Conditioning a Dog to be Good at the Veterinarian

Even the most docile of pooches can get disorderly when confronted with the stresses of a visit to the local vet. This can be difficult emotionally for both dog and owner. It is difficult to see your best friend stressed, especially at a time when they may not be well. If your pet is acting up, it can be hard for the Veterinarian and Technicians to diagnose and administer proper care for your pal. Don’t fret though, there are things that you can do to make this situation easier on both of you.

One of the first things you can do is to give your dog a good association with the animal hospital. Bring your dog by at times when they do not have an appointment just to get a treat (whether from you or the staff), and then leave. You can check ahead with the staff to see when the best/least busy times for a social visit would be (usually around lunch time). Most dogs only go to the Vet when they are getting something done to them. Bringing them by for a social visit will help your dog understand that they don’t always have to get shots, or nails trimmed when they go to the vet ,but instead get something good like treats and attention, and can ease some of the anxiety associated with visits.
When you do make a trip to the vet for a real visit, bring favorite treats or a favorite toy that you can use as a reward or distraction for your pal. Keep your voice pleasant instead of reprimanding, as a stern tone can add to stress.
You should be following proper guidelines for leadership as outlined in layer 5 of the pyramid. This is important because if leadership is questionable, your dog will be unlikely to look to you for guidance in times of stress, and far less likely to listen to commands. Commands that are helpful at the veterinary office besides the basics of sit, down and walking well on a leash, are “climb” and “easy”.

Climb is a command that is very useful at the Vet for weighing your dog, and for getting your dog on/keeping your dog on the exam table. Climb is a Foundation Training Phase 1 exercise and an instructional video can be found in the video section of the Self Help Website.

Easy is another command which is very helpful in this scenario. To teach the command Easy, you pair touching your dog with a treat. You start minimally invasive such as a quick pet on the back, and gradually get more invasive such as lifting a lip, paw, ear flap etc. By pairing handling with something that your dog desires, like a tasty treat, you are desensitizing to having their body handled and manipulated, and actually making it something that they may look forward to i.e. “I get yummy treats when they touch my feet”. When you are at the vet pair up the word “easy” before an uncomfortable area may be touched or looked at.

If your dog has been muzzled on past visits or you know that your dog has a tendency to be bite/nip under stress, then it is worth your while to teach your dog to wear a muzzle. This is hard for most owners because we hate the idea of putting a muzzle on our dog. Remember your dog doesn’t know of the stigma of a muzzle and will not be offended to wear it, if taught properly. The benefit of purchasing your own muzzle and teaching your dog to wear one is two-fold. Firstly, if your dog is stressed at the vet and they determine they need to muzzle your dog, it may be a battle to put one on your already Riled Rover, thus making an already stressful situation worse. Secondly, even if you manage to get the muzzle on, your dog may still make a negative association with it due to the circumstances in which he is now wearing it and it will also add to the stress of the situation. When done right, even a dog that has had past negative experience with a muzzle can be positively conditioned to wearing a muzzle. Now the presence of the muzzle will not create any anxiety for your dog, and will help the veterinary staff accomplish their job more calmly and effectively.

If you take the time to prepare yourself and your furry friend with the above steps, vet visits can be an easy and even an enjoyable experience.

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