If you’re like most people with furry family members taking your pal to the vet is probably not on your bucket list. But with some information and planning you can make visits easier.
These tips will lower the stress level for both you and your pet, and are be especially useful if you who have a reactive or fearful dog.
1. Find the right vet
Do your homework. First, ask fellow “dog people” who they recommend… trust me, they will have opinions. Next, find two or three vets that come highly recommended. Then if possible, set up a consult-only visit to talk with them about your dog’s needs; this step will be especially important if you have a fearful pet. This visit will give you a chance to ask questions and get a general feel for the clinic, staff, and veterinarian. To make the most of your time have a list of questions ready to ask your prospective vet.
2. Practice visits
Practice visits get your pet ready for the “real thing”. Currently I do this with my dog once or twice per month, but when I first started I took her once a week. The whole idea of the practice visit is to create positive associations with being there.
Our practice visits go something like this: A walk around the parking lot or property when it is quiet. I let her sniff and enjoy. I also do some training like “sit” and “down” which are behaviors she knows really well. I do not practice anything that is new as that might be a bit stressful. Then, we go to the front door and she gets lots of treats and praise, then we move into the lobby if it is quiet, and once again I ask for a “sit” and give lots of treats and praise. I will even ask the staff if they will feed her a treat (only does this if you dog is okay with it). We then walk over the scale, and practice getting a weight on her.
If your dog has had traumatic experiences at the vet or is just fearful, this process needs to be done carefully or you risk inadvertently make it worse. For example, if your dog immediately puts their tail between their legs, and won’t even get out of the car in the parking lot it means it is too much for them. In that scenario, start by parking, giving treats and praise for being calm in the car for a couple of minutes. Then, leave and come back another day , extend the time slowly and repeat until they are ok getting out of the car. Basically, get them accustomed slowly. The idea is to make it enjoyable and stress free for both of you.
3. Plan your visit
Even if you don’t do practice visits, you can lower your stress and your pet’s by planning ahead. If possible, make your appointment on a day you are not overly busy so you can give yourself time before and after the visit to do something fun with your dog, like a quick game of fetch. If you need support take a friend with you. Plan to have some of your pups favorite items handy… toys, treats, etc. If you have a dog that can’t handle the presence of other pets in the waiting room, call ahead and let the vet staff know. Often they will get you right into a room, or at the very least you can keep your pet in the car until your appointment. Finally, remember that your behavior and energy will influence how your dog reacts to the visit. So, breathe and stay calm.
No matter how the visit goes follow it with a positive experience. Take a walk, give treats and praise whatever you can do immediately after the visit to keep it positive will help you the next time you visit.
Where do I start?
O.k. you’ve read the tips and the links, and maybe you are thinking….great ideas, but I need help. Or maybe you have an extremely difficult dog, and feel overwhelmed just at the thought of practice visits. If this is you, I can help.
Debbie Lewis, MS
I educate and support people as they deepen their understanding of their pet's behavior to create happy, healthy pet-people relationships.