Does your dog love visiting the veterinary clinic or start shaking with fear the instant you pull into the clinic driveway?
Regular veterinary care is a keystone of responsible dog ownership. Whether you get your dog through rescue as a teen or adult or as a puppy from a responsible breeder, helping her to be comfortable at the vet clinic is one of the biggest favours you can do for your dog!
A routine exam (I just took Bear in so this is fresh in my mind) involves a weigh in, touching and examining your dog’s ears, eyes, feet, abdomen followed by vaccines if necessary. If you are taking your dog in for simple surgery such as spaying or neutering, your dog will also be taken by staff into a kennelling area where she will spend her time before and after surgery. We know that the vet and clinic staff have your dog’s best interests in mind but unless you have helped your dog develop a certain set of skills, there’s no way she will be comfortable at the vet.
WHAT DOES MY DOG NEED TO KNOW?
To get an inside perspective on what we can do to make our dogs more comfortable at the vet, I asked a couple of local ladies about dog behaviour and dog training as it applies to their everyday work. Sandra Barclay DVM owns the Brandon Animal Clinic and Stephanie Inkster, Registered Animal Health Technician, works at Wheat City Veterinary Clinic.
On leash manners are important for entering and leaving the clinic politely and safely! Off leash manners are also helpful during exams as it’s much easier to examine a dog that can sit or stand still than one that is jumping all over the place.
Dogs need to be comfortable with strangers examining eyes, ears feet and abdomen. In my opinion, the critical part of this is the word “stranger” because many of us have or know dogs that allow US to do things to them but are more reserved about having strangers do strange things to them.
If your dog ever needs to spend time at the vet clinic without you for surgery, testing etc., he does not get to wander around the clinic at will. He will spend time before and after these procedures in a kennel and if he has never been introduced to a kennel, you can only imagine how stressful this would be. One does not need to kennel their dog at home for life but having a dog that knows and is comfortable being confined means lengthier procedures at the vet will be less stressful.
Basic behaviours (Sit, Stand, Down, Stay)
These behaviours are useful at a vet clinic for:
- Weight Measurement-Dogs need to be able to assume and maintain a position long enough for staff to read a weight.
- Examination – Dogs need to stay still to be examined and remain standing for temperature readings or abdominal palpations.
If your dog cannot respond to these cues accurate measurement and examination are difficult and stressful for all involved. Weigth is used to calculate medication dosage and if your vet can’t see into your dog’s ear, it will be harder for her to make an accurate diagnosis.
WHAT IF MY DOG CAN’T DO THESE THINGS?
A couple of months ago we discussed some of the consequences for all involved if a dog was uncooperative at the groomer and many of the same consequences were mentioned by both women I asked.
If your dog is uncooperative he may be:
- Unduly stressed
- Muzzled to prevent injury to staff
- Physically restrained
- Chemically restrained if the dog must be treated. This may sound ok to you but Stephanie reminds us that this, “is easier on them mentally, but can be hard on them physically if they need it each time they come in to the clinic.“
If you have an uncooperative dog, you may be:
- Charged extra fees associated with drugs used for chemical restraint.
Uncooperative dogs also present serious issues for veterinary staff such as:
- Increased stress levels when dogs bark all day (it’s not just hard on the dogs).
- Serious injury from bites
- Inability to work due to injuries.
One thing that also came across from both ladies is that if the folks at your veterinary clinic have trouble examining your dog or if they see signs of worrisome behaviour, they almost always recommend training or refer client to a professional with the experience and understanding of canine behaviour to help dogs overcome their fears. This is because behaviour, training and health care are interrelated. Dr. Barclay says, “a trained dog will have a much better experience at the clinic because we are able to communicate with these dogs. They will not have to experience fear and stress and therefore poor behaviour does not have to get between the staff and the dog as we try our best to help.”
Training for vet appointments can begin at home the first day your dog comes home. It begins with your dog, a handful of cookies and you performing a daily once over, touching your dog all over. Aside from teaching your dog that handling is a very good thing the daily once over allows you to monitor your dog’s health and catch lumps, bumps, irritation and early signs of infection-this is especially important if your dog has a longer coat as we can often feel things we cannot see! Once your dog can accept a once over from you, then you can gradually introduce touching by others…visitors to your home, friends. The key is to help your dog learn to trust strangers!
Another great way to start building your dog’s confidence around strangers is to attend group classes. Most group dog training classes help you teach these basics to your dog in a controlled environment but the training shouldn’t end after 6 weeks and it’s up to you to practice in different places, with lots of different people.
EXTRA-HELP WEN YOU’RE IN OVER YOUR HEAD
If your dog is already biting you (a nip is a bite too!), your friends or clinic staff, it’s time for an intervention with a professional versed in training and behaviour protocols that use positive reinforcement. Punishment based training that involves force, collar corrections, poking, hitting, yelling or beating can be particularly harmful. Dogs that bite are often fearful and punishment only reinforces the fact that they have something (or rather someONE) to worry about.
For more information, check out the resources list below!
Chill Out Fido: How to Calm your Dog by Nan Kené Arthur – This book is an excellent resource for every dog owner and has an excellent chapter on teaching your dog to accept restraint and handling using force-free, positive reinforcement techniques.
“Help your Dog Love Visiting the Veterinarian”
by The Association of Pet Dog Trainers