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Managing Vet Visits with a Fearful Dog




You work hard to keep your dog safe and happy. You help them avoid situations that are scary or overwhelming and create a positive and joyful world for them. Unfortunately, there’s one place you need to bring your dog that many dogs are afraid of. It’s a place that is designed to keep them safe and healthy, but might send them running for the door with their tail tucked between their legs. We’re talking about going to the vet!


There are many things you can do to teach your dog to overcome their fear of vetting procedures or the veterinarian’s office, but what can you do if your next vet visit is this week?


Only go in for necessary procedures. Ask your vet if your dog needs to come in right away or if you can work with your trainer to prepare them first.


Discuss your options with your vet ahead of your appointment. The vet may be able to meet you outside so your dog does not have to go into the building. You may be able to skip the waiting room by checking your dog in over the phone and having the vet office call you when they have a room ready so you can walk directly to the exam room. For some fearful dogs, the vet may recommend medication to take before coming to help reduce their anxiety.


Keep visits short. The longer your dog is in a scary situation the more stressed they can become. Schedule multiple shorter visits if your dog needs more than one procedure or exam. It’s okay to say “let’s do it next time,” if your vet says a procedure is needs to be done but not right away.


Distractions. Bring lots of high value treats to scatter around and feed if your dog has to be touched. If the procedure requires them not to eat, ask the vet if there is something that they can have, like ice cubes. Bring their favorite enrichment toys such as a snuffle mat, Kong, licky mat, or favorite tug toy.


Acquaint your dog with a muzzle. Your dog may need to wear a muzzle for part or all of their procedures. Start building positive associations before you go by letting your dog lick peanut butter or their favorite spreadable treat out of the muzzle each day leading up to their appointment.


Baskerville muzzles and other basket muzzles tend to be the most comfortable for dogs and allow them to pant, drink water and eat treats.


Most importantly give your dog lots of patience and love.


​​Once you’ve made it through that visit you couldn’t avoid, it’s time to make a plan with your force-free trainer to prepare your dog for future procedures and help them form positive associations with the vet office for next time!


Author: Laura Maihofer, CPDT-KA

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