Stress Free Veterinary Visits
Schooner was great at the veterinary hospital when he was a young dog, but he was gone for 15 months at service dog graduate school — we have no way of knowing if his veterinary experiences were good while he was away, so today was Field Trip Friday! We went to the veterinary office just to hang out and have some fun at the veterinary hospital without any time constraints.
It’s important to spend a little bit of time convincing your dog that the veterinary hospital, the technicians, and the veterinarians are cool, to-be-trusted people. There’s really only one way to do that: spend time at the veterinary hospital making good associations.
Why it’s important your dog be comfortable at the vet
The better exam your dog receives, the easier it is for the veterinarian to diagnose and treat your dog. Dogs that are easier to examine can get a more thorough examination than those dogs who are wiggly, afraid, or skittish. If your dog is so afraid or stressed out that he can’t be examined or treated, a sedative may need to be administered. This means extra time at the appointment, which often leads to extra cost — not to mention a less than ideal way to give a veterinary exam to a dog. When your dog is relaxed, you will also be relaxed. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
How to do it
It can be as easy as going to the veterinarian when you don’t need anything. We have a veterinary visit scheduled next week. Because it’s been a couple years since Schooner has been to this hospital and because I have no way of knowing what his veterinary experiences were while he was gone, I took Schoons to the hospital this morning to just hang out and get acquainted with the place.
Here’s what we had with us:
- mat (for “settle on your mat” exercises
- clicker (naturally!)
- treats (chopped summer sausage and colby jack cheese)
We didn’t have a timeline and we didn’t have any objectives (other than to have fun). I put the mat on the floor which immediately gave Schooner an idea where to hang out. I did some quick and easy “tricks” with him: sit, touch my hand with his nose, “look at me” game. He was really excited to hear the click and get the cheese or sausage. You could see the lightbulb turn on for him: “Oh! We’re going to play the clicker game? Ok, go! Tell me what to do!” He wasn’t worried about the three other dogs in the waiting room, the bird in the cage, or the wandering child who I don’t think could quite believe that dogs came that big.
The difference between “I’m not sure what’s going on here” to “I know exactly what to expect from you,” was immediately apparent in Schooner’s face when I put that mat on the floor and began working with him. It’s something I know will happen, but it doesn’t diminish my awe every time I see it. We practiced some basic “settle and relax” behaviors, and once he was settled in, I clicked him for being curious and polite.
When the hospital staff had an extra minute, they stopped by to say hello, feed some goodies, and then go about their duties. It was quite a low-key, “nothing happening here except fun” kind of visit. An exam room opened up and I asked if we could go in to practice in there, as well, seeing as how that’d be where all the action will be at his appointment on Monday. He got to do all that sniffing and exploring on his own and at his own pace. He got to really check everything out and seemed to be quite mesmerized with all the things he investigated.
We’ll be going to the vet “for nothing” some more, I’m sure. It’s a bit of time out of my day, but it sure will help Schooner feel better about his future vet visits! And in the end, a calm and comfortable dog is the best patient (which makes for a calm and comfortable ME)!
How wonderful that you have a vet office amenable to this sort of training. I had to take my goats to the vet. One goat needed an x-ray in his knee and the other had to come because they’re inseparable. Of course, I hadn’t practiced a vet office visit (the vet usually comes to the farm.) But, they are clicker trained. So, Caper targeted my hand and stood on the scale. He targeted to stand (mostly) still for the vet. Being goats, they were wildly enthusiastic about the whole thing. Clicker work helped keep it from being total chaos.
Terry KPA-CTP The Cooperative Horse
Janet Young Moses says
I try to take my dog to the vet as a field trip about once a year. She gets to play with the receptionist, assistant vets and the vets. She never has a problem going to the vet because she never knows when it is a visit or a field trip. My vet said he wished more people did vet field trips. Thanks for reinforcing with I have been doing. When I told anyone about the field trips they gave me weird looks.
Laurie Luck says
Keep up the good work! I’m sure your veterinarian, the technicians, and your dog (you, too) are happy with the results! 🙂