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Visiting the Vet

The anxiety felt by dogs visiting the vet is probably not a lot different to humans visiting the doctor though at least a doctor knows which end a thermometer should go!  Watching a stressed dog trembling or yelping in the waiting room of a vet clinic can be heart breaking but there’s no real way to tell a dog that they are actually quite safe and that their visit is for their own good.

Imagine the visit from a dog’s perspective.  How wonderful it must be to be called to the car for a road trip.  The dog is probably already imagining itself running on the beach or frolicking with the other dogs down at the park.  Imagine its disappointment then when the lead goes on and they are walked to a door that is already covered in the smells of other animals that have walked the same dreaded path before it.

As the door opens the dog hears the noises of the other animals inside, none of which are happy, and it is coaxed in firmly with its feet sliding all over the slippery floor.  It’s pushed onto a set of scales to have its weight read out for everyone to hear and told to sit and wait until it is lifted onto a cold, slippery bench where every part of its body is poked and prodded.  A visit to the vet is an undignified assault on a dog’s senses.

But, as we know, annual check-ups by the vet are essential to maintaining a dog’s health and of course, sometimes emergency visits just can’t be avoided.

Training a dog whilst still a puppy to become comfortable at the vet clinic is by far the easiest way to ensure that it will accept and enjoy being examined but even an older dog will react better after some familiarisation techniques.  But, it’s important to remember not to stop the treats and socialisation once the dog displays calmer behaviour at the vets.  It’s important to keep up the practice as the dog will soon revert back to being stressed and frightened if months and years go by between visits.

CALM OWNER; CALM DOG
Dogs are exceptionally good at picking up on their owner’s emotions so if you are nervous, anxious or tense whilst at the vet clinic, the dog will be also.  Stay calm and happy when entering the door to the clinic and sitting in the waiting room but don’t become overly reassuring by lavishing the dog with attention as this may actually give it reason to be scared.  Although you might be thinking that your constant sweet talk, patting and hugs are helping the dog, in fact they are probably confirming to it that there is something to actually be scared of.  Just relax and act naturally and wait for the dog to show a little confidence before simply rewarding it with a treat.

It is especially important in the case of emergencies to stay calm when getting the dog to the vet and during the visit as well.  Should an emergency arise, such as a bite from a poisonous snake, the dog must remain calm and quiet to reduce the speed that the poison moves around the body.  If the people around the dog panic, the dog will recognise this and become panicky as well.

SOCIAL VISITS
Instead of visiting the vet clinic only for the rare check-up and in emergencies, drop in with the dog just to say hello to the staff.  They will spoil the dog with a few treats and make a fuss over it and the dog can happily leave having not been poked or prodded at all.  Choose a quieter time of the day to visit and check with the clinic first.  A good vet will appreciate the effort that an owner is going to in order to familiarise a dog with the clinic and in fact, it makes a much safer work environment for them and their staff.

As the dog becomes more confident, spend a little more time in the waiting room sitting quietly for a minute or two and perhaps even testing out the scales.  Reward the dog with treats every time it shows confidence or a spark of calmness but as soon as it starts to look a little stressed, leave the clinic and plan to come back in another week or so.  By the time the dog has to come in for a real visit, it will be used to the environment and nothing will be a surprise.

COME PREPARED
There’s not much that drives a dog more than food, especially when it’s their favourite.  Take treats with you to the vet and start rewarding the dog as soon as it gets to the door, when it’s inside and even during its examination.  Ask the vet and the nurses to reward the dog with treats as well and this might help it to see that visits to the vet are not that bad after all.

Transport a small dog in a crate, especially if it is one that it knows and has travelled in before so that it feels like it is safe from everything that is going on around it.  For large dogs, use a short lead to give better control and to keep the dog close.

If a dog is prone to growling or snapping, use a comfortable muzzle but make sure that it is comfortable with wearing it at home first.

PLAY DOCTOR

It’s actually very rare in a dog’s life that it is lifted off the floor and placed on a bench and in most cases, when this is done, there are strangers around and the procedure involves lots of prodding and poking.  It’s no wonder a dog finds it stressful.

To train a dog to become more used to this, mimic the same sort of procedures at home where it feels calm and safe.  Start by just lifting the dog up onto a bench or table, placing a towel or mat down first so that it isn’t slippery.  Reward the dog with a treat and a hug and then pop the dog back onto the floor to happily wander off.

Over a few weeks, repeat this process and extend the time spent on the table to several minutes and start introducing a bit of ‘vet role play’.  For example, check the dog’s ears, look into its eyes or lift each leg up and give the dog a treat after each ‘examination’.  Over time, include other things such as touching the area between the toes, gently pinching the skin on the back of the neck or lifting the lips to expose the teeth.   Even have the dog stand still for 30 seconds as it would if the vet was listening with a stethoscope and restrain the dog firmly as you would if it was getting an injection.

By continually rewarding the dog with treats and building up gradually over a period of a few weeks, the dog will become very used to being handled and sitting high off the ground.  Of course, not all dogs are small enough to be lifted and if this is the case, simply ‘play doctor’ on the floor.

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