Training Tip: Preparing Your Dog for Veterinary Visits

Great, great advice on how to help your dog have a better visit to your vet!   Alena Van Arendonk from Canines In Action in Indianapolis has an excellent post on what you can do to make visits to the vet less frightening for your dog.(thanks Margaret!) I really like her description of being a training opportunist—taking advantage of a situation to teach your dog.  Teaching your dog to get on and off something will make it so much easier to get them on a scale or a low exam table.  Can you imagine what it’s like for vet techs to wrestle 50+ lbs. dogs onto the scale all day long?  Teach your dog to do it herself and your vet tech will love you—so will your dog!

Some of Alena’s suggestions include training while you’re waiting for the vet and training before you ever get there.  The idea of short visits to the vet’s office when you don’t have an appointment is also great.  You can just go into the lobby, get your dog to sit, lie down, etc. and give treats.  If the scale is accessible, work on on & off.  It’ll help for your dog to have more positive associations with the vet.

Saffron became terrified of the scale at our vet’s office.  The furnace turned on while she was on it and air suddenly blew out of the vent right into her face.  That was enough to scare her so badly that it was almost impossible to get her on the scale ever again.  So, I started randomly visiting our vet and if they weren’t too busy, Saffron & I would work on her fear of the scale.  It took a while, but she got over it and now when we get to the vet, she walks right over to the scale and plunks her butt down.  Help your dog cope better with a trip to the vet and do some training ahead of time!

Comforting Doesn’t Reinforce Fear In Your Dog

I’ve tried all sorts of things to reassure Saffron during thunder or fireworks even though I’d heard doing so could increase her fear. Good news—you can’t reinforce fear by petting or comforting your dog. The bad news is comforting your dog may not lessen her fear.  Tests showed cortisol levels didn’t drop when dogs were petted by their owners during thunder storms.  The company of other dogs appears to be the most important things in lowering cortisol levels.  However, in another study, oxytocin, prolactin and beta-endorphin levels did increase when people interacted with their dogs.  And since these substances are connected with a sense of well-being and social connection, you may still be helping your dog by comforting her.

I’ve tried ignoring what’s going on, but not completely ignoring Saffron.  I’ve tried calming signals. I swear her eyes got rounder and her reaction was like, “Oh no!  She has no idea we’re in danger—she’s not going to be ANY help!!”  And I’ve tried distracting her. Nothing really seemed to work.   What does seem to work best for us, is if Saffron finds a place to sit near me and I keep contact with her with my leg or hand, depending on where she is.  One of the phrases we use with Saffron to try to communicate that whatever startled her isn’t dangerous is “Wow, that was noisy.”  We say it in a happy, kind of chuckling voice so she at least hears we aren’t worried by it.  It may take a while, but she eventually calms enough to stop panting, tremoring, vocalizing, and drooling.