The vet is one of the most important people in your puppy’s life so it pays to start the relationship on a positive footing and keep it that way. Animal behaviourist Claire Hargrave offers advice on how to make your puppy’s vet visits calm and stress-free – from the very first time.
Try to get your puppy used to being physically handled before their first vet visit. This will help the vet by allowing him or her to do a thorough examination without the puppy becoming nervous or stressed.
Get your puppy used to being handled at home by feeding tiny treats, one at a time, as you examine him or her. Very gently, check your pup’s lips and teeth, lift the ears and massage under them, lift the feet and massage between the toes, massage the stomach and raise the tail.
Gradually extend their comfort zone by asking family members and friends to do this too. Do it not only on the floor but also on a table so your puppy isn’t alarmed at finding they are on a raised surface in a surgery being handled intrusively by the vet.
Do all this tenderly, keeping the treats coming. Stick to healthy treats, however, in order to avoid unbalancing your dog’s diet. Small pieces of carrot or unbuttered popcorn are good.
Take treats along and ask your vet if they would mind using them during the examination to reward your dog for cooperation.
Be careful how you give treats, though – giving them to a nervous puppy could reinforce anxious behaviour.
Use a pet carrier
Use a sturdy pet carrier (or crate) in the car so your pup is used to travelling in the most safe, secure position, either on the car’s back seat or its rear section, as opposed to being on a passenger’s knee.
Take your puppy into the practice in the carrier and place him or her on a seat beside you while you wait, to help give a sense of security in a busy, unfamiliar environment.
Carrying a puppy or having him or her on your knee at the vet’s is never a good idea – your reassuring strokes may actually reinforce the pup’s uneasiness, as will exposure to any other dogs that may be there.
Your puppy should associate visiting the vet with being made a fuss of. Most practices won’t mind if you pop in for some brief socialisation between scheduled appointments, just to use the weighing scales or to get a puppy treat from the receptionist.
Keep the visit short and fun to help the puppy make a positive association with the car ride, practice and staff. A ball game or little walk just before you go in can help reinforce the impression that it’s a normal, pleasant place to visit.
Be in control
Try to stay calm at the vet’s ¬– if you are anxious, your puppy may sense this and also feel strained. Your puppy will look to you for helpful instructions as to how to behave and will only comply with these if they have not been allowed to become excited.
Bear in mind that your puppy’s co-operation and obedience skills need to be practised in situations where there are distractions – not just in a quiet training room.
If the vet practice holds puppy socialisation classes, it’s worth going along. There have been huge advances in understanding the behavioural and emotional development of puppies, so even experienced dog owners can benefit from classes.