Anyone else out there have a dog who’s afraid of the vet’s office? My resident scaredy dog Daisy had a traumatic experience years back with a – ahem – rectal thermometer and has been terrified of going to see the vet ever since. What’s more, her fear has spread to Rosie, my little firecracker.
The moment we step in the door, Rosie starts crying and Daisy scans the room for a chair to hide under. Once we sit down, Rosie jumps in my lap (she’s a 40 pound dog, so this looks a bit ridiculous). Daisy makes a nest underneath me, shivering helplessly.
OK, so this sounds pretty bad. But I’ve actually learned a few tricks to make even the scariest of vet experiences just a little bit smoother.
Let them Potty Before Your Visit
Sometimes when dogs get nervous they have accidents, so make sure you let them go potty before your appointment. It’s also a good idea to bring some doggie bags just in case an accident occurs.
Teach Your Dog “On”
When your dog checks in for their yearly exam, chances are the first thing that the staff will ask you to do is get your dog onto the scale. You can make this super simple by teaching your dog the “on” command beforehand. To teach “on,” simply find an item for your dog to get on at home – this could be a platform, a couch, a carpet, etc. Lure your dog onto the surface using a treat and then reward them when they get on. Say “good on!” Most dogs can learn this command pretty quickly, and it makes getting them on the scale so much easier.
Treats make everything better – they really do. Bring the yummiest treats that your dog can imagine. While you’re in the waiting room you can ask your dog to “sit,” “watch,” and “shake,” along with other commands they know well. This does two important things – it redirects your dog to focus on the task instead of their fear and it creates a subtle association between yummy treats and the vet’s office.
Reduce Other Stress Factors
If your dog is fearful or aggressive near other dogs, make sure you sit far away from the other patients in the waiting room. If you have a shy dog, try to find a cozy place to sit and ask others to respect your boundaries (some people approach shy dogs without asking and cause undue stress). Nervous dogs may also prefer to sit in the safety of a travel crate if it is feasible for you.
Be an Advocate for Your Dog
You know your dog better than anyone else. If there is something that they are especially fearful of, or if they have had a bad experience at the vet in the past, tell the doctor about it. As I mentioned, Daisy is a scaredy dog. Once we get into the exam room, she bolts under the chairs and it’s sometimes impossible to lure her out. One time, the vet tried to coax her to come out and Daisy became even more stiff and stubborn. I know from experience that this kind of pressure just makes Daisy more scared, so I suggested that the vet leave the room. While she was gone, I was able to get Daisy to emerge from her chair fort. I picked her up and put her on top of the exam table. This was much easier than trying to pry 60 pounds of terrified dog out from under the chair.
Being an advocate for your dog also means coming prepared with any questions and concerns you have about your pet’s health. I like to make a list the night before of any and everything I can think of that I want to address with the doctor.
Do Something Fun Afterwards
After a vet visit, I like to take my dogs to the park to reward them for a job well done. Within minutes it seems they forget all of the scary, scary details of their vet trip. This is the perfect time to let them play with their favorite frisbee or toy.
Photo: A dog at the vet’s office, Austin Community College. Creative Commons license here.