Hi there, and happy Tuesday! Today, I’m writing about something that is really important to me–taking a nervous dog to the vet. Many nervous dogs don’t get taken to the vet, and they have illnesses that remain undiagnosed until it’s too late. The sooner you start training your dog that the vet is a happy place, the better. But, even if you adopt an older dog, you can definitely take steps to reduce nervousness and fear.
As you probably know, Brooks is a rescue dog. Even though I adopted him three and a half years ago, Brooks is still a pretty nervous guy in certain situations. One of those situations is going to the vet.
I know that most dogs don’t love going to the vet, but there’s dislike and then there’s straight up fear. When I lived in Virginia, I took Brooks to the most amazing vet. He worked with a lot of rescue animals and Brooks took to him immediately. He didn’t adore going to the vet, but he didn’t mind it either.
A few years ago, after moving across state lines and having to switch vets, I found myself in a situation where Brooks was so terrified at the vet’s office that I felt horrible for bringing him there. The veterinarian that we met with that day had no idea how to deal with a nervous dog and she did all the wrong things. Brooks wouldn’t let her do anything to him without wriggling out of the vet tech’s arms. I ended up having to hold him while the vet gave him shots and took blood from him, something they usually do without the presence of the owner. We were both pretty scarred from the experience. Needless to say, we didn’t go back to that veterinarian.
Although the vet was inexperienced with fearful dogs, I realized that I didn’t do much to help the situation either. Since then, I have done everything I can to make sure that Brooks has a good experience when he goes to the vet. Not everything is in a pet owner’s control when it comes to going to the vet, but there are a lot of things you can do to make your fearful dog more comfortable. Taking these steps has made Brooks much less fearful than he used to be. He allows the vet and the vet tech to handle him. It’s made our trips to the vet a lot easier, which came especially in handy earlier this year when he had some stomach issues which required a trip to the emergency vet.
What To Bring
- A non-retractable leash (retractable leashes can be dangerous where there are a lot of other nervous dogs around)
- Your dog’s favorite treats and/or peanut butter
- Before you go to the vet, take your dog for a long walk (or play some fetch, if your dog is into that) to make sure that he doesn’t have a lot of pent-up energy. Pent-up energy can increase anxiety in dogs just like it can in humans.
- Once you get to the office, keep your dog close to you. Let the staff know that you’ve arrived and that you’ll wait outside for your dog’s turn. Then, quickly walk back out. You want to spend as little time as possible in that waiting room because all the dogs are a little bit nervous, and you don’t want your dog to pick up on their energy.
- Walk your dog around the premises, staying within earshot so you don’t miss your dog’s name being called. I recommend doing a mix of walking and working on training so that your dog is both physically and mentally stimulated. Ask your dog to sit, stay, shake, and give them more treats than usual for the behavior. Use a cheerful voice. Keep everything in and around the vet’s office positive.
- Once it’s your dog’s turn, walk in, keeping him as close to you as possible. If your dog is loose leash trained (which I strongly recommend), now would be a great time to ask your dog to walk next to you. Your dog may be too nervous to do it properly, but do your best, and don’t get frustrated with him if he’s pulling. Remember, you want to keep things positive. Regardless of his training, keep him on a short leash.
- When you walk into the vet’s office, the first words out of your mouth after pleasantries should be “My dog is pretty nervous by nature, and he doesn’t love going to the vet.” If your dog is a rescue, let the vet know. They will appreciate the heads up.
- Vets should definitely know how to deal with nervous dogs, but if you find one that doesn’t, feel free to educate him/her on what your dog needs to get through the appointment. Remember: your dog can’t speak up for himself, and you are his only advocate. There’s nothing wrong with helping the vet understand your dog’s needs. Every dog has different fear triggers, but for Brooks, I will ask the vet and vet tech not to hover over him or talk to him in a high pitched voice. If you have a nervous dog, you already know that this is really basic advice. If you’ve just adopted your dog and you’re not sure what his fear triggers are, the basics are a good place to start. Most nervous dogs prefer for people to get down to their level rather than hover and for them to speak in a low, calm voice.
- There’s usually a vet tech there to pick your dog up to place him on the examination table. If your dog seems really uncomfortable, and you are okay with picking up your dog, you should ask to do it yourself. I used to have to pick Brooks up all the time, but lately, he’s allowed the vet tech to handle him. Winning!
- Before you do this next tip, make sure to ask the vet if it’s okay. I’ve never had a problem, but it’s good to make sure. While the vet is examining your dog, feed him lots of his favorite treats to distract him. Alternatively, offer your dog some peanut butter on a spoon.
- When paying or picking up medications at the front, follow the same guidelines as above. Keep your dog close to you and keep things positive.
I know this seems like a lot to prepare and go through just to keep your dog from being nervous at the vet’s office. Remember: It’s really important that your dog has good experiences with the vet because he’s going to need to keep coming back, at least once yearly, as well as if any emergencies pop up. The sooner you show your dog that the vet is a good thing, the better!
Question: Is there anything else you’re interested in learning about having a rescue dog or just a nervous dog?