Going to the Vet
By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
For the purposes of this article, the vet is used as an example, but these principles and tips can apply to helping your dog acclimate to any new situation, like doggy daycare, the groomer, or a boarding facility.
The vet is the first place you should take your new dog or puppy after you bring him home. It is completely normal for dogs to be reluctant or even a little fearful when faced with new places and new people. This is especially true regarding places like the groomer or vet, because of all the sensory input, and all the smells of various dogs and other animals. This fear is easy to counteract if you are understanding and don’t force your dog or take things too fast.
When you head to the vet, bring a treat pouch full of small, easy to chew treats that don’t upset your dog’s stomach. These treats should be especially tempting, and they should not be given to your dog at any other time. This will be your dog’s “scary experience” treats, which you will only use when going to the vet or groomer or in other comparable situations. Give some treats to the receptionist, the vet techs, your vet, and keep some for yourself. The key is, your dog doesn’t get a treat unless he is brave. If he is cowering, hiding, or refusing to interact with the staff, he does not get a treat. Also, do not use the treats to lure or coax your dog. He does receive a treat when he approaches the staff, sits quietly while he is touched, or is generally friendly and open. If your dog is fearful on subsequent visits, bring the treats back, but this time he doesn’t get any treats from you, only from the vet staff. You can also bring a favorite toy to distract your dog and make him feel more at home.
Another way to help your dog get comfortable with the vet is to make occasional visits when your dog is not actually being seen for a checkup or procedure. This way he won’t automatically associate the vet with being poked and prodded, getting vaccinations, or being sick. This is a common practice and your vet should have no problem accommodating you. Call ahead and find out when they won’t be too busy and you won’t be in the way, then just go hang out in the waiting room, let the receptionists and vet techs play with your dog and give him treats, and if the staff doesn’t mind, walk him around the halls.
When your dog is scared in these new situations, do not hold or coddle him. When you try to soothe and reassure your dog, it cues him to the fact that there is something to be worried about, furthering his concerns. On the other hand, if you act as if everything is normal, and nothing is wrong, you won’t validate his fear and he will see that there is nothing to be afraid of.
If your dog gets antsy, scared, or sick when you put him in the car to go to the vet, you need to desensitize him to the experience of riding in the car. This is a simple process, but it takes time. Read our Automobile Safety article for more information on helping your dog acclimate to car rides. Also, make sure your car rides with your dog do not all end in destinations like the vet or the groomer. Take him to the dog park in the car, and every once and a while, just take him for a ride around the block, so he doesn’t associate getting in the car with stressful situations. When your dog is in the car, he should always be in a safety harness or in a crate.
Going to the vet doesn’t have to be a huge production full of anxiety for your dog and stress for you. It can be a simple and pleasant experience, as long as you don’t reinforce your dog’s fearful behavior, and you understand how to put him at ease in the situation.