What to do if your dog is afraid of the vet
The dog is afraid of the vet much more often than one might imagine: there are more dogs who do not feel at ease within the walls of a clinic than those who face a check-up as if nothing had happened. So this is a topic that many owners wonder about.
To avoid making mistakes and increasing fears related to check-ups by specialists, it is good to know what the best approaches are to help your four-legged friend not to live with anxiety and stress in a moment that, hopefully, most of the time is just a routine step: a way to check that everything is in order and intervene in time if problems are found.
The reaction to the vet can be of all kinds. Fear can manifest itself in a mild form or translate into aggression. It is therefore natural that there are cases in which finding the right strategy is really important. However, if it is known that Fido is not living well at a certain moment, it is the precise responsibility of the person who adopted him to alleviate his worries as much as possible. Health is not only physical, in fact, but also psychological and must be preserved.
Signs that the dog is afraid of the vet
- Yawns repeatedly;
- He licks himself constantly;
- Raise your front paw several times;
- He looks away, looking for an escape route;
- He urinates on himself;
- Presents signals of submission;
- He begins to have difficulty breathing;
- He salivated excessively;
- He starts to get aggressive.
These are possible signs that your dog is scared of the vet. It all stems from a very specific state of mind, fear. If you notice a certain discomfort on Fido's part, there are ways to calm him down and ensure that he is not a danger to himself or others.
How to take your dog to the vet
The first thing to do is to try to make the journey as least traumatic an experience as possible. As owners it is best not to be anxious and try to remain calm. This way we can be of support during the trip (and then during the visit). Whether your dog travels in a crate or not, it is good practice to start by speaking to him in a calm, low voice.
Throughout the journey and upon arrival it is best to appear relaxed, continue to cuddle him and try to calm him as much as possible, perhaps even giving him some biscuits or playing a little to distract him.
What worries the dog at the vet?
- The vet's coat;
- The syringe;
- The smell of disinfectant;
- The steel table;
- Negative associations.
To understand what scares the dog we need to break down the problem, thinking about the four-legged's different senses. In this way we can try to divert attention from some sensitive elements, using them in other, positive contexts. A trick could be to wear a gown during a play session or use the syringe without a needle as a dispenser for Fido's food; disinfectant to sterilize something in the garden and so on.
In essence they must be decontextualized and presented as harmless. If the reaction is not anxiety, positive reinforcement is essential to let him know that he has behaved well and that you are proud of him. If the dog is afraid of the vet, training and correct socialization are the best solutions. Experts recommend implementing systematic desensitization and counterconditioning. This reduces harmful behaviour, the result of the reaction to a situation or object that makes people uncomfortable.
What is systematic desensitization
Systematic desensitization involves the identification of disturbing elements and their decontextualization. If the dog realizes that they are not necessarily enemies, but that they are also used in situations of relaxation and fun, he will see them with different eyes even when he is at the vet.
Once you have successfully overcome the phase at home, an environment in which your four-legged friend normally feels safe, it is a good idea to move outside. It is good to keep in mind that training, whatever the objective, must take place step by step, in stages. And, for every success, the dog must be rewarded. This is how positive associations are created in dogs' memory: how it works.
If this is your first experience with a dog, it may be useful to seek advice and help from your trusted veterinarian and/or an expert ethologist. Once he feels comfortable and understands that he has nothing to be afraid of and, indeed, if he is calm and even receives an extra snack or plays, you will get the same reaction in another place.
The dog is afraid of the vet: solutions
If the dog is afraid of the vet, another solution could be to bring one of his favorite toys or a succulent treat in his bag to offer him to distract him from what is worrying him, to recreate a pleasant, relaxed condition.
Healthcare personnel can also do their part. If it is not strictly necessary, you can avoid wearing a gown or even opt for a home visit. In this way, in fact, Fido remains in his comfort zone and has fewer elements that destabilize him.
How to train your dog
The training session should not last too long and tire the dog. The key is to make it feel like a game with a prize. Repetition is another necessary step so that you can memorize what you have learned and automate behaviors/reactions. If you don't notice any steps forward, you shouldn't rush it, it's better to linger on a step a little longer before continuing.
Furthermore, once the final result has been obtained, it is good to do the acid test in a different environment and see if the behavior is the same. This way you can be sure that even at the vet the reaction will be positive.
If none of this really works, it is best to protect all the players involved during periodic and necessary checks. A muzzle at the vet is essential if the dog is unpredictable, furthermore the specialist can recommend sedatives (even mild and natural ones) to calm Fido.
How to help your dog be less afraid of the vet
- The dog must be accustomed to being touched from a puppy, it is best to do it at home first rather than in the clinic;
- He must be accompanied by the human with whom he has the deepest bond, the one he trusts the most;
- The vet's steel bed can be covered with something more comfortable and less cold;
- Objects/snacks that the dog likes should not be forgotten;
- A pre-visit massage, relaxing music and a reassuring attitude can have positive effects on the four-legged friend's mood;
- The dog should be taken to the vet even in contexts of relaxation and joy, it should not associate a place only with therapies, tests and injections;
- In the most extreme cases it is better to use a sedative or arrange a home visit.
These are fundamental points to help the dog who is afraid of the vet. There are many solutions to be implemented, both short and long term. The secret is to put the dog's psychophysical well-being first and do everything to look after it as best as possible, to make it feel all the love it has around it.