Positive Behaviors at the Vet

As a passionate pet parent, you ultimately see your pet as a reflection of you and the love and devotion you have for them.  It’s always important to remember that our canine and feline companions receive an enormous about of feedback from our own emotions and behaviors, even when we think we’re not sharing anything at all.  Often times when we’re bringing our pets to our veterinarian, even for routine wellness visits and vaccinations, we have some stress related to the visit.  Even when we know that the veterinarian staff and doctors adore our pets, and treat them as if they were their own.

When we first schedule our appointment, we may be thinking things like:

  • “I hope I can make that appointment, I’ll have to rush home from work, grab Barkley, and pray there is no traffic.”
  • “Hopefully the lobby is quiet, Fluffy hates her carrier and is not a fan of dogs.”
  • “I hate needles, hopefully they can do the vaccinations in another room!”.

The list of other thoughts could goes on and on.  The goal for us as pet parents, is always to provide the care and support our pets need, as they are endlessly providing us with their joy.  So, many times we unknowingly transfer the stress of our day and any worries we may have about our veterinary visit right onto our pet.  Then, when we get there and are surrounded by other pet loving parents, our instinct to want our pets to be on their best behavior sets in.  As a long time veterinary professional, and certified dog trainer, I can attest to the fact that the majority of all veterinary professionals are just thrilled you love your pet enough to provide them the wellness care and medical treatments they need.  If Fluffy is bouncing off the walls excited, or cowering under the chair, it’s important to understand that a group of trained and attentive veterinary staff are not judging their behavior.  To be honest, they’re usually relating it to their own pet’s crazy ways!

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There are many things we as pet parents, as well as your veterinary team, can do to make the experience easier, for any pet showing signs of extreme excitement or fear…and everything in between.  Below we’ll touch on just a few examples.

1. If your pet is overly excitable or extremely nervous, you can ask to be taken to an exam room quickly, and let the staff know you understand if there is still a wait, but your pet will calm down more quickly and be more prepared for the exam and treatments.

2. Avoid being overly verbal with commands and elevated expectations.  There is a lot going on at a veterinary clinic for your pet to take in.  Lots of smells, sounds, and movement.  Imagine if you had your overly zealous personal trainer at your doctor appointments, making you do sit-ups and lunges in the lobby before your physical.  Just take that time to reinforce any good behaviors your pet chooses to do, capturing those moments with calm praise, and a high value treat reward.

3. Desensitize your pet to the hospital.  This is a step we work with our new puppy patients and any pets that show fear or nervousness, and we see great improvements quite quickly in their comfort at future exams.  When you’re out and about with your pet, and anywhere close to your veterinary hospital, stop in!  Take your pet in, have them great their favorite staff members, give them a treat, and leave.  If you’re watching the treats…maybe slip in a weight check while you’re their, and praise your dog and yourself for any progress in your goals.  These “just for fun” visits will do wonders for you, your pet, and the staff when they need treatments or in the event they need to be seen for an emergency. They will recognize it as a familiar place, and not just a place where they get a few pinches on the hind end and their temperature taken.

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4.  For our feline friends…always keep the carrier as a regular part of your cats routine.  Not just for trips to the vet.  Our cat companions often don’t travel with us as much as our dogs do so many times the carrier is just associated with trips to the vet. We often allow ourselves to create elaborate plans of surprise and cunning stealth to trick our cats into the carrier, or just resort to a battle of agility and handling.  Don’t ever forget how trainable cats are!  Try tucking the carrier out of the way, leave the door open, and provide your cat with a comfy place to relax.  Use toys and treats to motivate them to go in and out comfortably.  If your cat is a fan of wet food, feed it at the back of the carrier…rewarding them for being in the carrier.  This way, when it’s time to go to the vet, you can just toss in a treat or toy, close the door, and be on your way.

5.  Stay calm and ask for help!  If you’re having trouble handling your pet in any situation, or if you’re frustrated that their behavior isn’t improving…ask for help.  Discuss behavior training with your veterinarian or seek help from a trainer.  Having a very reliable group of positive behaviors that your dog performs in many situations and levels of distraction, can make getting them our and to the vet much easier.  Also, working with a trainer can help you build a stronger level of confidence in the foundations of positive reinforcement and how dogs develop, strengthen, and maintain positive behaviors while working to decrease or eliminate inappropriate behaviors, anxiety, and fear.

There are plenty of other methods and tricks to reduce anxiety and improve the likelihood you and your pet will have a positive and enjoyable vet visit.  Hopefully these get you thinking and continue to support the bond you and your pet share.

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