Do you enjoy going to the doctor’s office, or hanging out in hospitals? If not, perhaps you can understand why your dog’s favorite place probably isn’t the vet. Let’s face it: vet practices can be stressful places for pets (and their owners). But the good news is that acclimating your puppy to different sounds, smells, people, and animals from an early age can help them create positive behavior traits. And that translates to easier, more positive vet trips for you, your dog, and your vet.
Habituation is Key!
What do we mean by “habituation”? It’s the process by which a puppy becomes accustomed to his or her environment, which includes being handled by a variety of people.
But it all starts with you. From the moment you bring your puppy home, get him used to human touch: rub his belly, gently put your fingers around his mouth, lightly pinch his toes and between his paw buds. Brush his coat and handle his ears (just be gentle!). All of this should be done on a consistent basis by family members and friends to build up your pup’s trust of people.
Next, expose your puppy to a wide range of noises, people, places, and sensations. Do this as early on as you can, because it will help him deal with a range of experiences as he gets older, including trips to the vet. Take him to a variety of locations—anywhere that allows dogs—like parks, dog runs, trips to the store, and weekend jaunts. If your puppy is good with people, allow different people to touch and handle him. (Lucky for you, lots of people naturally want to pet puppies!) The more interactions your puppy has, the easier it will be for both your dog and your vet when it comes time for routine checks and exams.
An excellent place for a new pup to work on socialization is at a puppy school or puppy-training class. Here, vaccinated puppies can learn essential communication skills, become accustomed to new sights and sounds, and begin obedience training.
Get it Out Before the First Visit
If your dog is full of pep when she arrives at the vet’s office, that could turn into nervous energy should she start feeling stressed. To help the vet visit progress more smoothly, engage in some vigorous play with your dog or go for a nice long run with her to get it all out beforehand.
Speaking of “getting it all out”: give your dog a few extra potty breaks leading up to the vet visit. Accidents in the practice do happen and aren’t generally a big deal, but they will only add unnecessary stress and chaos to the environment (not to mention having to potentially deal with the scent of cleaning products). The one exception to this is if your dog might have a urinary tract infection; if you think this is a possibility, you will want your vet to try to get a urine sample in-practice.
The more positive experiences your dog can associate with the practice, the more relaxed she’ll feel when she has to be there for real.
Use a Carrier
If your pet is small enough, use a carrier to transport him to the vet. The carrier will protect your pup from other pets and distractions, and provide a safe space that he’s comfortable in. Lining the carrier with a blanket or toys that smell like home can also help calm your dog in an unfamiliar setting.
(Of course, if your pet hates his carrier, that’s a different story. You can be the judge of whether he’d be calmer in your arms.)
If you know your dog doesn’t get along well with other animals or has anxiety issues, consider taking him to the vet at off-peak hours. You can ask your vet for information about this. Additionally, some veterinary offices offer cat-only and dog-only days for appointments, which can alleviate cross-species aggression.
Make your Dog or Cat Comforable
Remember when we talked about habituation? Getting your dog accustomed to lots of different people and situations is an important part of that, but it’s also about getting her used to the vet practice itself.
So if you’re walking by the practice one day, just bring her in! Maybe a vet tech can weigh her, or maybe she’ll just get a treat or two from a friendly receptionist. The takeaway: The more positive experiences your dog can associate with the practice, the more relaxed she’ll feel when she has to be there for real.
Remember, veterinarians are animal-lovers, first and foremost. We don’t want you to dread bringing your dog in for routine checkups—and we definitely don’t want your pup to be afraid of us! So follow our tips to help your dog have stress-free, easy trips to the vet, from puppyhood to their elder years.