stress-free vet visits

The keys to calm behavior at the vet clinic includes early socialization and positive reinforcement training.

If you’re like a lot of people, you dread taking your dog to the vet. Not just because you might be concerned about his health, but because the whole ordeal stresses him out so much. The keys to calm behavior at the veterinary clinic are early socialization and positive reinforcement training. If dogs are properly trained with motivational rewards, it can help take the trauma out of “going to the doctor”. But if your dog is already anxious and nervous about veterinary visits, don’t worry – here are six ways you can help ease him.

1. Talk to the staff

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from your veterinarian and his/her staff, including veterinary technicians, assistants and receptionists. It’s in their own best interests to help you calm your dog, so ask them for their opinions and suggestions on training and handling philosophies, and what would be best for your individual canine. An open line of communication between you and the veterinary clinic is vital, so you can work together as a team to help your dog.

2. Get him used to the car

All dogs should go for car rides – not just to the veterinarian, but to other places where they can have fun and interact with other people and dogs. This will help your dog associate the car with positive experiences and will lay the foundation for stress-free trips to the vet. These trips should be frequent enough to teach him that a ride in the car doesn’t just mean going to the vet. Bringing your dog with you to new places also gives him the opportunity to become more socialized and behave appropriately around strangers.

3. Make some practice runs

With permission from the veterinary staff, take your dog to the clinic for practice runs, to visit with the staff and get some pats and treats. This will help him get acquainted with the office staff and the sights, sounds and smells of the clinic. He will experience a fun and friendly atmosphere rather than
an environment of poking and prodding. Practice runs will counter-condition him to respond to the veterinary office in a more favorable light. If done correctly, your dog’s reaction will change from
suspicion as you walk through the door, to one of eager anticipation. On these practice runs, gradually advance from the waiting room to the exam room, giving him more treats and praise. It takes time and real commitment, but the results will be very rewarding.

4. Teach him to accept handling 

You can train your dog to become accustomed to being handled and examined by occasionally touching and inspecting his ears, mouth and other body parts. Remember to use positive reinforcement such as praise or healthy treats. If your dog is familiar with having every part of his body handled, it will become more acceptable to him in the veterinary clinic. Teach friends and family to also gently handle your dog to reinforce that no one is trying to harm him. This familiarity also helps with regular grooming activities like bathing, tooth brushing and nail trimming. Watch your dog’s body language to make sure he is happy about being touched.

Another benefit of training your dog to be open to handling is that the veterinary staff may be able to successfully perform many diagnostic tests and therapies without the need for sedation or anesthesia.

5. Watch your own stress

Your dog’s behavior can often be affected by your attitude. Since dogs are so aware of our feelings, we can often control their emotions during a vet visit by controlling our own. Many people inadvertently cause a dog added stress by displaying their own anxieties.

The best thing you can do for your dog while at the vet is be calm, happy and relaxed. If spying a needle makes you woozy, he will pick up on your nervousness and his own trepidation will increase. Try not to reinforce anxious behavior by comforting or petting him. Instead, bring a favorite toy to distract him.

6. Be safe

Any dog, no matter how well-mannered, has the potential to bite, especially when feeling vulnerable, frightened or in pain. Used correctly, a properly designed muzzle is a useful safety tool during vet visits. Condition your dog to accept the muzzle prior to using it at the vet’s offi ce. Let him sniff it, then give him a treat. Repeat this numerous times to help him associate the muzzle with a reward, then progress to actually putting it on. The muzzle should be comfortable and properly fitted. It should not bind, rub, restrict breathing or obscure vision, and should only be used for a limited period.

Regular veterinary visits are a must for your dog’s health, but they don’t have to be fraught with stress and fear. Helping him feel calmer and more relaxed is not only good for him, but will also make life easier for you and your veterinarian.

Editor’s note: There are also a number of natural formulas and techniques to ease stress in dogs! If your dog is still nervous at the vet clinic, see if one of these solutions is right for you.