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Making the Vet a Dog’s Best Friend

OK, it might be a bit much to expect a dog to become seriously fond of the  the guy who prods him for no apparent reason, and inserts foreign objects into his genitalia.  While you can’t change the unpleasant nature of your vet’s job, you can try to make sure your dog has as pleasant an experience as is possible when he goes to the vet’s office.

Choose the Right Vet

Your vet is going to be the second most important person in your dog’s life, after you.  He’s not just the guy who prescribes medication when your dog falls ill, but also helps prevent diseases by examining your dog, and catching an infection before its too late.  Make sure you’re comfortable with his vet.

When looking around for a vet, check his clinic and waiting rooms. Do they look clean and airy?  Does the waiting room have separate areas for dogs and cats, or will your dog be sharing space with an entire posse of screeching cats? What about the staff?  Are there enough vets and vet assistants, and do they seem professional and experienced?  Does the clinic specialize in many different veterinary medicine fields, or offer just basic veterinary services?  Do they have a diagnostic lab on site, to collect and examine stool and blood samples? Do they offer emergency services?

Taking Your Pup to the Vet

If your puppy is still just a few weeks old, you have either taken him to a vet for his first physical, or are planing on doing so.  Keep these things in mind to have a pleasant vet visit.

Help your new puppy socialize with other people.  This doesn’t mean only members of your family, but also your neighbors, friends etc.  A puppy who has very limited exposure to strangers is more likely to feel threatened and nervous in the presence of a vet. 

Practice mock physical examinations in  your home. Lie your dog down, and examine his eyes, mouth, teeth, and paws. Rub his belly, and feel around his abdomen the way a vet does.  Having all these things done in the security and comfort  of home can make a dog feel less threatened when he’s splayed out on the vet’s table and being prodded with steel objects.

Practice having him on a leash. You will likely have to wait for your turn, and there will be other animals there.  If he’s small enough, put him in a crate, and carry him to the vet’s office. 

Take him for a walk, and try to collect a stool sample before you leave for the vet’s office. If it’s a first time visit, your vet will likely need a stool sample, and it saves you the trouble of having to visit again with a fresh sample. 

If your dog still hasn’t been socialized and is aggressive towards others, keep him in the car, and inform the staff that you’ve arrived for your appointment.  You can take him into the office when your turn comes around.

Take him out for short drives regularly, or you risk having him think that you’re off for a vet visit every time he gets in the car. Associating a car with unpleasant experiences is one reason why dogs develop separation anxiety. A dog who’s afraid of cars needs a whole other regimen of training to recondition his behavior.  By taking frequent joy rides, your dog doesn’t become anxious as soon as he gets into the car.

Take along a few treats for your dog to snack on while he’s in the waiting room.  It helps kill off some of the anxiety he may feel. 

Keep a few chewy toys handy, so he can occupy himself.

At the Vet’s Office

Talk to your pet throughout the examination in comforting tones, and reassure him. 

If he needs an overnighter, make sure he has his security blanket or favorite toy to remind of home, and feel comfortable in an unfamiliar surrounding.

Building a dog’s confidence

You know the type. A nervous anxious dog who seems fearful of just about anything – humans, other dogs, bicycles. Needless to say, a shy dog can be a problem for you, the owner. The type of behavior he exhibits and his complete lack of confidence will make it impossible for you to give him even the most basic training. Not to mention that a fearful dog is much more likely to get into fights with other dogs.

Confidence building itself can be a misunderstood term in the doggie context. The point here is not to build up your dog’s ego (yes, they have egos) to the point where they are cocky, and believe they, and not you are the leader of the pack. Training a dog always involves letting him know that you are the leader. For obvious reasons, training a fearful dog will involve slightly different methods.

How to Recognize a Fearful Dog

A shy dog will have his tail tucked firmly between his legs and his ears flattened against his head. His head will be lowered – a sure sign that he doesn’t consider himself to be the dominant leader of the pack and he trembles – and pants excessively. If you reach forward to pet him, he backs away. In extreme cases of fear, the dog might run to run away or urinate.

Causes of the Fear

A dog that hasn’t been properly socialized in the early stages can be expected to be nervous or shy around strangers. Socialization exposes him to other dogs and human beings and therefore he does not recognize these as anything to be afraid of. A dog that’s been locked up in a kennel for a major part of his life has difficulty relating to and accepting people and situations. You also have to consider that’s some dog breeds are naturally mild mannered. Dogs that might have been shunted between homes frequently or been abused are likely to suffer from nervous disorders. Not all shy dogs are the product of abuse however. Illnesses often force a dog to lose self esteem. A dog in pain or discomfort will not be outgoing. You might try having him checked by a vet to ascertain there is nothing physically wrong with him. Puppies who have had terrifying experiences are very likely to retain memories of the unpleasant incident leading to fearful behavior as an adult.

Training a Shy Dog

The process of building confidence in a dog involves a lengthy process of desensitization. Be patient. Results won’t be immediate.

First determine the objects that he is fearful of and slowly begin exposing him to it. If he is afraid of people, enlist the help of a friend. Let this person be in the same room with the dog but without approaching him or acknowledging him in any manner. Once the dog has gotten used to your friend’s presence, tell him to offer the dog some treat with his hands held behind him and his back to the dog. This is a non threatening position for the dog. Once he is comfortable receiving treats from a stranger, ask your friend to begin speaking to him. The next steps would be to face him and pat him. If at any point in this process, the dog shies away, go back to the previous step and start all over again.

If your dog is afraid of other dogs then don’t just introduce him to a whole bunch of them and expect him to just get along. Take him for a walk on a leash to a park where there are other dogs with their owners. The leash shouldn’t be too tight because then he feels restricted and vulnerable. This might then turn into fear – a prime cause for a dog fight. Act nonchalant among the other dogs. Dogs can pick up behavior patterns from others around them. If he notices you’re completely relaxed, he might decide there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Sit Happens and DVF Mastiff have a series of confidence building exercises that you can practice with your dog.

Above all be patient. A dog can take months of such therapy before he gains some confidence. Don’t berate him or poke fun at him. Encourage him and be generous with praise. Treat him to the things he enjoys – a run in the park, his favorite treats. He might never evolve into an outgoing enthusiastic animal but eventually, he will learn to be more comfortable in his own fur.