Vets visits are an essential part of your dog’s life. Unfortunately many dogs find this very traumatic and fear gets worse when bad experiences keep repeating, many dogs try avoidance first, hiding behind you or the furniture, when they realise this is not going to work, it can escalate the reaction, including growling, snarling or even biting, so try and help them have pleasant memories of the vet. Check your own anxiety, if you are anxious, your dog will feel it. Lavender can calm both your dog and you. If your dog is anxious, do not pet them, this will only reinforce the negative behaviour, as they feel you are rewarding them for being nervous.
Happy Vets Visits
When you get a puppy, try and incorporate a visit to the vets with their weekly routine. Pop in, have them petted, weigh them and leave (everyone loves to pet a puppy), they usually have a few visits booked in during the first few months of their life, so it is very important that these are not mainly negative. You can do this with an adult dog too, but it will need breaking down. If they are very frightened of the vets, the first goal is to get them through the door and to relax. Do not
introduce them to anyone or try and weigh them, just walk in and sit down. Offer them a treat, if they do not take it, do not worry. Five minutes later, leave and go for a fun trip to the park. The only goal is to get in the door happily and leave. There are homeopathic remedies to try and help relieve anxiety,such as the Bach Rescue Remedy Pet, it is a combination of 5 Bach Flower Remedies to help your pet deal with stressful situations such as going to the vet, the groomer, thunderstorms and during fireworks. There are also anti-anxiety medications available if they are extremely scared, and these can help the happy vet visit become a reality much quicker. A couple of hours before the happy visit, take the medication, them when you arrive, their anxiety is much less, triggering the happy memory easier.
Pop into the vets weekly, just sitting, offering a treat and leaving, there is no rush, this can take months or even years, but keep at your dog’s pace, let them tell you when they are ready to move on. Once they are calm and not finding this too stressful, ask the receptionist to give them a treat and talk to them, if they seem happy with this get them to stand on the scales and weigh them. Remember, one bad experience needs many good to outweigh it. We are now trying to get them to realise that lots of things happen at the vets, and most of them are not at all frightening.
Introduction to tools
It is now time to try and introduce them to some of the typical vets equipment in a safe place. A stethoscope, thermometer and otoscope can be bought very cheaply on the internet, they do not even have to work, just look the part. Anything else you can think of that adds to the feel, leave them around the house while feeding and let your dog see them, again, they may initially show fear and this may be a slow process depending on how deep routed the fear is. Once the fear has started to subside, pick them up and carry them with you on a walk or training trip. Once they have stopped being associated with fear, then it is time to stroke them on your dog, ensuring it is provoking no fear, then give a treat, if it does provoke fear, stop immediately and drop back a step.
Once you have got that you can hold the equipment near your dog without provoking any fear reaction, you can gently begin to place on the dog as the vet would (just stroke the tail and hold the thermometer, you do not wish to provide any more fear, do not use it!) Once you can lift the ears and carefully place the otoscope near the ear (not in it) and the thermometer near the tail, now is the time to introduce another person that your dog already feels comfortable with. Get them to bring your dog to you, as though you are the vet, and you gently role-play. Once you are happy with this, swap roles, you take your dog to them as you would a vet and the other person plays the vet. Again this can take weeks to evolve, do not rush it or it will bring back the fear you have so carefully removed.
Introducing the examination room
This will require you asking the vets for their permission, most will happily give this to prevent any
stress and bites. As with the waiting room, initially walk into the examination room with the door open, give a treat and walk out. Just do this once per visit, then go for a nice walk or training session. Once they are comfortable doing this, walk into the examination room, close the door, ask for your dog to perform a trick (even something simple like sit, just to take their thoughts away from the fear), give them a treat and leave. Then you need to have the vet waiting in the examination room, just to give them a treat, and then you leave. Each of these occasions, nothing bad is happening, and the fear response will lessen. Again, do not rush this progress, if fear is too great, drop back a step. Once the fear has dropped, you can plan in a health check. If the fear escalates again, just leave. Even once you have removed the fear, ensure that once a month you pop in, just to sit in the waiting room and reward them, just to ensure the fear does not creep back in when they begin visiting the vets.
When the big day comes
Have a list of your dogs symptoms and questions so you are not in there any longer than necessary
A bag of your dogs favourite treats
Lavender in the car, on your hands, in your bag, on the collar…everywhere
Ask the vet to slow down and explain if necessary