8 Strategies For A Low Stress Vet Visit
8 Strategies For a Low Stress Vet visit
Are Low stress vet visits.. possible?
Your dog have to go to the vet with many people and other dogs in close proximity, have to go to the scale to get weighted, have to be handled by vets and techs, and.. oh.. the pokes, the needles!! They have to receive vaccinations and have their blood drawn.
Do you and your dog dread vet visits because of any of the above?
What if I told you there are ways in making this experience less traumatic and in many cases ENJOYABLE to your dog?
There are many ways of approaching this subject and there are plenty of things to teach a dog to help her feel comfortable and confident:
1) Is your dog OK in close proximity with other dogs or people?
Some dogs are very social and LOVE seeing other people and dogs while others do not. Some are fearful, some are reactive, some are aggressive. Some "just want to say hi" to all other dogs and cats and keep invading other dog's personal space. How to navigate through this? Here are some ideas:
- If you dog is fearful, reactive or has any kind of aggression, the best thing you can do for both your dog and to others is to call the vet clinic beforehand and arrange a time when you can be seeing with an emptier house. Also, while you park your car, give them a call again and confirm that you have a room *ready* for you, so you can come in fast and furious and go directly to the exam room. Do all the paperwork beforehand, not with your dog there with you. That would make management really hard for you. When you come in, have a huge spoon of peanut butter and let you dog lick it as you walk to the room, so she does not see what is happening around her too much. Keep your leash short so she cannot come in contact with anyone as you pass by.
- If your dog is overly friendly this can be a problem too! A lot of dogs do not enjoy stranger dogs coming into their personal space. A vet office is usually a small space with a potentially high volume of animals. There are dogs there that are feeling sick, there are geriatric dogs, there are cats who might freak out with the sight of a dog, there are dogs who are not dog friendly, and there are dogs who just are not there to be social. In short, don't let your dog visit other dogs. Keep your leash short enough so she cannot reach any other dog. Try to also manage your dog's overly excited attempts to play with other dogs. Ask you dog to sit, give her a treat, ask her to lie down. No play time there, please!
2) Can your dog lie down on a mat?
Now let's say your dog is ok to wait in the lobby of the clinic, getting your dog used to lying down on a mat when asked is a very very handy behavior to have! Why? Here are some of the reasons:
- It gives them a known routine of what to expect. "Ok, I go to the vet, this strange place with strange smells, but hey, here is my old friend mat! I know what to do!"
- For dogs that tend to be overly social, it gives them an alternative of what to do other than trying to get other dogs to play. A dog that is lying down on a mat can't be visiting other people and dogs.
- For dogs that are slightly fearful, the mat serves as a huge relief because it is their safe space in a world of chaos. When you enter the clinic and your dog knows to lie down on a mat, it gives them confidence because they have good associations with the mat when they were trainer positively. So, if that's your dog, please do not let anyone approach your dog while she is lying down on a mat. Say no greeting today, please! Respect your dog's fears and be her advocate against well meaning people who want to come pet her or let their dogs near yours.
3) Getting her weight DO's and DON'Ts
- teach your dog to go on top of objects so she can be ok going on top of the scale on her own!
- teach your dog a sit-stay so we can wait for her weight to show
- give your dog a treat for doing an excellent job!
- drag your dog forcefully to the scale
- hold her on the scale forcefully by the collar or jerking the leash
- scold her for not knowing what you want
4) Get her used to the space and the vets
If your dog is a little unsure of going to the vet, please schedule a few visits when it is NOT time to do anything invasive. Just call them ahead and ask if it is ok to just visit so your dog will get used to it. Go in there, sit in the almost empty lobby for 5 minutes, give her plenty of treats and go home. You know your dog, if that is too much for your dog, do less, if that is easy for your dog, do more, ask the front desk person to say a quick hello from far away and give your dogs treats for being so good.
5) Wear a muzzle
"Oh, but my dog is friendly". Any dog who is hurt can bite. A vet who is unsure about your dog or see your dog in pain will probably put a muzzle on her anyway. So, why not to teach her to accept and enjoy wearing the muzzle? This will ensure her visit is a little less stressful because wearing a muzzle when she is not used to it is very stressful, adding a lot of tension! Visit the Muzzle Up! Project website!
6) Check her paws, ears, tail - Yay or Nay?
Separate a portion of your dog's meal to work on body desensitization and counterconditioning. Big words that mean, get her used to you touching her little by little and associating those touches with very high value treats. If she is unhappy about you touching her paws, starting there might be too much! Start touching her elbows for just a second and give her a treat, before progressing down to her paws, for example.
7) Get a Vet or tech to touch your dog
After your dog is happy by you touching and handling her, she needs to get used to other people approaching her and touching her as well. They are the ones who are giving her an exam! Make sure to know how to ready signs of stress in your dog's body language to make sure she is happy about this game! Always give your dog plenty of treats after every single time they do any kind of handling!
8) And my all times favorite, the CONSENT TEST!
"GO" and "STOP" signals for CONSENT TEST
There are ways of creating a two way communication with your dog so she can tell you when she is comfortable and when she is not. One of the most common ways is by teaching the chin rest behavior! (I learned this amazing idea from the wonderful Laura Torelli a few hears ago! Check out her wonderful videos on using chin rest for vet procedures under resources on her website) Dog puts her chin on your lap. That's a GO signal! If she removes her chin from you lap, that's a STOP signal. This is a beautiful way of teaching consent to your dog. Of course, there are times where invasive handling has to be done, but for a lot of the normal daily life procedures, this works quite well!
Little by little by breaking down the steps your dog can learn to be quite comfortable being handled. You start small, with very short durations, maybe just touching the dog's shoulder for 1 second. But later, before you know it, and while your dog thinks this is all a fun trick, you can introduce a few sharper pokes with the tip of a pen on your dog's shoulders, introduce strangers approaching her, touching her back with their hands and leaving, approaching again, poking her back for a few seconds and leaving, until a full blood drawn or a vaccine is done while she is wagging!
Are you inspired? Start small and build from there!
Start with making associations of being handled with things she absolutely loves (like food or toys). Don't progress to the next step until you see your dog asking for more, smiling at you and begging for you to grab her paw or check her ears!
Have fun training!
Need help? Contact us and book an appointment! This is one of my favorite thing to teach dogs!