Ask K9 Etiquette: How do I teach my dog to love the vet?

Posted on 05. Oct, 2012 by in Got a Question?, Pet Care, Pet Safety, Training Tips

This month’s blog question: “My dog gets really stressed going to the vet and misbehaves while there. Is there anything I can do to help make it a more pleasurable experience?”

It can be frustrating and even embarrassing to have your dog misbehave at the vet’s office.  Whether your dog needs to be dragged in the door, is jumping on technicians, barking at the cat sitting across from them, or trying to bite the vet, a simple visit can quickly become a stressful and draining experience. Luckily there are many ways to teach your dog to have good manners at the vet and that the vet’s office is a positive place.  Most people are willing to tolerate these bad behaviors since they only have to experience it once or twice a year but teaching your dog to behave at the vet will not only make those visits less stressful for both you and your dog but it will also teach them to behave in other public situations and become more tolerant of stressful situations.

Visits for Fun!

The most common recommendation is to visit your vet office for no reason at all. This is actually a great idea.  Stopping at the vet’s office a minimum of 2-3 times a month just for fun can really make your dog think the vet’s office is a positive place.  Bring your dog in when you are purchasing heartworm pills or flea and tick products. Out for a car ride and driving by? Swing on in and let the technicians give them some cookies and love without anything negative occurring.  Is your dog on a diet? Stop in for weekly weigh ins.

But what if your dog is so scared of the vet they don’t even want to go in the front door? Well increase the fun by playing their favorite game in the parking lot and then going home. Once they are happy to play in the parking lot go inside and play tug a few times or catch and then head back home.  You want to repeat this until your dog seems excited to be there upon arrival, like going to the dog park.

Swinging frequently by your vet’s office and feeding treats, playing games, and having only positive experiences will make your dog love the vet’s building but there is a lot more to going to vet then just the building.  It is also important to teach your dog to tolerate distractions in the waiting room. Teaching your dog a good strong stay and other impulse control exercises can make waiting for your appointment a much more pleasant experience.  As all my students know, obtaining a strong stay starts with duration, then distance, and finally distraction.  If your dog does not have a long reliable stay you should work with a positive reinforcement trainer to teach your dog how to wait patiently.  Once your dog get’s a good long term basic stay you then need to work around distraction.  First start in your home by asking your dog to stay while a ball is bouncing through a room or someone is running around.  Start simple and gradually move to harder and harder distraction.  Then bring it to your vet’s office! Try doing stays in the parking lot, and then finally in the waiting room.  If your dog succeeds make sure to give plenty of treats and play lots of games so that they still think the office is full of fun and not just a school.  If your dog is still struggling behaving in the waiting room you can also consider taking classes like our Level Two Obedience & Basic Impulse Control.

Practice Exams!

Meanwhile, in between your occasional fun visit to the vet, practice appointments at home. Often dogs notice the veterinarian’s uniform and associate pain.  Consider purchasing a doctor’s costume after Halloween to wear while practicing your fake appointments.  Start off by teaching your dog to be comfortable being touched all over and then restrained.  Start by petting your dog and then clicking and treating. Most likely your dog will be comfortable with this so then start to push things by rubbing down his leg. If he does good click and treat then move onto the next leg. Click and treat each part of the dog’s body that you touch and he tolerates.  Make sure to peak in their ears, look into their eyes, move their joints around, and palpate their bellies.  If at some point the dog pulls away or shows teeth you are pushing them too fast. It can take several weeks for your dog to become comfortable with an exam if they really dislike them.

Restraint!

