I don’t know about you, but I try to schedule all my dogs vet within the first few months of the year. They get their shots, prescriptions for heartworm and flea/tick medications, annual exams, and that big bill out of the way. Then we can move forward on a healthy year.
Vet visits can be tricky for any dog, but especially a reactive dog. I worked at a vet clinic as an assistant vet tech for a short period of time, but I learned a lot about handling all sorts of dogs. At the clinic, I saw dogs that were so excited about the vet they peed all over and other that were so scared that they peed all over. I’ve handled scared dogs that snapped and dogs that were perfectly happy to hold their paw out for a nail trim.
As a reactive dog owner, going to the vet can be an experience because there are going to be other animals there, new humans, funny smells, weird surfaces to walk on, and they are going to be poked and prodded. Associations can happen and it can be an overwhelming experience for any species. For example, I personally hate going to the dentist because of the association I have of a bad dental hygienist digging into my gums and the pain it caused.
Vet Visit Tips
1. Stay Calm and be Prepared
Get yourself together! Our pups can read our body language and emotions. If you are feeling anxious and uptight about a vet visit, they are going to feel it and probably exhibit similar behavior. It’s going to be ok! Here are a few ways to feel more confident and prepared at the vet:
- Do some practices runs. Pull up to the vet, lots of treating. On the next trip, walk around the outside of the vet, lots of treating. Next trip, go into the lobby and you got it, lots of treats. Let your vet office know and have their staff prepared with lots of treats. You could even practicing getting weighed. Make it a positive event and then leave.
- Don’t go empty handed. Bring a Kong filled with goodies to keep them calm while waiting. Pack a favorite blanket they can rest on instead of the cold tile. You could even use the blanket on the scale. Load up on high value treats and treat the heck out of them!
- Practice handling at home and then in different locations to help generalize. Play with their paws and treat. Touch their ears and treat, push lightly on their bellies and treat. Do everything a vet might do and make it a positive experience.
2. Find the Right Vet
- I can’t stress this point enough. Finding the right vet is key. We’ve been to a vet that was scared of our dog. She flinched and pulled back when he barked at her. Now, Mo has a big dog bark, but it worried me that this vet was reacting this way. Since when are vets afraid of dogs? Her body language was only going to make him uncomfortable. She also was very judgmental when she spoke to us. We of course never went back to her. Instead, we went to a vet who had three big Rottweilers and was excited to see Mo. She came in with treats, she loved on him before she did anything, and she came prepared with wet food. She never had to restrain my reactive, sensitive to touch, dog for shots or examinations. He loves going to vet because they do such a wonderful job at being accommodating and understanding.
3. Teach your Dog to Love a Muzzle
- There were times when I worked at the clinic that we had to muzzle a dog. It’s not ideal when they aren’t used to it, but we had to keep ourselves safe. Practicing at home can be the difference between a good experience and a bad experience at the vet. We would all like to think that our dog will never bite, but a dog in pain or who loathes being handled, might bite! Be honest with yourself. I know that if I trimmed my dogs nails all at once, he would bite me. There is an awesome game called the Cone game by Tom Mitchell over at Absolute Dogs that made muzzle wearing fun for my dog. Check it out here. This is a great just in case skill for you dog to have.
4. Do What you Have to Do (within reason, no forcing please!)
Our pets health is important and not getting annual exams or shots to avoid a reactive episode is not a good option. So what do you do if getting to a vet is not a safe option?
- Maybe going to a physical vet office is just too much. There are some mobile vets out there that would be happy to come to your home and do appointments there. Keep in mind, they may have to move to an office for serious operations and procedures.
- Talk to your doctor about some medications to help calm your pet specifically to be used for the event of visiting the vet. We don’t want to scare our dogs, but vetting has to be done and medications can help keep the dog safe and the people handling it.
- Call ahead and make arrangements with your vet. Is your dog dog reactive? Ask to be schedule when there will be no other dogs in the lobby. A good vet office will work with you. Don’t go crazy on your “demands,” but kindly ask for some things that will help your dogs visit go smoother.
- Switch vets and start over. Your dog might have had a traumatic experience and that association is sticking. Try somewhere new and start the association process fresh.
Happy Vet Visits are Possible!
My dog has his issues, but having a reactive dog that is happy at the vet has been a blessing. Mo had a Mast Cell tumor last January and he had to have surgery to have it removed and when he busted some stitches, we had to go back in to get sewed up. Luckily, the work we had done to make the vet a good place, saved us in this process. Dealing with the aftermath of his surgery was a mess, so it was a relief that at least the vet wasn’t an issue. Our dogs get sick and hurt, and to best care for them, going to the vet is vital. Make the effort to keep vet visits as positive as possible and you’ll have a happy, healthy dog!