By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA, SBA
Does your dog dread going to the vet? Do you?
We are here to help! There are several things we can do to make vet visits more pleasant.
1. Take your dog for happy visits to the vet.
This is when you take your dog to the vet without their being an exam, vaccines, etc. involved. You’ll go into the lobby, give them some treats and leave! If the techs aren’t busy, ask if they have a moment to give your dog a treat as well (if your dog is not fearful of new people). Your dog can learn that this is a fun place to be!
2. Practice handling at home.
Practice handling your dog in the calm of your own home. Handling is extremely important. Not only to desensitize your dog to the process, but also to establish a baseline for what your dog feels like when they are healthy. If you are handling your dog each day, you will notice if something feels wrong (bump, scrape, sore, hot spot, etc.) early and be able to get them into the vet.
When practicing handling, make sure to go at your dog’s pace and pair with those amazing treats. Do not force your dog or restrain them. We want handling to be a good thing! If your pup pulls away, do a little less. For example, if I hold my dog’s paw and she pulls away, next time I will touch her paw briefly and then give her a treat. Keep your sessions short (less than five minutes) and end while they are still enjoying it!
3. Get a children’s doctor kit to practice at home.
If the only time your dog sees a stethoscope, syringe, nail clippers or penlight is when they are at the vet, these tools can be very scary. Either buy versions of each on Amazon (you can find them all for very cheap) or get a children’s doctor kit. Let your dog investigate each item on the floor first. Then pick each one up and pair with a treat.
Again, use slow approximations when introducing new items. We wouldn’t go from syringe on the floor to immediately mimicking a shot! We would move it closer, pair with treat, move it away. We’d do that process as we got closer and closer. Then we would gently pinch up the skin and release. Once we have our dog used to all the components separately, only then would we pinch the skin and bring the syringe to it (to mime giving a shot).
4. Pair all experiences with amazing treats.
If you haven’t noticed from the ideas above, we want to pair all experiences with a treat to make them more pleasant. Please note: if your dog will not take a treat at any point, they are too stressed by what is happening. Stop immediately and give them a break.
When you are at the vet for your visit, pair what the vet and the techs are doing with treats. For example, when Wolfie gets her needles put in for acupuncture, I give her cheese the whole time. When the needles are in and done, then the cheese stops. This makes the experience much better for her.
5. Ask that you stay with your dog whenever possible.
If your dog gets taken to the back for their shots, you cannot control the experience they are having. You can’t pair treats with getting a shot, or speak up for your dog if they are stressed and need a break. When you stay with your dog, you can guide their experience and make sure it is as positive as possible.
6. Speak up for your dog.
As I mentioned above, speak up for your dog! If you see they are stressed, ask the techs/vet to stop for a moment. If you think there is a better way to get your dog to step on the scale, make sure to mention it! If you think your dog is overwhelmed, ask to take them outside for a moment. You are the only one who can speak up for your pup!
7. Work on cooperative care behaviors.
Cooperative care means training dogs to be compliant in their care (and give consent to exams, shots, etc.). There are several behaviors you can train, such as:
a) give paw
b) chin rest (on hand, leg or chair)
d) target a brush