5 Tips on How to Make Vet Visits More Comfortable
Taking your dog to the veterinarian’s office can be a stressful time for all parties involved. Doing some basic training can help make vet visits more comfortable for your dog and easier for yourself and your vet staff.
Socialize Your Dog to the Environment
Socializing your dog in their environment is one easy way to set your dog up for success and avoid stress. Vet offices are often full of many odd smells, loud noises, and strange people. This new and rarely seen place can quickly become intimidating and push your dog way out of its comfort zone.
To start, you can take your dog to places like pet stores or pet-friendly shopping places to desensitize them to new environments in general. Pet stores are a great option as they are oftentimes full of some of the same noises and smells that vet offices have.
Pet stores also typically have slick floors, sliding doors, and loud dogs which can induce some level of stress in most pets, especially when you stack all of those stressors together. Frequenting places similar to the vet office, or if you’re able to, stopping in your vet office just to have a quick training session, can help foster a more calm visit later on.
Muzzle Train Your Dog
Many dogs are fearful of new situations or may even struggle with aggression or reactivity. Add in a stressful environment with strange people, dogs, and possibly some pain or discomfort, and your dog might become a bite risk. Dogs don’t understand the vet’s office in a way that people can comprehend a doctor’s office, so some dogs might be prone to fight or flight responses.
When a dog is fearful or anxious, its top priority is self-preservation. When there is no way for them to run from their stressor, they may believe their only way to alleviate that stress is to defend themselves. This puts many animals at the risk of biting in the vet’s office and is why a vet may ask you to muzzle your dog if they see obvious signs of stress or lashing out.
In the situation that your dog does need to be muzzled, you have an animal that is not only extremely stressed about its environment but also is dealing with the stress of a new piece of restrictive equipment on its face that it isn’t used to. This can create lasting trauma with a dog that can make other vet visits and new situations worse if not dealt with properly.
Muzzle training your dog is a great skill to have on hand, and despite the stigma around muzzles– it doesn’t mean your dog is aggressive or a bad dog. Muzzles can help keep your dog contained and your vet out of harm’s way if your dog happens to nip or bite at them.
There are many options to purchase muzzles and there are a handful of quality muzzles that are bite-proof, but still allow the dog to fully pant. Some are even designed to allow your dog to drink and accept treats, which makes for a very good training opportunity.
Make it Rewarding!
Making the vet’s office a place where your dog gets lots of yummy treats and some affection from you can help to teach your dog that the vet’s office can bring about a rewarding situation. If every time you went to the doctor’s office you just got weighed and given a shot, chances are you wouldn’t be thrilled to go.
But if you got an ice cream cone afterward, doctor’s visits might not be so bad after all! Your dog would be much more willing to deal with their stressors if they know they can count on a few good treats and head pats in exchange.
You can reward your dog for their good behavior and tolerance of being touched by the vet staff, cooperating for exams, and just being calm in general. Rewarding these behaviors when they happen is likely to make them happen again as your dog will remember how rewarding it was last time.
Advocate for Your Dog
Unfortunately at the vet’s office, you’re likely to run into other dog owners who might not be as polite or caring as you are. As a dog owner, it is your job to advocate for the comfort and well-being of your dog.
This includes creating space and moving yourself and your dog to a quiet corner in the waiting room if a rambunctious dog comes too close, asking other owners to keep their dogs away from yours to prevent unwanted interactions/fights, and knowing your dog’s threshold for stressful situations to prevent them from shutting down.
Speaking up and taking action to prevent your dog from becoming too stressed out or potentially being harmed by others’ lack of manners is key to keeping vet visits from becoming traumatic.
Desensitize Your Dog to Touch
Annual exams, vaccinations, and other happenings at the vet often involve being touched and having parts of their body manipulated for assessment. As there are some social dogs that don’t mind being moved and touched by a strange person, most dogs are uncomfortable with this.
You can practice with your dog at home by giving them treats as they allow you to move and examine their body. If it is safe to do so, you can also take it up a notch by having friends or family have their hands on the dog and pretend to be examining it. Make sure to reward your dog for their tolerance and make these training sessions low-stress, short, and fun!
Doing these 5 things can help to make vet visits a little less stressful for your dog, you, and the vet. Dogs of any age can show improvement and learn new associations, but if you have a puppy- be sure to start them out on the right training path from the beginning to set a solid foundation and prevent problem behaviors down the road.