Vet Visit Success Strategies

For some dogs, vet visits mean stress.

Stress for themselves, for their owners, and sometimes even for the clinic staff. Here are simple ways you can take a stressed-out pup to the vet, making it easier and less painful for everyone involved.

Start at Home

If you never put your dog in his carrier or latch him into his car harness, those can be scary experiences. Rather than only do those things for vet visits, do them regularly for practice—with lots of treats—and for the occasional fun outing. Also, if your dog is uncomfortable being handled, start with low-stress practice at home. For example, for a dog with foot sensitivity, practice touching his foot with one finger for one second, then praise and treat. Build up incrementally until you are able to touch his foot with confidence. If your dog is ear sensitive or tail sensitive, do the same thing but with his ears or tail instead of his foot.

Further, consider taking your dog to the vet occasionally without an appointment. Load him in the car, drive him over, head into the lobby, pop a few tasty treats in his mouth, then head home. No, it’s not practical for everyone to do, but any low-stress, high-reward practice can only help your dog feel better about the office on the day of his real appointment.

Work with the Front Desk

For dogs who are already anxious at the vet, the lobby can be a hot zone. Weird smells and sounds, strange people, and other stressed-out dogs—it’s a recipe for stress. When you schedule your dog’s appointment, explain to the receptionist that your dog experiences stress, and request a quiet time of day. Some offices might even have a separate entrance for anxious dogs, especially those prone to reactivity, and they may be able to rush you right into an empty exam room to wait rather than the lobby.

Come Armed with Comforts

Bring treats or toys, whatever will motivate and distract your dog. For a stressful place like the vet, even the calmest dog might be too keyed up to take his regular treats. This is the time to bring out the big guns: meat and cheese are two top recommendations. If your dog is anxious, the rewards should flow freely, especially for any calm or still behavior. Bring a mat or towel that your dog is already accustomed to, and aim for the corner or edge of the lobby. Set the blanket in a protected space, and allow your dog to settle comfortably, then reward like crazy.

Discuss Strategies with Your Vet

Work with your vet to devise low-stress handling procedures for your dog’s exam. If your dog will tolerate his exam if you hold him rather than the tech, discuss this with the doctor before the tech tries to pick up your pet. Conversely, some dogs react with more stress in front of their owner; if your vet recommends that the dog receive his shots or physical exam without you present, and you already have a trusting relationship with your vet, give it a whirl. Your dog might feel calmer if he doesn’t see the stress on your face.

It is possible for a stressed-out pup to learn to feel calm at the vet. With time, patience, and lots of rewards, you and your clinic staff can come up with the best possible plan for your pup.

Meet the Author: Maggie Marton

Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.

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