s time for their follow up appointment or for their vaccinations, they may be fearful and that can lead to unwanted (but understandable) behaviours.
Telling your pet off for barking or growling at the vet will only make their fearfulness worse. A human who is fearful of dentists can visit a counsellor for some therapy to help them cope with the next visit.  A dog, can visit the canine equivalent of a counsellor - the dog trainer.
Dog trainers can help in all sorts of situations where a much loved pet is having problems coping with the world. There is no judgement  - only gentle and reward based behaviour modification.
Please don’t let a bad experience spoil your pet’s reputation or your confidence in your veterinary team. Kim, Ryan and the team at Nosey Barker are here to help your pet recover from any traumatic experience and to start enjoying every aspect of their life once more.
Call us today for expert advice on preparing your fur baby for his or her next vet visit.
Do dogs have feelings?
You may find that your pet becomes more belligerent at the vet’s when they reach 6-8 months of age — read more about doggy adolescence here.