Vet visits don’t have to be a worry for you or your beloved dog. One minute they can be happy, next minute, they can be a timid little misery-bundle. Worse still owners tell me their dog ‘shows them up’ at the vet by trying to bite, or the dog barks for the entire visit.
How your dog sees the Vet
What happens when they get to the Vet surgery? There is the smell of various animals your dog might like to chase, plus any accompanying fear that goes along with poorly animals. There is noise, they have to be handled by people they do not know very well, and to top it all, your dog may be ill or in pain.
Aggressive behaviour at the Vet
It is natural for a dog that is feeling fearful to show aggression. Don’t be horrified if they do. Don’t ignore it, either. Be open and honest with the Vet and nurses that your dog is feeling under pressure. Ask them to take a little time, perhaps examine your dog in a more open space outside if they can. If it is suggested that your dog wears a muzzle, this is not a criticism. It is simply to prevent injury.
What if dog has a problem being handled?
What do you do as an owner or what can the vet do? Firstly, go back to basics. Teach your dog to enjoy being touched and handled all over their body, using a tasty titbit. Start at home, with the person the dog likes the most. Place the dog on a non-slippy surface on a table (a bathmat works well). Give the dog plenty of happy fuss and treats. Your aim is to de-sensitise the dog to the whole process.
Gradually take your time to become a little more ‘invasive’ with your handling, as long as the dog is calm and happy. Mimic things that a Vet may need to do. Get other people to do the same process, beginning at the first stages above. If the dog appears stressed or worried, and especially if they refuse to eat, you have taken things too far, too soon. Go back a few stages until your dog relaxes, perhaps after a couple of days break.
Your next stage is to begin social visits to the vet surgery. Call your Vet and ask if you can begin to do this at quiet times. Remember that a relaxed happy dog is easier to examine and treat, so this will help the Vet and nurses, too.
Never underestimate the time you will need to accustom your dog to this process. You really do need to take plenty of time and be very gradual in your progression.
Visiting the Vet
Once you reach the actual Vet visit, your dog should be reasonably comfortable with being handled. They will be familiar with the place, the sounds and smells. Even then, take plenty of nice food with you and ask the Vet nurses or receptionist to toss some treats to your dog.
If possible they should avoid bending over the dog, as your dog may easily feel threatened. Imagine if you went to a party and someone you didn’t know yelled ‘Hello!’, then threw their arms around you or worse still then tried to stuff a canape in your mouth…? Do not allow patting or over-handling if your dog is showing signs of stress such as licking or moving away.
Try and chat with the staff a little at first so your dog can hear your normal happy tone of voice. The Vet can also greet the dog by throwing a few treats down to the dog!
When you book the visit, ask the receptionist for a quiet time of their day. Set the appointment for early morning or early afternoon – at the start of a clinic in case they run late for example.
Other tips on Vet visits to help your dog
You could leave your dog in your car with someone, until you are ready if the surgery is busy. This way you can go straight in if you KNOW your dog is going to be stressed or go manic at all the other animals in the waiting room (cats and rabbits don’t want to be barked at either!)
Stay with the dog if you can – but if the vet asks you to leave, ask why if you like, but be prepared to leave rapidly if it is an emergency. It might be that they just need the space to help your dog properly.
Lastly, do not feel bad if your dog behaves badly. Note it down to experience and practice more next time. Dogs can and do enjoy Vet visits, so make this a regular part of their training.
– Karen Wild