Your dog’s behaviour is a result of genetics, social experiences (socialisation) and the environment surrounding them. Lessons may be lost or altered by dramatics events, these often shape the way they view the world.
During critical social periods such as 8-12 weeks of age (puppies) and 7 months of age (adolescence), dogs have a heightened fear response. This is because they go through critical learning and socialisation periods and are very impressionable at this age. Unfortunately these times also fall in line with a pet’s first veterinary visits, usually for vaccinations and desexing. As veterinarians, it is our role to make these initial experiences as fun and pleasant as possible however each and every dog is different. That’s why we need your help from an early age.
Making the best start in life
During puppy-hood make practice visits to the vet just for fun. Veterinary teams always love a visit from a puppy and at the same time there’s no doubt a treat will be waiting to make the experience a rewarding one.
If you have tried ‘everything’ then your dog may need the help of a Professional Behaviourist or Consultant. Please ask us for more information.
Desensitisation – practice visits to the vet
Overcoming existing ‘vet clinic’ fears
If your dog is showing signs of anxiety each time they visit the veterinarian then practice visits are a great way to make a trip to the vet less stressful. Depending on the level of anxiety your pet experiences, follow each of the steps below, providing rewards and praise after completing each step.
- Start by beginning your journey by car or foot in the direction of the veterinary clinic, past the veterinary clinic or into the car park..
- Progress from the car park to the front door.
- Open the door and enter the reception area. Begin interacting with the team.
- Introduce stimuli such as the scales, the consultation room and the examination table.
- Introduce instruments such as the stethoscope
Ultimately your pet should progress to being handled by a member of the veterinary team. For some dogs this may take multiple visits with only minimal progress at each step while other dogs may progress to the next step at the same visit.
Worried owners – worried pets
Like the parent of a three year old child visiting the dentist for the first time your tone of voice, body language and stress level will affect how your pet reacts to an environment. They will be looking to you to see if everything’s ok. So when you are preparing to visit the veterinarian, don’t make your pet feel like something isn’t ok.
If you are planning to make a visit to see us, just phone ahead so we can let you know when the quietest time of day is. Also, as soon as you arrive just let us know so we can be armed with treats and rewards.
Handling begins at home
To perform a physical examination or to give vaccinations we may need to restrain your pet. A dog that has never been physically restrained will naturally struggle against being held, even at home where he/she feels safe.
Of course being restrained can increase anxiety and stress, and in some situations may even cause a dog to lash out. To help prevent this from happening it’s important you handle your dog daily practice checking the ears, mouth and feet. Massage sessions are especially helpful to desensitize handling issues and are a great way to relax your dog while at the vet clinic.
It’s all in the body language
It is helpful to learn how to read dog’s body language to learn when your dog is anxious or fearful. These signs can sometimes be subtle and sometimes not so subtle.
Examples of body language which can help you detect fear or anxiety include:
- Lip licking,
- Panting or drooling,
- Looking away or body and/or head down,
- Tense body or facial features,
- Tail down or up (to warn away),
- Shaking (whole body as if shaking water off),
- Trembling or fidgeting,
- Excessive fur shedding,
- Urinating/ defecating.
These signs can indicate fear, but you should always take into consideration all of your dog’s behaviours and their response to a particular situation or environment.
A normally calm dog may panic or snap, or on the other hand a normally confident dog may appear cautious or shy. If a dog’s fear escalates, stay calm at all times, do not corner them and give them plenty of space.
There are several ways of approaching your dog:
- Kneel down,
- Use a gentle slow approach,
- Avoid sudden noises or movements,
- Ask strangers to approach from side-on,
- Try not to look into your dog’s eyes.
- Offer your dog treats and work towards patting him/her on the chest or under the chin,
- Mimic your dog’s body language back to them. Such as looking away when they do.
- Avoid leaning over, staring or putting your hands over your dog’s face.
On a final note, perseverance and patience will pay off. At the same time remember to use lots of rewards and positive reinforcement for good behaviour and your pet will be well on your way to enjoying a stress free visit to their veterinarian.