For many dogs, the vet's office is a scary place. There are new people to contend with, not to mention other frightened animals. They may have memories of being poked and prodded there. If that were not enough, they can also smell the fear of dogs who were there earlier. Despite the lovely people who work there, for some pups, a vet's office might feel like the most unwelcome place ever.
Unfortunately it cannot be avoided. Doggos need their check-ups. So here are seven suggestions that can make your next visit to the vet less stressful.
- Remain calm. When your dog is upset and barking, it is hard to stay cool and collected. However, your dog feeds off of your energy. If you are upset, your dog may take this as a sign that you are in danger, heightening the fear sensors even more. Take a few deep breaths and use a relaxed voice around your pup. Give happy dog rubs and say "good dog!" often. Your dog will notice how you act. As a coping strategy, its positive essence will let your dog know that you are not only safe but that you are happy to be there.
- Teach your dog commands. It's important that your dog knows how to sit and lie down on command. Reward these actions with treats if you like. If your dog can concentrate on something other than how scary the vet's office is, he may be willing to relax a bit more. A command of "Watch" or "Watch me" will directly take his attention away from other animals or people in the office as well. And the skill of sitting near you without lunging at anyone else will save you plenty of headaches. If your pup has a job to do - regardless of how simple it is - and if he is positively rewarded for doing this job, he can lessen the amount of stress he experiences.
- Bring treats. Never underestimate the power of food with a dog. Treats can be used as rewards for obeying your commands or as regular distractions. Providing a steady stream of treats will have your dog look at you regularly and away from what is causing fear. Consider getting a treat bag, or some type of container that is easily accessible while hanging onto your pup. Other treats can include using cheese-whiz or peanut butter in a kong or some type of stuff-able dog toy. Your dog will be focused on licking it clean. It's definitely messier this way but it can distract the dog for several more minutes than a piece of kibble. Don't want it to be so messy? Try Doggie Chicken Chips or Jiminy's Cricket Dog Treats as these are high value reward and will capture the dog's attention better.
- Practice visiting beforehand. Practice visits can be wonderful. They require some planning but if you have the time, take your dog to the vet and let him interact with the people who work there. Arrange it beforehand so that the staff is prepared and you don't catch them at a bad time. (I once decided a good time to visit was at exact the same time they were decontaminating the office from a recent Kennel Cough patient. Yikes! Lesson learned.) Most staff members will be happy to help out with this. They want your dog to see them as friendly acquaintances rather than as adversarial strangers. You may even find an awesome tech who takes your pup around the office on a goodwill tour. No poking, no prodding. Just nice people and treats. How bad can this place be? This might be enough to generate a few wags of the tail.
- Be prepared. In addition to your treats, you may want to use a harness to restrain your dog. This gives you more straps to hang onto while preventing neck or throat injuries to your abnormally hyped up dog. If you regularly walk with one, definitely have your dog wear it to the vet. Once in the examination room the vet might ask you to remove it, but chances are it will be fine staying on. You may also want to consider getting a soft muzzle for your dog. This is humane and allows your dog to pant, but it stops barking and any snapping. The vet's office should have one but if it becomes a non-negotiable item, you want to ensure that there is always one available.
- Get your pup too pooped to care. A tired dog is a good dog. If you have time before your visit, take your dog for a long walk or play a round of fetch. Get some of that excess energy burned off in a positive way. Be sure to use positive reinforcement during the activity to keep the dog calm. Think of it as a workout rather than a game where he can get wound up.
- Give your dog a calming drug If none of these other methods seem to work, your vet might be able to offer some type of tranquilizer. This won't knock him out but it should ease the intensity of his fear. These drugs can be strong, so you will want to limit the amount as well as the frequency.
Some dogs will never get over their fear of the vet. You are not alone. But maintenance of your dog's health is important. Therefore both you and your dog will have to get used to these visits. With consistent and patient application, these strategies can have a mitigating effect on your dog's fear.