Would your dog rather hide, than pay a visit to the vet?
If you’ve owned a few dogs, then it’s possible you’ve experienced this first hand. I know we have – but that was more because our dog learnt that going to the vet often meant pain during the examination. He had elbow and hip dysplasia and manipulating the joints was always uncomfortable for him.
If you have experienced your dog’s dislike of going to the vets, you may have seen the effects first hand…
It might start when you pull up to the car park at the vet’s surgery – whining and shaking in the car, and then your dog almost clings onto the car with their doggy nails! And that’s only for starters! If you actually manage to get into the vet’s reception itself, your dog may get the shakes, bark loudly at everything, or even lift their leg against the reception desk – and yes, we’ve been there too!
You need to act in a sensible manner to help your dog
The first thing to remember is don’t be embarrassed – your vet, and the other staff, have seen it all before! It’s unlikely anything your dog does will surprise them. Remember they are trained in animal behavior and know what to expect and how to handle frightened animals. They don’t want to make it any worse for your animals, or you.
Secondly, don’t discipline your dog. This will just panic them more. Some people hate going to the doctor or the dentist, and we wouldn’t like someone giving us a telling off because of it! Neither will your dog.
A stressed dog makes it harder for the vet
Unless it’s a routine visit to the vet, then chances are the examination and/or treatment are going to be stressful for your dog. This stress can make it difficult to examine the dog properly, and if the examination can’t take place in full, the diagnosis itself can be difficult. Obviously your vet will sedate your dog if they are in serious pain. But once your dog associates your vet with a stressful experience, they easily learn the behavior and can be stressed for every single visit – even the routine ones!
So what can you do to keep your dog calm? The best thing is to be there for them. Just as people are there for each other at trying times, so too should you be there for your dog. A comforting touch and the sound of your voice can go a million miles to reassuring them, and making the whole visit to the vet much easier.
A recent study backs this up, after researching the effects of contact with the dog’s guardian during veterinary exams on the stress levels of the dog. During the study, dogs were found to be less stressed by several degrees, when their owners interacted with them, rather than just standing in the room.
Study reveals benefit of dog owner contact during vet visits
Every dog was studied during two visits to the veterinarian—one in which the guardian talked to and had physical contact with the dog, and one in which the guardian was present in the room but did not interact with the dog. The canine behaviors observed were panting, vocalizing, attempting to jump off the exam table, struggling, lip licking, yawning and paw lifting. The physiological measures were heart rate, cortisol levels, maximum ocular surface temperature and rectal temperature. All behaviors and physiological measures are associated with stress in dogs.
When guardians were allowed to talk to and pet their dogs (the “contact” condition), the dogs attempted to jump off the table less often and vocalized less than dogs whose guardians were present but not interacting with the dog (the “non-contact” condition). There were no differences in any of the other stress-related behaviors. On the physiological side, dogs in the “contact” condition did not have as large an increase in heart rate or maximum ocular surface temperature as the dogs in the “non-contact” condition did. There were no differences between the two conditions in rectal temperature.
This study offers some encouragement about our ability to make a difference to our dogs’ stress levels when at the veterinarian. The results suggest that interactions with the guardian may be more effective than just the physical presence of the guardian, but the effect is not striking. By many measures, there were no differences. The behavioral measure that did differ—vocalizing and trying to jump off the exam table—may do so because both of those behaviors could be an attempt to make contact with the guardian. Dogs do often vocalize as a response to separation, and dogs who try to jump off the exam table may sometimes do so as an attempt to make contact with their guardians.
Be yourself and treat your dog as you would at home
So don’t feel self-conscious about using that same baby-voice you use to speak to your dog – as I said above, your vet will have seen and hears it all before, and your dog will thank you for it.
How do you get on with your dog at the vet? If you have any self-help tips for other dog owners, please share below.