You are not alone when your dog does not like the vet. It can be their age, puppies are fearful at various stages, their background, or just do not like being probed. Let’s face it do we love the doctor?
Some of the issue is that most vet offices feel like, well, offices! They are harsh, have wonky smells and generally are not overly inviting to our pets in that way. Even though most vets go out of their way to be friendly it sometimes cannot compensate for the fact that they are in a very different place than home.
Here are some general tips that might help you from our experiences. There are probably many more but we summed it up to the following five:
Socialization – when people say “socialize your pet” they mean from when they are a puppy onward. Sometimes we get rescues dogs who are not that social so what does this mean? Properly exposing your pet to other people and animals is what we mean. Maybe from a distance at first, a safe park that they won’t have people or pets in their face so to speak. Just to help them get less and less stimulated by new environments. Do not force a fearful pet into a cramped store or play group until you know they will enjoy it. Little steps here go a long way! And never scold them for growling – instead give them happy talk. “Good boy” whenever they see a human even if they growl. This will associate goodness with people or pets, not scolding and terror. Eventually with patience they punch through and know it is happy times when strangers come along.
Happy Visits – just like socializing your pet in general how about asking the vet if you can just come by for treats and happy time? It is often encouraged because vets like to see your pets when they are not sick or needing shots too. They are animal lovers and probably more than willing to accommodate you to help visits be fruitful. Just tell them you will come by every week at a certain and then they can expect you and the vet you use will be in that day.
Introducing Dogs to Staff – what typically happens is the vet tech or assistance comes to the waiting room with a folder or something and walks right up to your dog head on. If your dog is fearful ask that they take a step back and put the stuff down they are holding. Then you stand up slowly and keep talking positive with the vet tech/staff member. Eventually ask them to come stand right next to you shoulder to shoulder without looking at your dog. Let your dog sniff them with no hands out, no movement. Eventually you are demonstrating to the dog this person is in my pack even though you do not know him or her. Just stand there, talking, and even touch the staff member so your dog is able to see – “Hey, she is alright with me so she will be alright with you!” Then let the staff member lead you to the room and you walk in front of your dog with confidence. Do not let him lead as he is then protecting you, and he needs the confidence to know you are the lead and will help him.
Introducing the Dog to the Vet – typically the rooms are small with a big scale/table in the middle, chairs along the wall and a sink or something. Not much room if your dog is even medium sized. Instead of sitting when the vet comes in stand up. Show your dog you got this! Then have the vet do exactly the same thing – stand next to you parallel shoulder to shoulder while attempting to give your dog treats by tossing some on the floor near him. He might approach he might not – let him decide if he wants the vet to give him treats directly. Let him walk around the room checking things out loose leash style. If your vet is accommodating ask him to eventually take the leash and the two of you walk around the back areas of the office. Not where other dogs are, but somewhere isolated like up and down a hall, you don’t need much room. Get the dog to realize you picked this person to help both of you, and you trust him. Give him treats too, and then just leave. Happy visit! Or stick around for the shots or blood draws or whatever.
The Checkup – if your dog is needing a shot, blood drawn or something along those lines consider a sedative to help him out, but not one that makes him more stressed out because he feels weird. If you think the happy visits were enough then do not use medication. But if he cannot sit still and runs the risk of fear biting, then definitely try some medication. Worst case scenario a muzzle might be needed just for the shot or blood draw, then removed. Never put it on for the first time in the Vet office. That is a horrible association. Instead put some peanut butter on the muzzle and treat him really well at home when he is willing to put it on and keep it on; we recommend a basket muzzle not a nylon. Then when you need to muzzle he feels it is not a penalty. If your dog does not do well try again quickly like the next day. It may be worth the rescheduled to the next day so he sees right away he can’t get away with it, but you are willing to work with him and not continue to reinforce the fears he has.
Overall this is about reading your own dog. Some are mildly nervous like we all would be, but some are very nervous and show it in different ways. Play bow and barking is one way. Yawning in succession and licking lips too shows stress. And some will snap and seem to look like they will bite but are warning. For those that seem to bite no matter what ask the vet the minimal you can do to maintain his health, with the least frequency, to avoid causing such stress multiple times a year.
While not as highly recommended you may need to use a vet at home. Some are amazing, some are not, be sure to get references and referrals if you can. Because they are not brick and mortar some feel they can do a less quality job and make more money without the overhead – watch out for those.
If you have more questions on getting your dog to be calm at the vet please write firstname.lastname@example.org and we will help you in any way we can find success! Also let us know if this post was helpful at all.