Post contributed by FVH Vet Assistants:
Preparing your puppy for their veterinary visits:
So you brought home your new bundle of joy, all playful barks and fluffy cuteness. You know they need to see a “dog doctor”, but how do you prepare them? We are so glad you asked! Believe it or not, every veterinary staff member has a wish-list of training we hope you do at home to help your pup (and us) have the very calmest clinic visits possible.
During essentially all appointments, doctors, technicians or assistants must touch areas of the young pup they would find strange without some practice at home. Three procedures that are most commonly performed are physical examinations, blood draws and nail trims. Teaching your pet that this type of handling is okay, and that vet visits are good, is much easier before they have a bad experience. Simply incorporating “exam touches” into your everyday routine will make their first visit much less scary. To start, let’s take a look at what methods work well for young animals (note-these can be used on adults as well, though they have more memories to draw on so the approach may need to be adjusted.)
Classical conditioning is the method we will be discussing today, and it can be extrapolated for use in many areas of your puppy’s training. The idea is to associate an event (in this case nail trims, visits to the vet, etc.) with something positive. For puppies, food or treats work very well. To solidify the association, food should be given while the event is happening, not before or after. For more on training techniques and theory, please visit this wonderful site on behavior training http://drsophiayin.com/.
Visiting the veterinary office: There is something about a white coat and sanitized rooms that tips off even the sweetest of puppies that they have entered foreign territory. One way to minimize this overarching stress is to do one or two practice runs. Contact your veterinary office to see when the best and quietest time would be to come in, and bring your dog on a leash to hop on the scale for a treat and take a very brief, but positive, tour around an exam room. The whole ordeal will take less than 5 minutes and will provide not only valuable education for the new pup, but they will also be getting socialization from staff members that are always happy to give love and treats to pooches.
Exams: The basic areas your veterinarian will examine include the head/face and mouth, listening to the heart, flexing the joints and muscles, feeling the abdomen for internal organs and checking the rectum and reproductive organs. For the head, practice holding the head still with one hand under the jaw and one behind the head for very brief periods of time, treating and telling them “good dog”. To check the teeth, gently move the lips out of the way on one side of the mouth at a time to expose upper and lower teeth (note: do not attempt this until your puppy has been taught not to nip or bite.) Always treat and tell them “good dog” while the action is happening during the training phase. Continuing on, lift the ears or hold as if to take a peek inside. For desensitizing him to touching of the feet, and by extension the examination of the joints, please see the “Nail Trim” section. Finally, lift the tail up as though to check the rectal area. Again, in less than 5 minutes a couple times per day, you can get your dog comfortable with exam touches.
Blood Draw: Most puppies will undergo general anesthesia to be spayed or neutered, or later on in life will have a dental cleaning or other procedure. Prior to any anesthesia, your veterinarian may suggest checking their blood to ensure their organs are functioning properly and therefore will safely handle the medications. The two most common sites of venipuncture in dogs are the jugular veins on the front of the neck and the cephalic veins of the forelegs. To practice for a jugular draw, have your puppy sit, then hold their head so that the nose points to the ceiling. Start out simply guiding them to this position, then releasing, and gradually increase the time your hold their head to 30 seconds. For a foreleg draw, start the same as with “Nail Trims” then pick up the foot while the pup is sitting so that the fore leg is approximately parallel to the floor. Gradually increase the hold time in this position to 30 seconds.
Nail Trims: Nail trimming is especially important because it must be done regularly to ensure proper foot health and correct conformation. Choose a time when your puppy is calm and comfortable, and preferably a little bit hungry. Touch one paw very briefly while giving a treat and say “good dog.” Repeat many times over a 10 or 15 minute period with all four paws until he has mastered a calm demeanor without pulling the paw away. Next, hold one paw in your hand for no more than 2 seconds while giving a treat. Repeat as with the previous step until he is calm and comfortable with all paws being held for a brief time. Continue as with previous steps increasing the time you hold the paw, being sure to touch the nails and apply a small amount of pressure to the pads. Practice with your pooch for short periods 2-3 times throughout the day. Go at a pace that is right for your dog. Some will be completely okay with all steps in the first day, while others may take a few weeks or more to get used to this type of handling.
A little bit of practice before your visit will save your pet a lot of unnecessary stress and set them up for a life time of happy visits to the veterinary office!
…..next time, what to do about a dog that already dreads the veterinary hospital visit.