How can I prepare my dog for routine vet visits? 

Hello and welcome to today’s short form podcast, where we, as dog trainers, answer your dog training questions. I’m your host, Nicole Forto, and today’s question is: how can I prepare my dog for routine vet visits? When owning a dog and being responsible for them, that includes taking them to the vet for routine checkups and shots at the very minimum. Your dog could also have a condition that needs medical monitoring or regular medicine checkups.

Whatever the reason, you will have a much better vet visit if you prepare your dog or new puppy for what to expect as best as possible. Of course, there are many factors, including dogs being reactive or highly fearful of people and other dogs or animals, to consider during this episode. 

A trip to the vet is usually completely out of the norm for your dog.

You may be causing more anxiety than being helpful when it comes to preparing for the day of heading to the vet’s office. Things like repeatedly telling your dog, “You’re going to the vet,” will cause them to pick up on one word in that sentence, typically a vet. If they only hear that word when they are loaded in the car and brought to a strange place, they aren’t going to like it. A vet’s office is a peculiar place for a dog. Do you get anxious simply thinking about the dentist? Do you detest the white-washed rooms and the way the dental chair faces? That’s precisely what your dog is going through as well but they have no way to verbally communicate that to you so it comes across as strange and extreme behaviors such as; barking, lunging, whining, and hiding.

Imagine how your dog feels when it’s brought to an unfamiliar place that looks and smells strange, has a multitude of weird noises, and strangers, both human and animal alike. Your dog deserves an easier time for the vet; these tips can help! 

Let’s start with simple handling practice. Whether you just got your new eight-week-old puppy or rescued a senior dog, it’s important to practice these skills so your dog is used to being touched and maneuvered in specific ways. Start with the simple and small things. This is touching their feet, mouths, ears, and tails.

When doing so, create it as a positive experience with lots of loving pets, good dogs, and treats! When practicing feet touching you want to go between their toes and lightly pinch them to push their nails out. For the mouth, you want to lift their lips, look at their teeth, run your fingers down their teeth, and practice allowing you to open their mouths manually.

Ears and tails you want to touch turn in different ways. Examine the inside of their ears with a flashlight and practice with a damp paper towel cleaning those ears out on a regular basis. With the tail, you want to practice lifting their tail all the way up while they are on a stand stay. I want you to do this maneuver both standing next to your dog and straddling them, as the vet may do this either way. 

Next, let’s go over socializing your dog to the vet. Yes, this requires some extra time and effort, but as often as you can, take your dog to the vet even if you don’t have an appointment. This is to simply have your dog do a bit of walking in the parking lot, add in some essential obedience work, and allow them to have time to calmly observe the people and creatures going in and out.

Suppose your vet office will allow you to go inside and spend some time in the waiting room after warming your dog up in the parking lot. This part aims to have your dog practice calmness and neutrality within the vet’s office. You want them to sit or lay down, observe the people around and then check back in with you.

Praise them heavily for this and bring along a high-value item that’s a favorite treat or toy. If they are spooked you want them to recover on their own naturally. If they get barky or growly, you’ll tell them no, and praise them when they return to a calm observing state. This also allows your dog to meet staff at your vet office and see them more than once every few months or even a year. 

To round this out, I want to tell you what to expect from the physical part of the vet’s examination. When you take your dog in for any appointment, unless it’s a life-threatening injury, your vet will start with a physical exam. This includes looking over your dog’s general appearance. Checking their heart with a stethoscope and touching along certain parts of their body; mouth, eyes, ears, shoulders, paws, abdomen, lymph nodes along the neck, and hips.

Those things mean your dog needs to be trained to handle a stranger to touch all over their body either kneeled down at their level or bent over them. This is something you can practice yourself, with a trainer, friends and family, or if your vet is willing to practice with them and staff at the office. 

All of these are essential things to practice with the thought of a brand new puppy in mind where things have not formed fear or reactivity yet. Your dog may be older, fearful or shy, or even outwardly reactive or aggressive. Those factors mean this training and preparation will take more practice and the addition of tools like muzzles and even medications.

No matter your dog’s temperament and personality, you should help them be more comfortable in what can be a very scary place by building up a habit of it the best you can. If your dog is used to having their body checked and touched in nonpetting manners, they are much more likely to have an easy time with their vet visit. As with anything with dogs, the more consistent the amount of positive associations to environments, the better off your dog will be. For Dog Works Radio, I’m Nicole, and I’ll catch up with you guys in the next episode. 



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