I’ve been a dog owner since 1981, and have been blessed with my dogs. My breed of choice is the American Staffordshire Terrier; while they are not the breed for everyone, they are a great fit for me. I got two of my dogs as puppies, and as a responsible pet owner I took the time to teach them a few things before we headed off to the vet’s office for the first time.
I began handling my dogs at an early age to get them used to it. Whether you show a dog in confirmation events or just want a family pet, they all need to get used to being handled. You want to handle them all over, touch their head, check inside the ears, open their mouth and look inside, check their gums, their feet, between toes, toenails, even their tail. Make it fun – using dog treats makes the job easier if you have a wiggler. Until a puppy gets used to being handled, it’s easier to do this after romping or just before you put them to bed for the night.
It is also important to teach your dog the basics of leash walking. When you go to the vets, use a regular six foot lead. It will give you more control than a retractable lead in the confines of the vet’s office where you may encounter other dogs. Get your dog used to riding in the car by going for short rides. Take your dog to the pet shop, a dog park or a beach, or other places they have fun.
Make sure to socialize them well and allow them to meet other dogs; this helps prepare them for encounters with multiple dogs at the vets. It also helps them to be less stressful, as they don’t just go in the car to the vet’s office. Schedule a trial run at the vet’s office at a time when the veterinary personnel can greet your dog and offer a treat. This lowers stress levels and puts a different spin on going to the vet. If your dog tends to get carsick, don’t feed them before going to the vet and keep this in mind when making your appointments. Make your appointments for early morning and feed your dog after you get home.
What do you do when you adopt an adult dog and don’t know the dog’s temperament at the vet’s office? If you adopt your dog from a shelter, ask to speak with the person who took them to the vet, or if the vet came to the shelter ask how the dog behaved there. How is the dog around other dogs? Do they ignore them, are they friendly or are they aggressive? Do they have a fear of noises? By finding out as much information about your new dog as possible, you will have an idea of what you need to work on.
If your dog acts anxious in the vet’s waiting room, don’t pet or comfort them. This only reinforces the behavior. Distract them with a treat or job to do that will bring praise. I have taught Skye the command “pay attention.” She knows that I expect her undivided attention and her eyes don’t leave my face. For example, if there’s another dog making a fuss at the vets, I say “pay attention” and Skye ignores the other dog. The vet’s waiting area is large enough for me to work Skye, so sometimes we bone up on basic commands while we wait. You can also just keep your dog on a down/stay next to you until it’s your turn to be seen. Don’t let your dog wander, because the other pets that are there may be ill and you should not allow your dog to approach them. They may not be as socialized as your dog, and illness makes pets cranky.
Depending on your vet’s situation, you may be asked to assist by holding your dog and keep them calm during the examination. This may be required when the vet draws blood, takes your dog’s temperature or gives your dog a shot. Put one hand on your dog’s neck and keep the other on their collar to help steady them. Be generous with your praise, as this will distract your dog from the procedure being performed. The calmer you are, the more comfortable your dog will be.
Skye has to visit the vet every six months for blood tests. I don’t worry about her though, since she loves the vet and enters (and leaves) with her head high and her tail wagging vigorously.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently
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