Is your dog afraid of the vet’s office? Is every visit to the doctor filled with stress for your pup, which also becomes stressful for you? Imagine visiting the clinic without having to worry! Leave Steffi Trott alone Mental dog training explain how you can help a visit to the vet become an event without fear.
Fear of the vet – a common phenomenon
Recently I took my dog Fusion to the vet for some routine blood work. As I waited to be called into a room, I thought about the many dog parents who had written to me with questions about working with dogs who are afraid of the vet. Since it’s a topic that so many dog people experience, I had to discuss it, and I hope this advice helps those of you whose dogs are afraid of going to the doctor!
How to reduce fear at the vet
#1 – Counterconditioning
Counterconditioning/desensitization is the textbook approach to working with anxious and reactive dogs. If you’ve taken SpiritDog’s online reactivity course, you already know exactly what this approach entails!
In counterconditioning/desensitization we expose dogs to their stressor at low intensities and make these experiences enjoyable (usually by pairing them with food). For example, if a dog were afraid of people, we would let the dog watch people from a distance and give them treats to create new, positive associations.
This approach requires a fair number of sessions in which the intensity of the stressor is based on the dog’s response. The problem with using it for vet visits is that parents have to visit the vet regularly for a while. For the first 5-10 sessions, this may mean training alone in the parking lot. The next few sessions may require training at the entrance door, and so on. The intensity of the stress can only be increased incrementally during these training sessions.
Depending on the dog’s anxiety level, counterconditioning/desensitization may require a visit to the vet for several months. If it is possible to visit the vet as often for training purposes, then go for it as this could be the golden solution to help reduce vet anxiety.
#2 – Plan ahead and be proactive
Make every vet visit less stressful by planning ahead.
For many dogs, sitting in the general waiting area is quite uncomfortable. And soon they will associate sitting in the waiting room with nervousness and worry.
Add to that the fact that other pets in the waiting area may be whining, crying and nervous. Yet the stress grows as people come and go, phones ring and voices come from behind. The waiting room is really annoying for our dogs!
I highly recommend checking with your vet to see if it is okay to wait in your car and have them call you when it is your dog’s turn to enter a room. Then you can go directly from your car to the exam room without any stress in the waiting room.
I recently did this myself for my dog Shine. He had undergone stem cell treatment for a tendon tear in his foot and had to keep it quiet. When we went to the specialist for a check-up, I called ahead of time and told him I was afraid he would be too excited in the waiting area. They were extremely understanding. We were able to wait in our car in the parking lot and when it was our turn, they even let him come in through a back door so he wouldn’t move around too much.
Before your next vet visit:
- Call a day before your appointment and ask if you can wait in your car.
- On the day of the appointment, you report by telephone or by going in and then stay in the car with your dog.
- Have the office call you when it is time to go to the exam room.
This greatly reduces your dog’s stress!
#3 – Pre-medicate for highly stressed dogs
Some dogs are very anxious and vet visits are incredibly stressful for them. This can also happen over time if your dog has had significant medical problems in the past and associates the vet’s office with a lot of discomfort.
In these cases, I recommend talking to your vet about premedicating your dog before an appointment. It helps them become calmer when severe anxiety plays a role. While medication should never be the only approach to dealing with difficult behavior, it can be a tool in the toolbox that helps our dogs feel better.
Ask your vet if premedication might be an option for your dog if he is severely stressed during visits. It might just make exams easier for everyone!
Has your dog ever had trouble with vet visits? Try these tips and let us know how you like it. And for more great training information, check out Spirit Dog’s online training courses.