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Infinite Pawsibilities

  • Writer's pictureCharles Pennefather

Training your dog for vet visits

Dogs are difficult at the vet’s. It’s not hard to see why when you look at it from the dog’s perspective: they are taken to a cold, sterile place where they invariably get poked. And they are usually taken there when they don’t feel well. You can help your dog behave better at the vet’s in the same way that you can train your dog to do anything else, that is, with an investment of time, effort, and empathy. Here are 5 things you can do to make the vet visit easier.

1.  Take them for rides – but not to the vet. If the only car ride your dog experiences is to the vet, it is going to assume the worst as soon as you mention the car. Make rides an enjoyable experience. Go to the beach, have an ice cream, and let your dog hang its head out the window while you drive along, and then return home without ever going to the vet. Once you establish that the ride itself is fun and doesn’t necessarily involve the vet, you’ve taken a big step towards a relaxed dog at the vet.

2. Take them to the vet – but not for treatment! This sounds a little crazy; who has ever gone to a doctor for fun?! However, if you explain to your vet what you’re trying to do, I assure you that your vet will be enthusiastic about it. It isn’t often that they get to simply have fun with their patients and develop a bond. This learning will help lower everyone’s stress a lot, especially the dog’s. And your vet won’t have to keep watching out for a dog that snaps out of fear.

3. Train your dog to be examined. This is something you should start at home, when your dog is tired or sleepy. Pretend like you’re a doctor and examine your dog’s ears, eyes, paws, tail, belly… everything. Touch all the parts of the dog, look between the toes and paw pads. Your dog will be uncomfortable with you touching some areas, and you should not push the boundaries. Instead, return to the places the dog likes like the head or the back of the neck, and praise it for letting you examine it. Once your dog is comfortable with you, get someone else to do it, then practice this in different areas outside the house. The goal is to have the dog get used to a stranger examining it in an unfamiliar area without reacting. At the very least you can let your vet know what touches your dog is uncomfortable with, rather than the doctor finding out the hard way.

4. Muzzle train your dog. A lot of people think muzzling a dog is cruel, but sometimes it can be necessary. To avoid undue stress on the dog, you should muzzle train it as soon as you can, and associate the muzzle with positive things rather than a visit to the vet. The dog might still not be comfortable at the vet, but at least you will have reduced the discomfort of the muzzle, not to mention avoiding the wrestling match that invariably occurs to put the muzzle on a dog that isn’t used to it!

5. Praise your dog for wanted behaviour. This is actually a general rule, but we tend to forget this the most during stressful situations. Your dog needs your reassurance the most when it is scared, so don’t shout at it for being scared. Don’t go to the opposite end and coddle them, either; simply be empathetic and praise them for offering the behaviours you want.

The list of things you can do to make your dog's vet visits better is very simple, but to reiterate: it requires time, effort, and patience. Invest in this, however, and your most difficult times with your dog will be infinitely better.

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