It’s that time of year again; time to get Brutus his annual vaccinations. I thought I had more time, surely we were just there?! This is a common sentiment amongst dog owners, and for those of us who have a dog that HATES going to the vet, our anxiety is heightened.
Fortunately for me, Brutus actually loves going to the vet. Brutus’ brother Flash, however, hated it. Seeing how much anxiety poor Flash went through every time we went for routine check-ups motivated me to do things differently with Brutus, and my efforts have paid off! Let me share with you some of my personal tips for making your next veterinary visit simple.
Leave The Human Kids At Home
I understand the challenges of trying to find a suitable babysitter (I have an 18 month old), but I can’t stress enough how much easier it is on EVERYBODY if you try to make arrangements for childcare. If your dog is already scared and anxious, having their human siblings crowded around them in a small exam room will only exacerbate their stress. Your focus should be on your dog, not a bored or crying child. You will find it hard to hear important information from your doctor or even communicate your own concerns. That being said, if you absolutely have to bring your kids along, we will do our best to help the whole family get through the appointment.
Drain Excess Energy
Before you come to your appointment, make sure that your dog is well exercised for the day. When I bring Brutus to the vet, I take him on a long walk in the morning. Then before we leave, I do a few training exercises (sit, stay, come etc). When your dog is tired out physically and mentally, they have less energy to put towards being nervous. That said, I only use this tactic for routine visits, not if Brutus is sick or injured.
Wait a Second… This Isn’t The Park!
Waiting room etiquette is so important to a smooth vet visit. Most likely, you won’t be the only person there waiting, so even if your dog is the friendliest dog in the history of dog-dom, I strongly discourage what we call ‘nose to nose’ interaction.
· First, you don’t know if the other dogs are friendly and happy, or anxious and stressed. A stressed dog can turn aggressive very easily if they feel cornered by your exuberant and well-meaning canine.
· Second, even if your dog finds a “friend” that is also nice and wants to play, the waiting room isn’t the appropriate setting. You have no idea why the other pets are there. At Sugar House Veterinary Hospital, we don’t allow pets in the waiting room that we suspect are contagious. There are times, however, that we won’t know if an animal is contagious solely based on information given over the phone. It’s better to be careful and just keep interactions to a minimum.
· Third, your dog could potentially be in the waiting area with cats, rabbits, birds, reptiles, rodents etc. These other exotic and pocket pets would be very intimidated by your dog’s curiosity; it’s best to keep your distance.
Now with all that in mind, what if your dog is already reactive or aggressive towards other dogs and pets? I would suggest letting the receptionist know when you make the appointment that your dog cannot wait in the waiting room with other animals. Then when you arrive to your appointment, stay in your car and call the receptionist to check-in, reminding them that your dog won’t be coming into the waiting room if there are other pets inside. Our staff is very good at accommodating for this type of scenario and a receptionist will escort you straight to an exam room.
You’re Going To Put That Thermometer Where?!?!
If your dog doesn’t like to be handled, trips to the vet are likely stressful and frustrating. There are things that you can do at home to condition your dog to accept being handled at the veterinarian’s office.
Starting at a young age, I recommend coming to the vet just for a quick hello and some treats to create a positive association. More importantly, make sure that you are touching your dog on EVERY part of their body. When the doctor examines your dog they will be touching them everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It makes our job a lot easier if they already accept being touched in sensitive places. The calmer your dog is while being handled, the easier it is to assess the different body systems.
Veterinarians are very good at reading animal body language and determining if your dog is in pain or showing signs of injury during an exam. Their job is much more difficult if your pooch starts acting out because it isn’t used to being handled.
A calm demeanor is the strongest influence you can have on your pet once you are in the exam room. It’s okay to feel bad if your dog is anxious or fearful, but save those emotions for later. Dogs are incredibly perceptive to our emotions and feelings. You could be causing them more stress by feeling bad or worrying during their exam.
Your dog may also misinterpret your intentions to calm them down with petting and talking as praise for their naughty behavior. Remember, you pet a dog when you agree with their behavior. If your dog is trying to bite, squirm, bark or whine – please refrain from petting as this sends them the wrong message.
Find A Really Good Trainer
No amount of advice can replace a good trainer. If your dog is aggressive or severely anxious at the veterinarian, please consider getting professional help.
· K9 Lifeline
has Saturday off leash socials as well as regular training. Brutus is the most calm and social dog because of them. You can also find them on Facebook.
· Joe Dickinson from Western States K9 College
has come to Sugar House Vet in the past to do free workshops for clients and employees. Several of our employees have done training with her.
· I have never done training with them, but if you are looking for a pure positive approach Calling All Dogs Utah
is another option that some of our clients have enjoyed.
Remember to stay calm and positive for your next appointment! Good luck, we look forward to seeing all of you soon! If you have a cat that struggles at the vet, check out our previous blog: Making Your Cat’s Trip to the Vet a Breeze