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Stress Free Vet Visits

19/12/2019 - News & Tips

Delders’ hints on how to help your dog to feel safe and happy in the veterinary clinic.

What does your dog need to know about going to the vets?

Has your dog been to the vet before? For a new puppy, it will involve all sorts of new, unexpected and potentially scary experiences. For an older dog, it could trigger unpleasant memories from the past, or, it might be associated with nothing but good times. It’s that third scenario I want to help you achieve with your pooch.

We know that a trauma-free visit makes follow up visits easier for you, your dog and the health-care professionals. So no matter how experienced a vet-visitor your dog may be, it’s worth thinking of that visit as a series of steps and doing some training and familiarisation around each stage.

  1. The journey. Is your dog happy in the car or will he/she arrive at the vets already stressed from travelling? Time to instigate some travel training so that journeys are associated with great stuff.

  2. The reception area. Teeming with new smells and possibly already inhabited by new people, other dogs, cats and other pets. What can you do to make sure your pet can settle in a new environment?

  3. The clinic. Standing on scales, having tummies felt, teeth, eyes, ears examined, receiving treatment. Is your dog happy to be handled? If not, how can you take the stress out of the situation?

Some aspects of a vet visit can only be experienced in the veterinary clinic itself, but some can be practised in advance at home and on walks. And every little helps

Practising at home

Not every dog likes to be touched everywhere – and certainly not by strangers. So an important aspect of training for stress free vet visits is touch.

Here’s a video of JB. Stella and I are helping him to get used to being handled in a way that the vet, a vet nurse or a groomer might touch him. There are two things to take note of.

  1. Lots and lots of treats to focus JB’s attention on me and to build positive associations around being touched.

  2. Stella is only touching him when his front paws are on the step.

This is the first stage in training for permission based handling (PBH). With lots of practise, JB will learn that when he steps off the box the examination stops.


As well as tummy and neck, a routine vet exam includes teeth, ears, heart and lungs and sometimes legs and feet. Practise touching your dog all over, moving limbs, looking in ears and lifting his or her lips to see teeth. You could also introduce the stethoscope (a child’s toy stethoscope is ideal to work with). Gently does it, never force it, and use lots of treats so that Rover associates touch with good stuff.

Trick Training
Human friends who struggle with anxiety at times have told me focussing on something they are comfortable with can help alleviate the symptoms. Reading and hobbies or simple repetitive tasks seem to be at the top of the effective activities list.

Obviously you can’t expect your dog to pick up a copy of War and Peace to read in the vet’s waiting room. But you can help them to focus on something other than the big dog or the funny smell.

If you teach your dog a few simple tricks, you can deploy that training as a distraction in stressful situations. Some tricks can also help with examinations and treatments.

“Chin resting” (dog rests their chin on owner’s outstretched hand – great way to keep them still during an examination)
“Roll over” – let the vet see your tummy
“Give me your paw” – for examining feet or cutting nails
“Wait” – pop a treat in easy reach and ask them to wait until you give permission to eat it they’ll focus on that and nothing else.

Whichever tricks you choose to train, it’s all about getting your dog to focus on one thing rather than on what’s around them.
The four exercises described in this article are great for improving your dog’s focus and keeping them calm on a day to day basis. They might not all be practical for the vet surgery itself, but they definitely help your dog’s general demeanour   

4 activities to help your dog calm down and concentrate

In an ideal world, your pet will be confident anywhere and everywhere. Including, but not limited to the veterinary clinic. Socialisation is an important part of dog training – no matter how old your dog is, what breed they are or what their background might be.

Try to take your dog to as many different places as possible. The countryside, the high street, the train station, pub, café, friend’s houses, the park, even on a bus.

It’s important not to rush or force socialisation, but please don’t ignore or avoid it. If your dog isn’t particularly brave or bold, please get in touch for advice. We dog trainers have several techniques that you can use to help your dog feel more confident… it’s simply a matter of matching the method with your dog’s character.

Socialisation also helps your pet to be cool calm and collected around other animals and new people. Which of course is invaluable in the waiting room and the surgery.
If your pet is reactive towards other dogs or human strangers, it is well worth investing in some remedial sessions with a qualified dog trainer. Not just so that they will behave well at the vets, but so you can be confident that they are
safe in any situation.

I’ve posted a link at the end of this article to more information on dog to dog aggression

Socialisation at the Vet’s
You can recreate a lot of scenarios from the veterinary clinic at home but your house doesn’t smell like the surgery, it doesn’t have strangers in it and it’s all very familiar and safe. There is no substitute for including the veterinary clinic on your socialisation “to do” list.

The good news is, that most clinics actively welcome these visits and are often have vet nurses on hand who are ready and willing to get involved. A quick phone call will confirm what services are available for familiarisation.

Just as you would prepare a child for their first day at school or their first hospital appointment, stress free vet visits are all about gentle introductions and permission based handling. That way, if you should ever need to visit the vet in an emergency the whole experience will be far less traumatic.

If you need help training your dog for stress free vet visits, please get in touch with Delders Dogs

You may also find these articles helpful

What if your dog hates other dogs? Training tips for socialisation  

Shaping your dog’s behaviour – the basis of trick training

More about Delders Dogs and how we can help dog owners in Bedfordshire
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