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Dog settling in

How to make vet visits go smoothly

It’s time to introduce your new dog to one of the most important humans in his or her life – the vet. Pet behaviourist Claire Hargrave offers advice on how to make the relationship a positive one, ensuring visits are as calm and stress-free as possible for all concerned.

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Mock exams

One way of ensuring that your new dog is prepared for visiting the vet is to get him or her used to being physically handled at home. This will help the vet by allowing them to do a thorough examination without your dog becoming nervous or stressed – which can be an issue with rehomed dogs, or those who have had a lot of change in their lives.

As a reward for cooperation, feed tiny healthy treats such as chopped apple or carrots, one at a time, as you very gently examine the lips and teeth, lift the ears and massage under them, lift feet and massage between the toes, palpate the stomach and raise the tail.

Do all this tenderly, while keeping the tasty morsels coming, and your dog will become accustomed to pleasant things happening when the handling occurs.

Gradually extend the exercise by inviting other family members and visiting friends to repeat the procedures, so when the dog first visits the vet he or she will already be used to intrusive handling.

Do it not only on the floor but also on a table so your dog isn’t alarmed at finding they are on a raised surface in a surgery being handled intrusively by the vet.

Positive reinforcement

Take treats along and ask your vet if he or she would mind using them during the examination to reward your dog for co-operation.

It’s important that treats are given judiciously, though – you have to be careful about what you’re actually rewarding. Treats should be given when the animal is calm as giving them to a nervous animal could actually reinforce anxious behaviour.

Coping strategies

If you’ve inherited a fearful dog whose previous history is perhaps unknown, you’ll need to prepare your pet gradually so he or she is relaxed when visiting the vet.

Work initially on getting the dog to feel comfortable approaching the door to the reception, then go back to the car before returning to the door again and offering a treat.

Repeat the process until your dog is ready to enter the reception area. Ask him or her to sit. This is the cue for a nurse to offer a couple of tasty treats.

There’s no harm in staying in the car and asking to be called when it’s your turn if the surgery is busy and you think your dog may feel intimidated. The calmer your dog is about visiting the vet, the more useful the visit will be as the vet will be able to carry out a complete assessment without interruptions or having to cut the visit short.

Friendly drop-ins

Your dog should associate the practice with being made a fuss of. Most won’t mind if you pop in for some brief socialisation between scheduled appointments, just to use the weighing scales or say hello and get a treat from the receptionist.

Keep the visit short and fun to help the dog make a positive association with the car ride, practice and staff. A ball game before you go in can help reinforce the impression that it’s a normal, pleasant place to visit.

Stay in control

If you’re anxious, your dog may sense this and also feel strained, so stay calm.

Walk in with your dog on a leash, but keep it relaxed – don’t tug.

Your dog will look to you to give him or her helpful instructions as to how to behave at the vets – and will only comply with these if you keep them calm throughout the visit.

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