A few weeks ago, my happy go lucky Labrador Retriever was outside relieving himself before we tucked ourselves in for the night. I’m not sure what happened exactly but when he walked in the house, he left a trail of blood through my kitchen. After about 20 minutes of applying a compress and trying to keep the overactive lab in one spot, we made the decision to take him to the vet.
Unfortunately, Petey, my lab, had other plans and when he walked into the emergency veterinary’s office, he was less than overjoyed to be there. He growled, jumped, circled on his leash and tried with all his might to scurry out of the slowly closing door. There was no way that he was going to allow the “dreaded vet” near his injured paw or even near himself for that matter.
What felt like an eternity later, we finally managed to wrestle the panicking dog onto the exam table and the vet was able to patch up his injured paw. It was hard on everyone and I wasn’t surprised to see a relieved smile cross the vet’s face as we were headed for the door.
Over the years, I have been dreadfully embarrassed by the way my dog behaves at the vet but I have found that many dog owners experience the same problems when their furry companions are scheduled for a vet visit. However, barring the experiences of my dog, there is hope and visits to the veterinarian can become a very positive experience for everyone involved if you follow a few of the tips outlined below.
Improve your outlook:
It probably isn’t surprising to you that your dog reads what is going on inside your head. If you are nervous about something, then usually, your dog will mirror the emotion and his anxiety level will rise. Unless your vet visit is a generalized check up, chances are you are going to be a little nervous. If your dog has a history of bad veterinary visits under his collar, then your anxiety is going to increase dramatically, setting your dog up for failure.
Instead of worrying, try to remain calm about the visit. If it is possible, start going for visits to the vet, just as a way to say hello. You might not make it past the waiting room but your dog will learn that the veterinary office really isn’t that bad after all.
The secret to success is in the treat:
When you attend obedience classes with your dog, you will find that the secret to successful training is in the treats that you are giving your dog. He responds when you have a pocketful of tasty treats and you can usually get him to do what he is supposed to. The same rule applies to a vet visit. If you keep lots of treats handy and reward him throughout the visit, he will start to associate the veterinary office with food and we all know that for a dog food is great. The only time when you shouldn’t use treats is if your dog is scheduled for a procedure and the vet has specifically requested no food.
Get a handle on things:
One of the best ways to handle a trip to the vet is to have your dog safe and secure during the entire time. If you have a small dog, I would strongly recommend using a dog crate. For larger dogs, use a short lead so you have better control over the dog and how he behaves. A longer lead means that you have less control on your dog and he can reach other animals or wrap himself around the furniture.
Another way to get a handle on the vet visit is to use a muzzle while you are there. Some vets ask that you muzzle your dog but others make that decision completely up to you. If you do use a muzzle, make sure you accustom your dog to it at home before using it for a vet visit. Trust me; it will make a huge difference.
Socialization is key in having more success in a vet’s office; if your dog is used to new places and other animals than he is less likely to experience a lot of stress.
Be aware of your dog’s stress levels:
Believe it or not, if your dog has a negative experience at a vet’s office, then it will scar him for a long time, if not for life. When Petey was younger, he loved the vets. Every trip was easy and he was such a happy dog that he became a perfect candidate for being a blood donor. His rare blood type also helped in the decision and when he was about two years old, he went in and made his first donation. Unfortunately, somewhere around the third time, he had a negative experience. After that, he became very hard to handle at the vets and we pulled him from the program. To this day, he dislikes vets office, especially if the nurse who collects him is an older woman.
If you are aware of what is happening, you should be able to correct any damage done before it becomes permanent.
The only other advice that I would offer for making your vet visits much easier is to stay organized. This way, your dog has less time to spend with the “dreaded vet” and you will be able to make those vet visits short and, more importantly, sweet.