Teaching your dog to love the vet
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
A good breeder will start teaching your puppy to have fun and positive interactions with a veterinarian, and also to tolerate restraint. Even if your puppy hasn't had a head start like this, you can help her learn to love the vet and to significantly reduce her stress.
You will want to start or continue your puppy’s education by making all of her vet visits as fun and happy as possible. Bring lots of treats, and the minute you get to the clinic, give your puppy treats for any good behavior. That includes sitting quietly, greeting people appropriately, handling scary events, and more. Also, encourage vet staff to give your puppy treats.
Make sure your puppy has relieved himself before you get to the clinic. If your drive is over 15 minutes, find a nearby office or industrial park with no signs of dog use to give him a potty break.
Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early to avoid being stressed by a tight schedule and to allow your puppy time to adjust to the clinic and new environment.
Give your puppy a treat for each new encounter. For example, give a treat when you arrive at the vet and get out of the car. Give another for your puppy walking nicely with you, when you go through the front door, while you are waiting at the desk to check in, when you sit in the waiting room, when a new person approaches, etc. These experiences may not even be something you normally think about, but they may all be brand new to your puppy. Help him have positive experiences by being confident and giving him treats and praise.
Remember, you are your puppy’s main advocate. While we want the experience to be happy, you don’t want people to get overexcited with your puppy, so make sure all voices are calm and all interactions are calm. If anyone is getting over excited with your puppy, riling him up, or causing him to behave in a way you don’t want, pick up your puppy, step back from the person, and tell them you are working on training your dog in a calm manner and ask them to please speak and act calmly with your dog. If a person can’t act appropriately, leave their presence insofar as possible.
Please see our post about identifying stress to better know when your puppy might need help form you.
If a person approaches, give them a treat and ask them to quietly give the treat to your dog. Many people have good intentions but aren’t educated about dog training and can act inappropriately with your puppy. Be proactive and ask them to behave the way you want before they have a chance to overexcite or frighten your puppy.
Many people will allow their dogs to run over to your puppy and jump on them. Do not let this happen! Many dog owners do not properly socialize their dogs and don’t teach them to behave appropriately with other dogs. If you see a dog headed your way, especially if they are pulling their owner over by the leash, pick up your puppy and ask them to stay away before their dog encounters your puppy. And you don’t know the health status of that other dog and the last thing you want is to expose your puppy to diseases for which it does not yet have full immunity. Tell them your puppy hasn’t yet had all of her shots, please don’t let the dogs near each other. Again, you are your puppy’s advocate. Stand up for her BEFORE there’s a problem, or step in as soon as possible after noticing a problem. Your puppy’s well-being is more important than a stranger’s opinion of you. This goes for ANY situation with your puppy, not just at the vet.
The vet’s office is not the place for socialization. You want your dog to know to act a certain way at the vet, and when you socialize with people and other dogs, you want to be in a more controlled environment.
If the overall atmosphere in the clinic is chaotic, ask the staff if you can wait outside or in your car, or if they have a quiet area.
In the exam room
Continue rewarding your puppy as you enter the exam room, and reward for every new encounter. For example, when entering the room, when she approaches the exam table, when she meets the vet tech, when she gets on the table, when the tech or the vet touches or restrains her. Ask the veterinary staff to greet your puppy with treats. Give the puppy a treat for each vaccination or blood draw. You get the picture.
A note about restraint. The one time you don’t want to reward your puppy is if he’s struggling during restraint or a procedure. Rewarding your puppy at that time will only reinforce the struggling, so don’t do it, even if your puppy seems frightened at that moment. Remember, unless it’s an emergency, you can always ask the tech or vet to stop working on your puppy and allow him to calm down.
Remember to pay attention to your puppy while you are checking out and leaving the clinic. This is not the time to forget to support and advocate for your dog. If someone is with you, have them take your puppy out to the car to wait. Once you leave the clinic, take your dog to a safe place to relieve herself.