A trip to the Vet can be an unpleasant experience for some dogs. Just as some of us don’t find joy in visiting our dentist, dogs may sometimes become nervous or frightened when it comes time for their wellness check. The behaviour that comes with visiting the vet, is often met with some naughty behaviour of our own, unintentionally making the situation more stressful for our dogs.
Here are our top tips for visiting the Vet and Vet etiquette:
DEPARTING THE HOUSE
Keep your departure uneventful and insignificant. Dogs are acutely aware of your energy, body language and tone so ensuring a calm and relaxed exit from the home, will help ease any anxious behaviour in the lead up to visiting the Vet. If you are stress, they will be stressed.
IN THE WAITING ROOM
Avoid Meet and Greets;
It’s important to note that while under other circumstances, your dog may happily socialise with others, a Veterinary Waiting Room is not the place. They must be on lead at all times and good, calm behaviour should be practiced.
Call Ahead: You will find that most Veterinary Clinics are exceptionally accommodating. If you believe your dog may react, you can call ahead to make arrangements to ensure the safety of your dog and others. If your dog is reactive towards other dogs, people or small animals then leave your dog in the car whilst you inform the veterinary staff of your arrival. Advise them that your dog may be reactive. Fill out any necessary paperwork before you bring your dog in. Wait outside with your dog until staff give you the all clear to enter. If a room is available, they will often direct you straight to the consultation room to wait. Don’t hang around the reception desk.
Illness or Injury: Considering you are at the Vet, it can be assumed that either your dog or others are unwell. Just as you wouldn’t allow your child to hug a sick stranger in a hospital waiting room, the same notion should be applied at the Vet. You may not be aware of the immunity status of other dogs, the contagiousness of an illness or the severity of an injury. Ensure enough space is given, as you do not know the whole situation.
Fear Aggression; a trip to the vet can be stressful for even the most balanced of dogs. Being placed in a stressful environment can enhance certain behaviours brought on by fear or anxiety. This can also include aggression. Keep your distance. This also applies to dogs with severe injury or illness; they may react in a defensive manner.
Although your dog may be a social butterfly and unphased by Vet visits, the same cannot be said for every other dog. A nervous dog may react untoward if it feels threatened in an already uncomfortable environment.
The Vet is not a park; Even if the dogs in the vicinity seem content, playful and social, a Waiting Room is still no place for play. In fact, this environment is the perfect place to test their ability to be calm, practise impulse control and promote good manners. It is quite okay to be near other dogs and not feel the need to introduce.
Supervise and Maintain Control
It is your responsibility to make sure your dog is firmly secure, and you are always supervising. A Veterinary Clinic is teeming with new smells making it difficult for your dog to settle.
1. New Animals; Your dog may not have previously been introduced to birds or cats. Cats and pocket pets may trigger fixation and pulling as a dog’s prey drive is kicked into gear. This is a perfect example of why you need to ensure you always maintain control. If the behaviour becomes manic, it may be wise to step outside and wait until the coast is clear.
2. Paws-OFF!; Another reason why your supervision is of the upmost importance is the access to all things delicious. Most vets stock bags of food and treats which can be easily accessible for your dog. Ensure you are supervising your dog so that they do not eat anything they are not supposed to, especially if your dog is unwell.
3. Watch your lead; Some owners allow their dogs to venture right out to the end of their leads and on many occasions tangle people, chairs and other pets up in the leads. Keep your dog close and don’t allow your dog to drag, especially in a Vet Clinic.
Don’t Pander to Your Dog
It can be a maternal instinct to want to comfort our frightened dogs so if they are anxious, resisting the urge to comfort them can be a challenge. A dog may shake, whinge and cry, paw at you and continually try to jump up on your lap. Resist the temptation to give in. This will benefit them in the long run.
Ignore any attention seeking behaviour. Once your dog calms down, offer praise. Praising a confident dog will promote resilience. Praise your dog when it is calm and confident rather than rewarding its anxiety.
1. Bring a Mat; If your dog tends to “carry on” at the Vet, try bringing their Placement Mat to the Vet. This can help your dog make the association between their Mat and calm behaviour regardless of their surroundings.
2. Only Give Treats When Treats Are Due; Something you may often see at the Vet is the large jar of Liver Treats at the counter or in the consult room. The Manager or Vet Nurse is often quick to try and ease their anxiety by giving a treat. Be mindful of what your dog is doing in this very moment. If you see someone trying to present your dog a treat, ensure your dog is being calm and not displaying anxious, attention seeking behaviour or the dog may be receiving the reward for an incorrect behaviour.
IN THE CONSULT ROOM
When you are with the Vet, it can be typical to surrender all control as the Vet is the expert, but this is still your dog and you are still very much responsible.
Be in control of your response; A looming injection may make YOU feel as though you need to comfort your dog.
“It’s okay sweety, it’s okay, you’re such a good boy, be brave”.
This can make your dog more anxious as they can pick up on your underlying stressed tone and body language. Avoid mollycoddling. Your dog will feel less stressed if you assume more control and give it more direction.
Be in control of their response; It is also important to note that while nips and scratches come with the territory of being a Vet, being attacked should not. If you have an aggressive or reactive dog (or think that it may be so), it is your responsibility to correctly muzzle them to ensure the safety of those around it. Be prepared - Muzzle training should have taken place well prior to visits.
At times, a Nurse or Vet may suggest a muzzle, do not be offended in this instance. Some of what your Vet must do in order to help your dog can cause pain and discomfort which can be met with a warning growl or a bite from your dog. If your Vet suggests a muzzle, it is not a mark against their character but merely a precaution. Your Vet can pre-empt the involuntary response to the discomfort associated with the treatment and therefore may suggest a muzzle in for the safety of themselves and their staff.
When You Leave the Consult Room: Should your dog display aggression or unsocial behaviour, wait until the staff advise you that you that the reception area is clear. Be aware that there may be someone else in another consultation room ready to leave at the same time. Take your dog straight outside and place it into the car or with someone else to manage it, then come back in to sort out medication, pay your bill etc. Don’t stand at the front reception desk with a reactive dog.
The Vet is a great place, and although we can’t explain this notion to our dogs, we can show them! If you have a dog that becomes stressed or anxious at the Vet, a great method can be to bring them along for un-official visits such as picking up treats or a bag of food. You can even weigh them and leave. Show your dog that the Vet does not necessarily need to be a negative experience, or consist of that dreaded thermometer.