Is your pet stressed at the vet? Or do you have a young animal that you would like to see grow up enjoying their veterinary visits?
All of our pets will require veterinary care at some point in their lives and of course routine veterinary visits will always be a part of life. How your dog feels about those visits is up to you!
Happy Vet Visits!
Bring your pet to the vet just to hang out, get some yummy treats, and go home! How frequently you do this will depend on your dog’s current feelings about the vet. If you have a young puppy who has no negative feelings about the vet you will have an easier time keeping your pup’s feelings positive than those of us with dogs who already have negative associations with the vet.
However, with a bit of patience and the power of choice, even dogs with strong feelings about the vet can become more comfortable. My own dog was dubbed the most dramatic patient at his veterinary clinic for a while, but he has come a long way since then and has passed the moniker on.
Your happy visits may need to begin with just the parking lot in the beginning. Bring your pup and extra delicious treats with you to begin the process of counterconditioning and desensitization. Walk around the exterior of the clinic and shower your pup with treats and praise.
Do not force your dog to walk up to the door if he is reluctant. Go only where your dog says he is okay going. When your dog is confidently walking about the rest of the grounds then you can start working towards getting inside the building.
Say your dog puts on the breaks at 10 feet in front of the office door. You will need to hang out just beyond that and begin rewarding your dog for going closer and closer. Your dog may glance at the front door – reward him with a treat. Then he may take a step closer – reward! Continue to work this pattern of looking at and moving towards the door. It may take a few visits, but soon your pup should be able to walk up to the door. How long this takes is up to your dog!
Respect your dog’s feelings and if they say no do not push the issue. Work at your dog’s pace and do not try to rush it. It can be quite the process to change one’s negative feelings. Imagine someone who is terrified of snakes. Do you think you will change that person’s emotional state when around snakes by forcing snakes upon them? Nope, it definitely won’t work! It will be far more likely to make that person’s fear of snakes worse, so don’t do it to your dog either! Take your time.
If your dog requires veterinary care during this time of counterconditioning and desensitization do not delay your dog’s care, unless it is something can be put off. This is something you will want to speak to your veterinarian about.
Should it be something that cannot or should not be put off then proceed with it! Just remember that you are taking a rather large withdrawal out of your dog’s “bank account” and it will require quite a few more deposits to bring your dog back to where you were before the visit.
If possible work with your veterinarian to make the “withdrawal” as non stressful as possible. Maybe the exam can be performed outside? Or a house call? Perhaps just doing the exam on the floor rather than on the table or on your dog’s bed in the office?
You have done your homework outside and your dog is happy and relaxed outside the clinic – it is time to go inside! At first it might be a step inside, reward, and go back out. Gradually build on the duration of time you spend inside as your dog becomes more comfortable.
I only will work on this step of going inside if the lobby is quiet for the first few times. I will take a peek inside to scope it out and let the receptionist know what I am doing so she doesn’t wonder why I am walking in and out the front door several times and then leaving!
Once your dog is comfortable walking inside you can ask him to get on the scale. Reward even the smallest accomplishments if this is scary for your dog. If your dog is terrified of the scale work it just like we did that front door. Dog looks at the scale, you reward. Dog moves a millimeter towards the scale, reward. One foot on the scale, reward. The more you do this the more comfortable your dog will become. You can help this stage out at home too, by asking your dog to get up onto various, elevated surfaces.
Dogs who have a strong mat behavior may benefit from bringing their mat to the vet to put on the scale. The scale can be zeroed out after the mat is placed on it before the dog gets on.
Now your dog is relaxed in the lobby! Great job! This next step requires some cooperation with the veterinary office. It is a good idea to call ahead and ask if there is a quiet time for you to come in and work in an exam room.
When your dog is comfortable doing happy visits in the exam room you are ready to start some handling in the exam room. For this step you may need to pay a small fee for a technician’s time, but it will be worth every penny.
Say Yes to the Vet!
I know it is not always convenient to go do happy visits with your vet, but if you take the time to do it you will thank yourself later! It is something that I put on the backburner with Windsor when he was young. Unfortunately he was sick a few times and experienced more negative than positive vet associations early on in life.
He does not love the vet now, but I have spent a lot of time working on Cooperative Care at home and bring him by the office for happy visits when I can. He may not be the best or easiest patient, but he has come a long way! He has even managed to stand quietly for blood draws with no restraint, but more on that topic later!