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What to do if your dog is scared of the vet

Updated: May 29, 2023

Dog afraid of the vet? Have no fear, tips are here!


Dog afraid of the vet on an exam table

We’ve all been there. You have to go to the vet because your pup is sick, or needs to get his vaccinations, or is going in for surgery. There’s no way around it, if you own a dog, you WILL go to the vet.


But whenever you go, your dog gets stressed, you get stressed, other dogs in the waiting room glare at or bark at your dog, your dog gets excited about cats in crates, it’s a cocktail for disaster!


No worries, there are things you can do to make your vet visits less stressful!


Steps to make your vet visits less stressful



stressed dog with a veterinarian

First off, have a great relationship with your vet. Make sure the dialogue is open and honest. And make sure you give your vet what they need to do their job effectively, like taking detailed notes of the problem your dog is having, including writing down when, how much and detailed notes of what you are seeing.


And ask your vet if you can video your dog’s issue, especially if he is limping, moving in a certain way, things that are hard to notice at the vet’s office and would require a lot of manipulation from the vet and stress on your dog to recreate. You may be able to avoid manipulation by the vet and maybe even not have to bring your dog in at all!


The next thing to consider are waiting rooms. They are areas of great stress for dogs, whether that is simply the smells and sounds, or other dogs in proximity, staring or even growling and barking, not to mention cats and other small animals in crates. The waiting room should only be for you, not your dog. Weather permitting, you can leave your dog in the car while you go in, or if it’s too warm out, go in and tell the secretary that you will be outside with your dog and to come get you when it’s your turn.



Control predictors at the vet's office


stressed dog at the vet's office in his owner's arms

Other things that are under your control are predictors. Most dogs think that something scary is going to happen when they venture into a vet’s office. They will start looking for things that predict what is going to happen. Unfortunately, that could be the floor, the vet or even you! That means that your approaching them in a certain way in other areas could cause a stress/fear reaction if this has become their predictor. So instead of just hoping that this won’t happen, control the predictors. The predictor should be something that is not common, doesn’t happen regularly, so that they can’t generalize it. The vet exam table is an excellent choice. It is not often outside the vet’s office that your dog will be put on a table, therefore you can control getting onto a table. Once on the table, free feed your dog before, during and after the event, whether that’s an exam or something more potentially painful, like a vaccination or a microchipping. Don’t wait with the food until AFTER the event to feed your dog, you need to feed before the event happens and continue while it is happening. This point is critical.


You can use this same system of predictors at home if you have, for example, have to give medication to your dog or put drops in his ears. Find something that is unusual and not regularly occurring to predict the event so that your dog doesn’t start predicting that you're coming towards him or you opening a cupboard is the predictor. An example could be a particular cushion. Take out the cushion, put it near or under your dog, give him the medication, put the cushion away. We can’t stop our dogs from predicting things, but we can control what the predictors are so that we don’t become the predictors. This avoids a negative association with YOU.



dog less stressed with a veterinarian


By following these simple, easy-to-implement steps, you can help your dog manage visits to the vet much more easily. He will be less stressed, you will be less stressed, it's a win-win situation!


And if you want even more advice, sign up for one or more of my online courses. You will be able to learn other tricks to make your dog's life less stressful, so that your dog becomes calm and focused on you, but in the positive and not the negative!





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