Going to the vet can be a frightening experience for your canine companion. There are lots of strange smells – some very off putting to a dog’s super sensitive nose. Then there are all those strangers – other dogs, cats, small animals and people. Even well socialized dogs may feel anxious at the vet office.
Your precious pup may also pick up on your own stress while at the vet clinic. Perhaps you’ve had a negative experience in the past and now any vet visit puts you on edge. You’re not alone – many people have had those experiences.
The vet visit can be better, maybe even enjoyable! Teaching your pup a few important skills can reduce the stress and potentially make the vet exam quicker and easier. Your pup AND your vet will thank you.
Teaching a target behavior is a great skill in many situations, but it’s crucial at the vet office. The target could be almost anything – a hand, a mat, or a toy. Giving your pup something to focus on – a hand target – keeps their mind engaged. In other words, it gives them something to do. Often our canine companions simply don’t know what to do or who to pay attention to at the vet, which in itself causes stress. While the vet is looking at ears or listening to the heart, having your dog focus on the target keeps her still, allowing the vet to get the exam finished quickly. Be sure to keep those treats handy and reward for targeting.
A sit-stay could work here, too, but I like a down. It’s more comfortable for most dogs than a prolonged sit. In busy or crowded waiting room, keeping your pup in a down-stay helps keep them relaxed and lowers stress while helping you create a safe zone around your pup, protecting from the unwanted attention of people/dogs. Also, when your dog is in a down/stay it’s easier for you to watch for signs of nervousness in your pup.
This is my favorite target activity for pups out in the community. Teaching your dog to “place” – which means go to your mat and down-stay until released – has great benefits. First, the mat smells familiar. Dogs’ sense of smell is extremely sensitive. Things that humans don’t notice dogs can find off-putting, frightening or stimulating – all of which increase excitement and decrease calm. A familiar scent can create a sense of calm. Second, the mat gives the dog a specific place to be that both human and canine can see – no ambiguity about where your dog should be. Third, it’s just cool! Imagine how amazed people in the vet office would be if your dog went to her mat and waited calmly for her vet exam!
With a little planning and some fun training, the vet office doesn’t have to be a scary place.
If your looking for more tips to keep your pup calm at the vet or anywhere in public, contact Delores@thelearningdogacademy.com for more information.