Claire Hargrave - BSc(Hons), MSc, PGCE, C Sci, C Chem, MRSC, DAS(CABC), CCAB

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How can I get my puppy used to going to the vet?

Claire Hargrave - BSc(Hons), MSc, PGCE, C Sci, C Chem, MRSC, DAS(CABC), CCAB
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Your vet will be an important person in your puppy’s life, so it pays to start the relationship on a positive footing and keep it that way. Here are some top tips to make your puppy’s vet visits calm and stress-free, from the very first time

Mock exams

Try to get your puppy used to being physically handled before their first vet visit. This will help the vet by allowing him or her to do a thorough examination without the puppy becoming nervous or stressed.

Get your puppy used to being handled at home by feeding tiny treats, one at a time, as you examine him or her. Very gently, check your pup’s lips and teeth, lift the ears and massage under them, lift the feet and massage between the toes, massage the stomach and raise the tail.

Gradually extend their comfort zone by asking family members and friends to do this too. Do it not only on the floor but also on a table so your puppy isn’t alarmed at finding they are on a raised surface in a surgery being handled intrusively by the vet.

You could also consider using a children’s doctors or vets kit, regularly conducting ‘mock’ examinations in exchange for small tasty treats – again, encourage friends to help.

Do all this tenderly, keeping the treats coming. Stick to healthy treats, however, in order to avoid unbalancing your dog’s diet. Small pieces of carrot or unbuttered popcorn are good.

Positive reinforcement

Take treats along and ask your vet if they would mind using them during the examination to reward your puppy for cooperation.

Ideally, you will have taught your puppy to pay attention to you, to settle, to sit, lie down and roll-over. Once your puppy understands these terms (or associated hand signals) you can use them to guide your puppy throughout their time in the waiting and consulting room, rewarding co-operation.

Be careful how you give treats, though – giving them to a nervous puppy could reinforce the wrong behaviour.

Use a pet carrier

Use a sturdy pet carrier (or crate) in the car so your pup is used to travelling in the most safe, secure position, either on the car’s back seat or its rear section, as opposed to being on a passenger’s knee.

Take your puppy into the practice in the carrier, carried in front of you, rather than banging against your hip, and place him or her on a seat beside you while you wait, to help give a sense of security in a busy, unfamiliar environment. A familiar blanket, inside the carrier, that smells of home, can also be helpful.

Carrying a puppy in your arms or having him or her on your knee at the vet’s is never a good idea – your reassuring strokes may actually reinforce the pup’s uneasiness, as will exposure to any other dogs that may be there.

Claire Hargrave - BSc(Hons), MSc, PGCE, C Sci, C Chem, MRSC, DAS(CABC), CCAB

Claire Hargrave is the only Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist accredited by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) working in Wales. She is also a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. As the animal behaviour profession is as yet unregulated, and to ensure that a behaviourist has an adequate level of practical and theoretical experience, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, Dogs Trust and the R.S.P.C.A. advise veterinary surgeons and members of the public to ensure that they only seek advice from behaviourists accredited by ASAB or who hold APBC membership.

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