Post contributed by FVH Veterinary Assistants:
Help my dog hates the Veterinary Visit!
As staff of a veterinary hospital, we strive to create and maintain an environment with few stressors: We minimize contact between our patients, we use as little restraint as necessary for procedures, we remain calm and gentle in our tone and movements, and we avoid situations that may cause emotional trauma to our patients. Usually our patients have had enough good experiences with us (or maybe just enough treats) that they no longer become fearful when we handle them for less-than-comfortable procedures. Sometimes though, we meet a patient that has had a bad experience. Whether we know what that experience was or not, it can make it very difficult for us to perform important procedures.
If your dog had a single negative experience at the vet, or you adopted them with an existing aversion, there is something we (and you!) can do to improve their experience in our care. We want all of your dogs to love coming to see us as much as we love seeing each of them, but we understand that is not a possibility with all pups. If your dog is afraid of stepping onto the scale, having a nail trim, or being kenneled, please read on for some helpful tips on reducing stress level and creating a more positive experience for them, you, and us! Keep in mind that not every behavior modification technique is appropriate for all dogs; some dogs will need private training lessons with reputable and appropriately licensed specialists. No training can be successful without trust between dog and handler, establishing a good working relationship at home will greatly increase the success of proper behavior outside of the home.
If your dog is afraid to step on the scale:
- Ensure that there are no other dogs around when attempting to teach your dog, this greatly decreases their stress and increases the chance that they will be fully engaged.
- Walk past the scale several times and offer a treat each time the dog’s feet make contact with the scale. Avoid pushing, or dragging them to position.
- “Luring” may be helpful to get the dog to take the last few steps.
- We want the dog to feel confident that stepping on that scale will give him only reward, not that he is dragged around and forced into the scary corner of the lobby each time he comes in. All new or scary experiences at the clinic have the opportunity to become positive experiences using positive reinforcement.
- Make this process the routine when you come into the clinic, the first thing you do each time you come through the door.
- Be patient and take your time. We do not have to hurry around here. We want our clients and patients to all feel comfortable and relaxed in our hospital.
If your dog dislikes having a nail trim:
- There are many different types of fear we recognize in a day as a staff member. Some dogs stand up for a nail trim like you’re performing a royal pedicure and some dogs would rather bite the nearest hand for grabbing his foot so rudely. Wherever your dog stands on this scale, he can be helped. If he was not conditioned to allow this as a puppy, you can still help him!
- When your dog is in his most relaxed point of the day, spend some time making small contacts with their feet. If a small tap is all they will allow, start there. Every time your dog allows you to make contact, immediately withdraw your hand and give a calm, quiet verbal reward. Remain relaxed and calm as you increase contact time and pressure in very small, slow intervals. Plan for this conditioning to mnove very slowly at first and do not push ahead when you face resistance.
- Always end these sessions on a good note. Key into your dog’s body language and try to end the session before they become annoyed. Try again multiple times per day.
- If your dog cannot be conditioned, there are medical options that may help to calm the dog enough to give staff a chance to help mold positive experiences with us in the clinic.
- Some dogs do not wear their toenails down with activity alone. If overgrown excessively, these will continue to grow and can cause painful conditions of the feet and toenails. This is why it is very important that puppy owners understand how vital it is to condition well!
If your dog is anxious when in a kennel:
- Ideally, kennel training is performed during puppy socialization and maintained in daily life on some degree. It is vital that a dog learn to relax when kenneled, rather than feeling anxious and having adverse effects on treatments or causing harm to self or staff.
- Conditioning a dog to use a kennel is a slow process, and much patience is needed. Begin by ensuring that you have a kennel large enough for the dog to lay, stand, and turn around in. Some dogs will do best with a covered kennel, some will do best with the ability to see out.
- Place the kennel (with door open) in an area of the home that the dog chooses to spend time in when relaxed. Let her explore the kennel on her own terms. Do not move kennel from this location. Wait until dog seems at ease being near kennel before moving on.
- Begin placing dog food and water near kennel for every feeding. If needed, move closer over several meals for very reluctant dogs. Once she is comfortable, begin dropping treats near door so that she must face the opening to retrieve them.
- Begin placing food and water dishes inside kennel door so that she may reach her head in to eat. Place comfortable bedding and a favorite toy inside to offer cozy solitude. Remove any beds from floor in other areas of the house and deny access to furniture for resting. This will give your dog more reason to rest in the kennel by choice. As this becomes routine and comfortable, inch the food bowl toward the back of kennel each feeding.
- Eventually she will be willing to enter kennel to eat and hopefully relax. At each feeding, begin to close the door while the dog eats and then open it until the next feeding. You may slowly increase the increments of time that the door is closed until the dog is comfortable in the kennel for any amount of time.
- Some dogs become so overwhelmed with anxiety when kenneled that they can cause themselves harm. In these cases, a veterinarian should be consulted.
It is our hope that we continue to provide the highest quality of care to our WONDERFUL patients with the support and perseverance of their dedicated owners! It is my reality to come in to work each day happy, and thankful for my place in this world.