From my personal experience as a veterinarian, I can tell you that certain procedures are unavoidably stressful and painful for a dog.
However, routine veterinary health checks shouldn’t have to be! With some conditioning and training, you can help your dog learn to accept and even love visits to the veterinarian so that he doesn’t have to be terrified the moment you pull into the clinic parking lot.
Here’s what you can do to help your dog have a pleasant visit to the veterinarian every time:
1. Teach Your Dog to Go Inside and Stay Quietly in a Crate
Not only does a crate allow you to secure your dog while traveling, it also provides your dog a safe place – a home away from home – that he can comfortably rest in while he is in a strange environment. Many dogs will appreciate being able to lie undisturbed in their crates while waiting for their turn to be examined by the doctor.
Crates for small dogs can easily be carried around, while for big dogs, you might think about bringing a collapsible or soft crate that you can set up in a quiet space. Placing a blanket over the crate can also help prevent your dog from becoming overly aroused and agitated by certain stimuli, such as the sight of people and other animals that may be encountered in the waiting area.
2. Condition Your Dog to Accept Handling
If you have a puppy, you have a great opportunity to get him used to visiting the vet. Actively socializing and conditioning a puppy to accept a veterinary examination involves pairing every touch with a treat.
For example, if the vet needs to look inside the ear, simultaneously feed the puppy treats as the vet touches and handles each ear. In this way you show your puppy that the activity is a pleasant one that earns him yummy treats! Some of the parts of the puppy’s body that may be quite sensitive include parts of the face, the paws, the neck, the belly and the genitals. Spend lots of time at home and at the clinic conditioning your puppy to accept being touched on these areas by you and by the veterinary staff. For older dogs that may already have developed some negative feelings towards being touched, always begin conditioning exercises at the lowest duration and intensity that the dog can tolerate.
3. Help Your Dog Develop a Friendly Relationship With the Veterinary Staff
Most dogs will, during their lifetime, visit only one veterinary clinic, so it is vital that your dog gets to know and learns to trust the veterinary staff that will have to regularly handle him. Again, this is most easily done using treats. Bring plenty of treats on every visit to the clinic and ask the staff to give your dog treats for allowing them to approach and handle him. It’s a great idea to schedule visits to the clinic outside of when exams and procedures are actually necessary. Call ahead to your vet and ask when they can accommodate you and when it is safe for you and your dog to just hang out at the clinic for a bit and interact with the staff.
4. Train Your Dog to Do Useful Tricks or Behaviors
Many wild animals kept in zoos or sanctuaries are taught specific behaviors to facilitate health monitoring and veterinary treatment. In the same way, you can teach your dog some tricks or behaviors that may be useful during his examination. Behaviors that you can teach include getting up on the weighing scale, lying flat on his side, resting his chin on a pillow or a towel, offering his paw, and voluntarily opening his mouth.
I have to emphasize that conditioning and training require patience, lots of practice and repetitions at home and at the clinic. But the time you invest in this will certainly pay off in the long run and will help make future visits to the vet minimally stressful. However, if your dog is already demonstrating fearfulness or aggression when being handled, I recommend you seek the advice of a qualified trainer or veterinary behaviorist to help you with your dog.
Mary Rose J. Magpily, DVM, DipCBST is a canine behavior consultant and veterinarian in practice in Metro Manila, Philippines since 2007. In 2011 she opened her business Pet Centrics, which offers dog training, canine behavior consultations and veterinary services. Much of Dr. Magpily’s time is devoted to teaching dog owners that dogs can be trained without force or coercion. She firmly believes that training should be an enjoyable experience for both dogs and owners, and that to be able to have clear communication with your dog, it’s important for the human to understand how a dog thinks and learns. Aside from her work as a behavior consultant and veterinarian, Dr. Magpily regularly blogs on topics relating to pet care in the Philippines and abroad. For more information please visit www.petcentrics.ph