Dogs also need to be comfortable being restrained at the vet’s office. Practice restraining your dog three different ways.  The first way is for general restraint. The technician will hold your dog by putting one arm under and around their neck and one arm under their belly.  Start simply by placing your arm under and around your dog’s neck. If the dog stands still click and treat. Repeat this process over and over gradually increasing the length of time you hold your arm there each time the dog succeeds by not pulling away.  Once the dog will let you hold your arm there for a few minutes practice holding your arm under their belly. Start by placing your arm there and immediately clicking and treating if the dog does not struggle.  Repeat this process over and over gradually increasing the length of time you hold your arm there each time the dog succeeds by not pulling away.  Once the dog will tolerate being held with one arm for a few minutes try combining the two arms and hugging the dog for a few seconds. Click and treat if the dog does not try and get away. Repeat this process over and over gradually increasing the length of time you hug your dog each time the dog succeeds by not pulling away. You should eventually be able to hold your dog in this position for several minutes.

Once your dog becomes patient with a general restraint you need to start practicing restraint for blood draws.  We will discuss the two most common restraints. The first is for a leg draw.  Start by placing your arm around your dog’s neck like in the general restraint exercise. Now reach over your dogs back and grab the dog’s leg that is far away from you behind the elbow pushing the leg straight forward.  Click and treat if the dog does not struggle.  Repeat this gradually holding their leg out and still longer and longer each time. Once the dog becomes good at this take your thumb and roll it over the top of the dog’s leg from the inside out. This holds off the vein for the blood draw. If the dog is good about tolerating this click and treat.  Then gradually work on holding it like this longer and longer each time.  Finally realize that the vet is then going to spray the leg with rubbing alcohol. The cold feeling can upset dogs.  I would suggest if you have a helper, have him practice spraying the dog’s leg with water while in this restraint so he can get used to this sensation too.  The final restraint we will discuss is for a jugular blood draw. Have the dog sit facing away from you with your body pressed up against your legs. Lift the dog’s head up at about a 45-degree angle by placing your hands under their chin. Click and treat if the dog does not struggle. Then gradually work on holding it like this longer and longer each time.  Once they get good with this position practice adding the sensation of the spray bottle.

         

Realize if your dog is less than 30 pounds your vet is most likely going to place them on a table.  Some vets even do this for larger dogs. It is odd for a dog to stand on a table so once your dog gets comfortable in these restraints on the floor feel free to practice them on a table. If you have a small breed dog you can start right on the table. Vet’s office tables are made out of stainless steel. This is cold on your dog’s paws and makes a lot of noise if their nails are long.  You can buy a piece of sheet metal to place on your table to get them used to the feeling while you practice.  The other option is to teach them to stand on no slip drawer liner and bring it with you to the vet.

If your dog is already a problem child at the vet you may want to teach them to be comfortable wearing a muzzle.  The veterinarian and their technicians need to be kept safe. Sometimes a muzzle is the only way to do this. Unfortunately, muzzles can also stress dogs out if they aren’t used to wearing them. To teach your dog to wear a muzzle start by holding a treat put your fingers through the front hole of the muzzle placing a treat inside.  When your dog reaches in click and let them eat the treat.  Repeat this process but this time make him put his nose deeper into the muzzle by holding the treat a little further inside.  Repeat this process until he puts his nose all the way into the muzzle.  Click and treat him for putting his nose in.  Finally, have your dog slide his nose all the way into the muzzle again, then wrap the straps around the back of their neck and clasp it closed. Click and treat them for allowing you to put the muzzle on.  Immediately take it off.  Repeat this process over and over and each time make them wear it a few minutes longer. Click and treat them every once in awhile for not trying to paw it off. Practice this frequently. In this way, he thinks, “When I get my muzzle put on I get yummy food”.  Ideally when you take the muzzle off do something fun. Go for a walk, play a game, feed them dinner.  Over time you should be able to decrease the number of steps, as they get comfortable putting their nose inside the muzzle.

No matter how good or bad your dog is at the vet, these exercises are a great idea.  They will help mold your dog into a more confident well-controlled pup. As a result you will be able to enjoy your dog more overall. Think about how fun it would be to be able to take your dog to your family cookouts or child’s soccer game.  Five to ten minutes of training a day or even a few times a week will help your dog bond with you, learn to rely on you, and enjoy their life more.

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