Although many dogs find visiting the vet scary, going to the vet doesn’t have to be a negative experience! If you have a new puppy, one of the first things that you do together is go to the vet. Helping your puppy to develop a positive experience at the vet is important for your puppy’s development and behavior later in life.
First Vet Visits
One of the joys of having a puppy is being able to go through all the “firsts” together. Visiting the vet for the first time can be confusing and frightening for puppies, but it doesn’t have to be. By pairing visits with treats, toys, and games, you can help your dog develop positive, life-long relationships with their vet and veterinary care in general.
As soon as your puppy comes home, you’ll want to schedule their first veterinary visit. Talk with your vet and clinic staff in advance about what the visit will look like so that you can be prepared and ready to support your puppy.
Fear Free Clinics
Helping a puppy to make positive associations with the vet involves supporting your puppy to make sure they are comfortable and relaxed whenever possible during the visit. Some clinics are “Fear Free” certified, which means vets and the entire clinic staff are trained to remove or reduce as many anxiety or stress triggers as possible. Many others utilize similar practices and emphasize putting a dog’s comfort first when planning visits.
The idea behind the certified Fear Free vet visits/clinics is to not force dogs to comply with exams but rather encourage them to be active participants in their medical care. Fear Free approaches focus on helping dogs and puppies to create positive associations with all aspects of veterinary visits including coming into the clinic, exams, vaccinations, and more involved procedures. You can search for a Fear Free practice near you, or ask your local vet how they incorporate fear free practices into their puppy visits — many clinics do!
When you go to the vet for an appointment with your puppy, it’s helpful to come prepared with everything you might need to help your puppy have a positive experience — including treats and toys. Additionally, it can be useful to bring a blanket, towel, or yoga mat to put on the floor in the exam room. This will give your dog something comfortable to stand or lay on. The slippery floor of most clinics is scary for many puppies, so having a non-skid surface can help puppies feel more comfortable and confident.
When you bring your puppy into the clinic exam room, remember it’s OK to make that experience fun for your puppy. When you get to the clinic, you don’t have to sit quietly in the exam room waiting for the technician or the vet to come into the room. Instead of pulling out your phone to read email, bring out a puppy toy and use that time to play with your puppy in the exam room. This will help your puppy to develop positive associations with being at the clinic. When your vet comes, continue to advocate for your puppy by asking clinic staff to go at your puppy’s pace. This includes giving your puppy a chance to approach, get treats, and play before and during the exam.
Vaccine Time Treats
Be a proactive advocate for your puppy’s comfort during all aspects of the visit. At some large clinics, veterinary technicians will take puppies to the back of the clinic for vaccinations and you are well within your right to ask that all aspects of the exam happen with you in the exam room. While the vaccines are getting prepared you can play games like tug with your puppy or gently toss a toy for your puppy to chase in the exam room.
An option for making vaccines enjoyable for your puppy is to distract them instead of restraining them during the injection. Spread dog-safe peanut butter or spray cheese spread on a silicone plate, bowl or mat. You can either put the silicone plate on the clinic floor or hold it up for your puppy to lick. As your puppy is licking the sticky treats out of the bowl/off the mat, your vet can give the vaccination, and often your puppy won’t even notice it’s happening. Not only will this process distract the puppy from the vaccines happening, but it will help your puppy to continue to build positive associations with being at the clinic and being handled by veterinary staff.
By making vet visits fun, positive, and a routine part of your puppy’s life, you can help your pup develop a life-long positive relationship with the vet. When you have a puppy, it might already feel like you spend a lot of time going to the vet, but I would encourage you to go even more — even just to say hello! Talk with your vet clinic and make sure it’s OK with them, and then plan to bring your puppy to stop by the clinic for a quick interaction.
Incorporate stopping by the vet clinic on your walks, or regular outings. Bring your puppy into the clinic, let the receptionist and/or vet techs give your puppy a treat, and/or ask your puppy to get onto the scale in the lobby by luring them on with treats and praise.
By making the vet clinic a fun, rewarding place you visit regularly, your puppy will develop lasting, positive associations with your vet clinic and staff.
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