My dog Sasha, an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, hates going to the vet’s office. As soon as I get her through the office door she turns around and starts pulling me back out. This behavior continues until she’s called into the exam room, where she exhibits all of the signs of a fearful dog: panting, tail tucked under, and ears down. It makes it difficult for the vet to see her true personality and get an accurate picture of how she’s really feeling. And because one time she snapped at a veterinary technician, the word “caution” is written on her record in red, and she is usually muzzled when the vet checks her ears.
You might think, “Hey — don’t most dogs hate visiting the vet?” Well, not all of them. Our previous dog, Buster, an Australian Shepherd/Lab mix, would strut into the vet’s office like he owned the place. He would then greet all of the veterinary technicians and petition for treats. One time when he was staying overnight, he even managed to steal some treats from the refrigerator.
Because of our experience with Buster, I was a little surprised at how much Sasha disliked visiting the vet. And it hasn’t been too much of an issue until recently because now she’s getting older and is visiting the vet for check-up and ailments more frequently.
I did some research and found some training and behavior tips that could help make a visit to the vet a little less stressful.
1. Visit the vet when there’s no exam involved
If you want to desensitize your dog from associating the vet’s office with scary things, bring your dog in just to get weighed or to get a treat from a veterinary technician. Call the office ahead of time to make sure it’s not a busy time to visit. And if your dog associates car trips with going to the vet, be sure to also take your dog to the park and other fun places in the car.
2. Bring treats and toys
If you can entertain your dog with his or her favorite toy in the waiting room, it might help distract your dog from feeling scared. And the treats are always a good idea to associate visiting the vet as something positive.
3. Get your dog accustomed to being handled
Make it a daily habit to touch your dog everywhere. It’s a good way to find ticks, check the paws for fox tails, notice any changes in lumps, or perhaps find an area that’s tender. When your dog is accustomed to being handled, it will feel less invasive when being examined at the vet’s office.
4. Brush your dog’s teeth
It not only reduces tartar and improves your dog’s dental health, but it gets your dog used to having his or her mouth handled as well. For more on that, see our post on home dental care for dogs.
5. Teach your dog simple commands
This makes the exam process easier. In addition to “sit,” “down,” and “stand,” your dog should know how to change sides when lying down. I practice this command with Sasha when I brush her, and she’s got it down pat.
6. Use mobile aromatherapy
Spray calming scents such as lavender or chamomile on a towel and put it in your dog’s crate.
7. Manage your own anxiety about visiting the vet
Moods are contagious, and if you’re feeling stressed about taking your dog to the vet, your dog is likely to pick up your mood.
How about you? What have you found to be successful ways to calm your dog at the vet’s office? Tell us in the comments.
Learn more about dogs with Dogster:
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- Let’s Talk: Does Your Dog Love to Roll in Stinky Things?
- Be Polite to Your Dog — It Benefits Both of You
About the author: Cathy Weselby is a purple-lovin’ ambivert who enjoys exploring new places and ideas, the arts, humorous memoirs, collecting old magazines, and making collages. She and her husband live with Sasha, a rescued Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.