How to prepare your dog for his vet visit
With a little preparation, your pet will sail through a veterinary examination. Trainer Tony Cruse takes you through it.
The vet’s clinic plays an important role in your dog’s life and if your dog is happy to visit, then it is one less thing to worry about.
Dogs are not born with a love of people or environments, but they learn that if positive things occur, they don’t need to avoid a situation or be aggressive. This is why preparation is crucial.
Last time, we looked out how to make your dog's vet visits less stressful. This time, we are looking at how to prepare for the intrusive stuff.
The clinic can be a strange environment with different smells and experiences; one minute your dog is on the ground, the next he is suddenly high up on a table being prodded by a uniformed stranger. You can see why some dogs avoid the surgery doors and why some have to be muzzled as soon as they enter.
With the correct preparation you can get it right from day one, or try to help dogs already wary of the vet’s to overcome their fears.
Many veterinary practices now run ‘puppy parties’. These events are fun for your puppy but vets aren’t silly.
The puppy party is not necessarily just about socialisation, it’s also about getting the best possible association with the surgery environment (waiting room, surgery rooms, and recovery area), equipment, and staff as soon as possible. A puppy learns that good stuff happens at the surgery, so the next time the vet examines the dog he's not fearful or reactive.
A well-managed puppy party soon creates a positive association with the surgery environment. However, even if your dog has been to a puppy party, you will still need to visit the surgery frequently for those healthy and happy visits.
Providing positive associations is an easy but ongoing task.
The waiting game
The wait to go into the consulting room can be a long one, especially if the vet is running late.
You can help your dog to relax while sitting there, by calmly stroking him, paying particular attention to his ears. For many dogs, slow hand slides down the length of the ear can have an instant calming effect.
If your dog is able to eat, pull out a treat and perform a little training. Lure him into a sit or perhaps a down. You can play the ‘focus game’. Ignore him and start looking around the room while watching him out of the corner of your eye. When he looks you in the face, calmly say ‘Good boy’ and give him a treat. Repeat this. You are building focus and training your dog to check in with you — training as you wait!
If your dog is beginning to get a little restless, don’t wait until he is leaping around the room and barking with boredom. Let the receptionist know you are taking him outside for some fresh air. Let him have a ‘sniff break’, and if you know your dog is uncomfortable waiting around in the surgery, book in with the receptionist and let her know you’ll be waiting outside or in the car.
Explore and meet the staff
If there are no other animals around in the waiting room, allow your dog to sniff and explore all perimeters, keeping him on a lead. This can help him to feel more comfortable in the new environment.
When he meets the vet or nurse, give him a treat. He should then come to associate the professionals with feeling good.
Many vets have informed me that harmless equipment can spook even the most confident dog. When your dog meets the vet, let him investigate the chip scanner. The second he does, pop a treat into his mouth and talk gently to him. The same applies to the stethoscope. If he sees and scents the equipment and has a pleasurable experience (tasty chicken) when he does, it starts to predict good things and it’s more likely he will tolerate it when it is being used.
Home prep training exercise – The stand
Give your dog the best possible opportunity to feel good at the vet’s by practising these two simple, fun exercises at home. Your vet will thank you for it, and so will your dog.
Teach your dog to stand at the surgery; this makes it easier for the vet to check him over and get a temperature reading with the rectal thermometer.
- Have a small treat. A piece of low-fat cheese or chicken is ideal.
- Wait until your dog sits, then hold the treat and place it near his nose.
- Gently pull the treat forwards, luring your dog towards it. Imagine there is a piece of cotton attached to his nose.
- As he comes forward into a stand, ask him to ‘Stand’. You are putting a name to the action. Release the lure for him to eat the treat as a reward.
- Practise this in different positions, delaying the release of the food.
Home prep training exercise – Table lift
If a dog is suddenly lifted on to a table, the whole context of a situation changes; you look different and your dog is unsure where the floor is. You can prepare so that when he is on the vet table, he feels great. He’ll remember he’s been on the table before and that good things occurred.
- Have some treats ready, perhaps on the table. If your dog eats dry food, it’s a great way of feeding him his meal. The best way to lift your dog is to scoop. Wrap your arms around his limbs, keep your back straight, and gently lift him up. Scooping avoids pressing on his stomach, which is good. Practise this technique.
- As soon as he is released on to the table, start hand-feeding him his meal or a few treats.
- Within 30 seconds of feeding, gently lift him back off and place him on the floor again. Stop feeding now and ignore him. Wait for about 20 seconds and then repeat. Leave him on the table for slightly longer each time. If you do this regularly, he will enjoy being lifted and standing on the examination table because of the positive association you have created. If you want to progress this, you can add the stand exercise on the table and even a pretend examination, remembering to use the Kong (as explained in the next training exercise).
Training exercise – A closer examination
Many examinations and injections are carried out on an examination table. Training your dog to stand will help the vet inspect him and perform procedures like taking his temperature. During an examination he needs to remain still and relatively happy. An excellent way to achieve this is with the use of a stuffed Kong. Next time he is lifted on to the table, he will be anticipating a tasty Kong and perhaps not a thermometer!
- Smear a small amount of chicken paste inside a Kong, also smearing some around the top. Use a freezer bag to transport it to the surgery.
- Once your dog is on the surgery table and before he sits, place the back of your hand under his belly to keep him standing. With your other hand produce the pre-loaded Kong and hold it out at his nose level. Keep it still and allow him to lick the paste. You can change the position of where you hold it if he starts going into a down or a sit.
- Licking the Kong can also be a pleasant distraction, even from a vaccination.
- Work with the nurse or vet to establish when your dog needs to be in a stand. If he can sit or lie down remove the Kong and see what he does. He will likely lie down, allowing the examinations to continue.
- Another technique is to hold a piece of low-fat cheese near your dog’s nose and allow him to sniff and lick it as he’s being examined. When the examination is finished release the cheese and give it to your dog to eat. You can repeat this several times. It is a good idea to practise this at home before you need to use it for real.