Fearful dog, dog at the vet

Many a proud and assertive dog suddenly melts into jelly as a fearful dog when you take him to that dreaded appointment — dog at the vet! Just as children (and adults) dislike or fear going to the doctor’s office, there is much dog fear of vet. Yours does not have to be a generally fearful dog, simply one who feels threatened by the cool efficiency of all these strangers who hustle around in this cold, sterile place with so many scents of fear! … and especially if a dog muzzle is unceremoniously shoved over the dog’s face!

My rescued Border Collie is obediently, but he certainly does not love it at the vet, and is quite eager to return to the car. Most people just rush in there, get the thing done, then get out … and that is scary for a dog! I always prepare my dog in advance.

So before you go, first check your own attitude. Come in feeling good, exuding confidence and a carefree attitude of “business as usual, no big deal.” That will calm and reassure your dog.

But he, too, must come in feeling good. Give him fun outings, so going to the car to this place is just another of your outings to him. Make sure he is relaxed even before getting in the car by giving him proper exercise — such as running him on a bike or roller blading. Make sure he has had a bowel movement if at all possible, because you want him comfortable.

Then you need to address the situation at the vet’s office itself. One of the reasons dogs do not often like to go to the vet is because the veterinarian is always in a rush … and so are the staff. That can feel threatening.

Every dog (especially a fearful dog) should be allowed time to become familiar with the scent of the veterinarian, staff, and vet environment. He needs some positive time with them in advance of exam time if at all possible. Try to introduce him in a fun way and give him time to adjust to the vet and staff before you actually take him there for an official visit and exam. Just knowing them in advance will provide reassurance to ease your dog’s fears… even if they are then moving quickly and efficiently in “work mode” (just as you might do during your own work day, so even that might be familiar to the dog).

If your dog is extremely fearful and requires a dog muzzle, take your time in introducing one. Introduce it on a day prior to the vet appointment, at some place else where the dog is not so stressed and is having fun. Take your time introducing the dog muzzle. It may take thirty minutes, but it is worth it to make the fearful one surrender to the muzzle. This way, she will not fear it any more and will see that it means no harm. Then when vet appointment time comes, go early and, by advance arrangement with the staff, start on this process at a calm, leisurely pace — not the frenetic pace of a normal in-and-out, get-it-done, office visit.

Cannot get a dog muzzle on? Here are two important dog behavior tips.

1. Get an obedience dog trainer with muzzle experience to help in advance of the vet visit or to go with you. Have the professional restrain the dog while she releases her frustration — by holding the scruff of the dog’s neck, or the loose skin on the sides of her neck under her jaw. A skittish dog often screams the first time this procedure is done, so do not panic if such occurs. (That is all the more reason to acclimate her to the dog muzzle in advance.)

2. Remember to make your dog face his or her fear. The more you give in to her fear displays, the worse it will be. Never let the dog go when she is nervous, as that is when most dog bites occur. Fear bites. They can be nasty. So just stay in your control position until your dog calms down and you accomplish your goal.

It is the same thing always in dog training and dog relationships. Fearful dog or not, YOU must be a firm, consistent, persistent Leader. Never let go when the dog throws a tantrum (or you will be bitten), and always maintain your position until the dog is calm. The dog must see that you will not be the “first to look away” (hence, lose), but that you remain immovable until you accomplish your goal. Such leadership will comfort, reassure, and restore your fearful dog more than anything else — even at the vet!