It’s time for a trip to the vet, but where is the dog? He was right here a moment ago. You search all over the house for him, calling his name, but to no avail. You finally find him cowering under the bed or in some other hard to get to place.
How did he know he was being taken to the vet? It does seem as though dogs are psychic, especially when it comes to doing something they don’t want to do. So how do you make the seemingly horrible task of going to the vet, fun or at least bearable for your dog?
How to Keep Your Dog Calm at the Vet
Here are some tips that should help you and your dog have a much more enjoyable veterinarian visit.
* Form a good relationship with your dog. If you and your dog have a close bond, he will look to you for comfort and security. One of the first questions you need to ask yourself as you are preparing for the vet trip is, “am I nervous about the trip and sending signals to my dog.” Did he have a traumatizing experience before at the vet? He will remember the event and now be fearful of going back. You are also likely to be somewhat nervous because of the prior experience and your dog will pick up on that emotion. Your job is to control your own emotions and form that unshakable tight bond with your dog.
* Teach your dog the basic commands. If your dog already knows how to sit, stand and down, then he will be able to do it on his own without having to be put in the proper position. That will help your dog feel more in control and not like you are pushing him around. Teaching your dog to “shake” is also a good command for foot examination.
* Get your dog used to being handled. Use your play time to get your dog used to being rubbed and touched all over his body. If you find sensitive spots, visit them often, but very briefly until he isn’t so sensitive about them anymore. This is also a good quiet time activity when you can quietly and calmly stroke your dog all over. Pay special attention to his ears, both inside and out, his belly, around his tail, his legs, particularly his feet and toes, his muzzle, his gums and his teeth. This will give you intimate knowledge of your dog’s overall health status as well and be able to notice any differences before they become a problem.
When your dog is comfortable with you touching him all over, you can ask someone else to do the same thing. This gives your dog the opportunity to experience additional handling from someone else. Give plenty of praise during the event.
If you really want to get sophisticated, you can simulate bandages and dressings for those “just in case” events. If you have children, this is a good time to let them “dress up the dog.” Using doggy clothes, including hats and anything else you can find, will help desensitize the dog for any medical devices he may need to have.
After your dog is okay with being touched everywhere be sure you work with him on being picked up, held in one place and bending over him. Smaller dogs are probably already used to being carried around, but your German Shepard probably isn’t. Finding out he is terrified of being picked up at the vet’s office is not good. So, do your homework and get him used to that when you can do it in a playful manner. Also, some dominant dogs may take exception having someone over the top of them. They may see this as a dominance act and become aggressive. Again, make this a part of play so your dog does not become defensive. And third, work on holding different parts of his body down in a non-threatening way. This will get him ready for any x-rays, or other examinations that may be necessary.
* Take your dog to the vet before the first appointment. Bringing your dog in to meet the staff and to get a feel for the office before his first exam may help to relieve his anxiety the next time he goes. Set up the visit with the staff and give them some treats or a toy to give your dog when he comes. Providing your dog with a positive first experience will help your dog see his medical caregivers as friends rather than strangers to be feared. The more people he can meet and different encounters he can experience in a positive friendly way, the easier it will be for the both of you.
* Arrive a little early. Make sure you get to the vet early enough to give your dog a chance to sniff around outside and to do his business. Not being rushed is vital. If your dog senses your feelings of being rushed, he will think something is wrong and start to worry himself. By arriving early, you can emit a sense of calmness and enjoyment. Take him for a walk around the area if it is appropriate. Come in and let the staff give him a favorite cookie you slipped them. Mainly, keep everything light and calm.
* Keep him close while waiting. While in the waiting room, keep your dog close by, and try to distract him with a toy or treat. This may help to ease his anxiety. Don’t nervously pet your dog while you are waiting. He will pick up on that and it will raise his anxiety. This is often a good time to have him practice his basic commands. It gives both of you something to do and gets him in a thinking mode instead of a reaction mode. It will also get him primed for your appointment as your dog will be ready to do what is needed of him during the exam.
* Be mindful of other pets and people. Maintain a respectful distance from other pets in the office because you do not know how they might react to your dog. Similarly, if your dog is afraid, he may act out in a different way than usual. Most vets require the use of a leash on all dogs. Be sure yours is leash trained before his first vet visit. If he has aggressive tendencies towards other dogs, you might consider getting him used to wearing a soft muzzle for everyone’s safety (this is the subject of another article). If your dog is very small, you can bring him in a carrier. Do your homework before arriving so your dog feels like the carrier is a safe cave, not a transport device to doom.
* Distract him during the exam. It may help to give your dog a treat that takes several minutes to eat, so he is distracted while the vet performs the exam. You can also use his favorite itchy spot to take his mind off the examination.
* Remain calm yourself. Dogs are very sensitive to human emotions, so if you are frantic, he is more likely to be frantic as well. No matter what, the first priority in maintaining your dog’s calm demeanor is to remain calm yourself. Even if your dog is having a medical emergency, it is vital that you remain calm to help your dog the most. If you need to have a “moment”, do it away from your dog and come back when you are calm and in control again. Our canine companions look to us for cues to what is going on in their human controlled world, it is up to us to be the best leaders we can be for them.
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