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Some dogs just take naturally to all the folks at the veterinary clinic. Others, not so much. So, if your dog is terrified of the vet, what are you going to do?
First of all, if this is your first dog, you should do a bit of research. Check out online reviews of the clinics you are considering, and ask other dog people about their experiences. Most people have great relationships with veterinarians they’ve used for years. But if someone tells you “I would take my dog to anyone else before I would go to Dr. X,” there is probably a good reason.
If the first visit to the vet terrifies your puppy, don’t make the mistake of thinking that everything will somehow magically be better the next time. And if your vet seems insensitive to your puppy’s fear, find another vet. A good vet will try to find ways to comfort your puppy, and should be a valuable source of tips for doing so.
If you bring your puppy to the vet for her first visit and she’s terrified, we should not ignore this and think it will be better next time. Your veterinarian should be sensitive to this issue. Your vet should acknowledge the puppy’s fear by comforting her and discussing tactics to make the next visit better.
You know I always have stories for you – that’s because I know a lot of dog people! So, let me tell you about Al, a guy I know from the dog park. He has a Saint Bernard named Hannah. Other than the trip home from the breeder, the only time Al ever has her in the car is for the trip to the vet. So, naturally, she knows the minute he picks her up and puts her in the back seat, it’s vet time.
Now, I don’t pretend to know everything, but I’m thinking that most dogs love rides in the car. The first ride, though, is usually a bit stressful. And then, when you add the unfamiliar surroundings and procedures at the clinic, the whole trip is just one huge stress-fest. But if Hannah had gotten used to enjoying rides in the car, the vet experience might not have been overwhelming. If the only time your dog ever gets to go in the car is for a vet visit, the stress starts the minute the car door opens, and it doesn’t ease.
Al finds the vet trips stressful, too. He knows he’s going to have a battle getting Hannah into the car, and I’m betting he transmits his stress to her, both in his body language, and his tone of voice. In other words, he’s making a huge event out of the trip to the vet, talking to Hannah in a tone of voice that she’s not accustomed to (baby-talking, probably, in a higher voice than usual), and letting her know in that way that something is about to happen that neither of them are going to enjoy.
If you treat a visit to the vet the way you do other routine matters, like feeding or going for a walk, your dog will be much less anxious.
For many dogs, entering the waiting room sets the stage for stress. You don’t know, and neither does your dog, what you’re going to encounter once you walk through the door. There will certainly be other pets in the waiting area. Some may be injured or very ill, and your dog will pick up on this.
So, if the waiting room is a problem area, stay out of it. You can just as easily walk around outside the clinic, let your dog check pee-mail, and walk off a bit of tension. Someone can come and get you when it is your turn.
Now, it’s time for the appointment. A good vet will take time to introduce himself or herself to your dog, offering a good sniff, and then some gentle handling before beginning the actual examination. When your dog is properly introduced to the vet, a routine examination of the mouth, ears, tail, toes, and even the private parts should not be a problem. If your vet doesn’t take time to do a proper introduction, you should probably find another vet.
If you think your dog is likely to be fearful, why not schedule a visit? I don’t mean a visit for a checkup or shots; I mean just a social visit, where your dog meets clinic staff, gets petted and fussed over, is given treats, and then leaves without having an examination or shots. That could go a long way toward making the next visit fear-free – he’ll figure he’s just going to see his new friends, and will be much more amenable to handling.
I’ve found a great solution for that problem. It’s the Free Standing Foldable Pet Stairs from Pet Gear. They feature two big platforms that can hold dogs up to 350 pounds, so you can bet they will work even for dogs as big as Hannah is going to become. They’re also equipped with washable carpet treads, so you don’t have to worry about your elderly pet slipping. And because they are free-standing, you don’t have to tether them to your bumper and then un-tether them. Jut fold them up and go!
Trips to the vet don’t have to be stressful. Make it fun early on so you don’t have problems as your dog ages.