Oh, how the decision to take your dog to the vet can bring dread to many a usually-happy pet owner. Wrestling or dragging a beloved dog through the doors of a vet’s office can be a struggle - physically and emotionally. As well as embarrassing, for some.
“My dog hates the vet.” I cringe whenever I hear that statement. Of course, that might have a lot to do with what you, the care giver, is NOT doing.
Let’s face it, your dog’s trip to the vet can be a happy time, or one filled with fear and pain, with you innocently reinforcing all those negative emotions. Ah, I can hear the denials now from the back row. Sorry, but it’s true. Telling your dog that everything is going to be fine, or that it’s okay and you’ll be leaving soon, or that Dr. So-Andso isn’t going to hurt him or her is truly backfiring on you, whether you realize it or not.
Simply put, by you paying attention to any behavior, you are reinforcing it. And worse, your dog doesn’t understand what you're trying to tell him. He can't speak English, Spanish, Chinese . . . or any human language.
In fact, you have just paid attention to your dog when it's feeling anxious (perhaps, even over excited). And what does your dog hear? “Blah, blah, blah.” Do you really think that makes sense to your dog?
Since none of us can turn the clock back and undo damage already done, you now need to take a more positive approach now, if you want to correct that scary aspect.
Start with a simple visit, such as a weigh-in or just saying “hi” to the desk staff.
And please, stop using the word "NO!"
Right then, you leave - no quick vaccination shots, no going into an exam room to say hi, no lengthy chitchat, no going to the bathroom for you, no quick trips anywhere at the vet's. Leave!
Except perhaps to pass out some VERY high value treats for the front staff to give to your dog or puppy, that is if you dog doesn’t refuse them - which dogs have been known to do, if their stress level is really high. (If they turn away from the goodies, don’t force the issue. Just leave! I can’t stress this enough.)
This reshaping, of course, is a baby step, and like any learning curve, it needs to be done repeatedly to shape the undesirable behavior into something more acceptable.
YOUR DOG’S POINT OF VIEW
Wow, no pain. And nothing scary happened! Only good things! Maybe the vet hospital isn’t such a bad place.
NO QUICK FIXES
Unfortunately, one, or even a few trips like the one described above is NOT going to erase the bad memories overnight of the one (or more) fateful trips when the pup was poked, prodded or stabbed with a needle (vaccination/s) or fecal loop. However, the more you make it a fun time, the faster the turnaround could happen. Timing is everything!
Remember, always take treats (high value) with you. No excuses! I can't say this enough.
NOTE: I’ve had students in the past who forgot their treat bag and stopped at the supermarket so they could run in to buy Swiss or string cheese, or even roast beef! Those are high value. (The student with the parmesan cheese taught me it was fine in the beginning but way too much in the end. Lol!)
When you finally take your dog to a “real” vet visit, Do what it takes to make your dog’s visit an outstanding and happy one. The effort is well worth it.