[...] The newest addition our family is Coral, a now nine-month-old female Irish setter puppy. Coral was spayed a few weeks ago, and I recently took her back to our veterinarian to have the staples removed from her incision. Two of the staples had become somewhat embedded, and the veterinarian had a bit of difficulty removing them. A technician and I held Coral on her side on the examination table during the procedure. Of course, Coral was struggling and yipping, because this was painful and not her idea of a good time.
After it was over, Coral made a beeline for the door, wanting nothing more than to get our of what she had decided was an unpleasant place. Once my puppy-mom reactions subsided, and the professional side of my brain kicked in, I realized I had just experienced a personal example of a subject I've been lecturing and writing about for a number of years - how to make veterinary visits behaviorally friendly for your dog.
Whether your dog is visiting the veterinarian for a regular wellness exam and vaccinations, routine procedures such as neutering, or for a serious injury or illness, veterinary visits can inevitably be less than enjoyable for your dog. After a few of these, your dog can become sensitized, and anticipate that 'had things' are going to happen as soon as she enters the clinic. Your dog can become more difficult to handle, and both you and your veterinary staff start to dread your appointments.
It's important for both dog owners and veterinary staff to do as much as possible to overcome, compensate for, and, when possible, avoid unpleasant experiences. This can begin right at the front door of the hospital, in the reception area. Depending on the reason for your visit, a member of the veterinary staff- or even you can offer your dog a tidbit upon arrival.
Many bank tellers put a doggie biscuit in the drawer at the drive-up window when they see a dog in the car. Dogs quickly learn to love accompanying their owners to the bank! Veterinary staff can borrow this idea.
A Pleasant Veterinary Visit
Staff should greet your dog in a nonthreatening manner. Avoiding eye contact, not facing your dog, petting her under the chin rather than over the head, and either standing up straight (big dogs) or bending at the knees (little dogs) rather than leaning over at the waist will make anyone appear more friendly.
I requested that a towel be put down over the cold metal exam table to help make Coral a bit more comfortable. A soft pad would have been even better. After the exam or procedure is over, more tidbits and cuddles or a brief game of rug, if your dog is so inclined and her condition permits, will hasten your dog's transition from emotional arousal to a more pleasant state. I remember going to the dentist as a child, and having the visit end with getting to choose a pretty ring from a tray. While it didn't make me forget about the pain, it did help me feel better faster!
Talk with your veterinarian about socialization visits to the clinic. Have your veterinarian choose a less busy time that is also convenient for you when you can bring your dog in for a meet-and-greet session. The staff greets your dog, makes a big fuss, offers cookies and petting, maybe a walk to the scales and the exam room and some affection from the veterinarian, and then you're on your way home. Doing these socialization visits once or twice a month can help your dog decide that the veterinary hospital isn't such a bad place after all.
This is another advantage of puppy classes that are offered by your veterinary hospital. Puppies become familiar with the staff and the surroundings under much more pleasant circumstances.
You Can Practice at Home
You should also frequently practice body-handling exercises at home with your dog from puppyhood on. Touch your per's sensitive parts, such as feet, genitalia and ears, and open the mouth, while offering tidbits and speaking in a calming voice. If you never touch certain parts of your dog's body, don't expect him to tolerate a veterinary exam easily. I've made a point of gently touching Coral's incision to be sure that she hasn't become sensitive about this area.
By teaming up with your veterinary hospital's staff, you can teach your dog not to mind - and perhaps even to enjoy - those trips to see the doctor.