Like many of my colleagues, I “met” Colleen originally on Facebook. Colleen is both a veterinarian and a graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior. She is also a fantastic friend and colleague and someone who I have limitless amounts of respect for, so I’m thrilled to welcome her here at dogster today. Colleen works at Lincoln Land Animal Clinic in Illinois, and is joining us on the dogster blog today to share some tips. Please join me in welcoming Colleen!
By Colleen S Koch, DVM, KPA CTP
Bringing your pup into the vet clinic doesn’t have to be a scary thing. When pups come into our clinic we want them to leave in a better emotional state than when they came in. Our ultimate goal is to have adult dogs that drag their owner in, instead of having the owner drag their dog in. Overall we have been pretty successful over the last 20 years. Most of the dogs that started out as pups at our clinic, do drag their owners into the clinic.
There are things that you can do to help make your pup or dog’s experience even better. By working with your pup on these simple behaviors their experience at the vet clinic should be like a walk in the park, instead of a drag down misery lane.
Top five things you can teach your dog to increase his enjoyment at veterinary visits:
1) Touch– a simple thing that is so important. Of course everyone touches their pups and loves to hug and hold them. It is important that your dog is comfortable being touched anywhere and everywhere. Yes, everywhere that includes the unspeakable places such as under the tail. Bottom line is if they lick it or scratch it in public it is fair game for us to touch it.
We will also need to examine and touch their eyes, ears, toes/nails, tail, and mouth including opening it up and looking in. These are often sensitive as well as common problem areas where we need to administer medicine. If your pup is used to being touched in these places then the exam should not be frightening for them. If they are painful or having problems and they are already comfortable with people touching these areas it is a lot easier on everyone. Otherwise it will require us to teach them to allow us to touch them while they are painful; this can be a very challenging task for us and very frightening for the pup.
Handling by strangers, taking treats and letting them hold your pup, helps to socialize them. 20 cookies by 20 strangers before 20 weeks of age, is a good rule of thumb.
Tight hugs should mean good things. Hugs are not natural for dogs; in case you didn’t notice dogs don’t hug other dogs. Hugging is a human thing. Most of the time in our clinic we try to minimize restraint as much as possible. Occasionally there are times when we will need to hold your dog tight for a certain procedure. Teaching your dog to be comfortable with this in advance will reduce his stress during the procedure.
2) Stand still– sounds easy, but for some pups, I think they’d rather have their teeth pulled!
Many times when doing an exam I like the dog to be in the standing position. It also enables me to look for structural discomfort as well as see and feel abnormalities from left to right. Standing still also makes it easier for you to apply topical medications on your dog’s back. This very easy trick helps during bath time, attaching a leash, grooming and when you stop to chat with a friend on a walk.
3) Down positions – seems like a like a silly thing, but it too has a lot of applications.
Ideally all three variations of down- left side down and right side down and belly up. Hopefully you will never have to have your dog in any of these positions but if you do they will be more comfortable. It is much easier to look for ticks, fleas, sores, take radiographs (x-rays), trim toe nails and groom.
Asking your pup for the down position can be very scary in a strange place. However if your dog thinks of this as fun trick they will be more willing to perform it in a vet clinic.
4) Clicker trained dogs make everyone’s life easier. Clicker trained dogs know that a click= what you want. If I need your dog to do something, and I am not able to communicate adequately, because they are afraid, or painful, it is frustrating for all. With a clicker trained dog, all I have to do is click and they instantly go OOOOOHHHH OK now I understand what you want!
5) Hand target with nose. This is a really easy trick to train that has many applications.
If dogs know how to hand target it helps us to move them around the clinic; on scales, into kennels, from one kennel to another, and makes them more comfortable in stressful situations.
It is much easier to apply Elizabethan collars as well as put on muzzles if your dog knows how to target. Dogs that know how to hand target can be easily distracted by the “trick” during uncomfortable situations, or moving past another “scary” dog or thing. You can also use this to help your dog learn to stand still, for any purpose.
What other behaviors can our readers think of which make vet visits easier for your dog? Please share in the comments! For another great article on reducing stress at vet visits, check outthis new article from The Whole Dog Journal, authored by veterinary behaviorist Sophia Yin.