How to Achieve Fear Free Vet Visits

How to Achieve Fear Free Vet Visits
When you and your pet visit the veterinary clinic, it usually means there will be a lot of chaos, frantic energy, and you and your dog being overwhelmed. 
Many think this is just what happens at the vet clinic, but it doesn't have to be that way!

Consider as well that if your dog will not allow the veterinary staff to look over, handle, restrain, and provide treatments to him or her, then they are not able to provide the best care that they can for your pet.

If your veterinarian is not able to go near, or touch your pet, then they are not able to check over their whole body, which could mean missing an underlying issue that is not presenting itself in a way that is obvious to laymen eyes.  If the veterinary technician / nurse is not able to draw blood from your pet because they will not allow the veterinary assistant to restrain them, or hold a body part, then blood work and checking vitals may not be possible, or you may have to pay extra for sedation.

Many of the behaviors you learn with your dog trainer can help keep veterinary visits as stress free as possible and provide the best treatments for your pet.
Let's look over what behavior can transition to the veterinary clinic.

Pre-Visit:
It all starts at home, being able to calmly have your pet ready to go.
This means Crate Training, as it is the safest way to travel in the car with your pet. Next is the Car Ride itself, make short trips to fun places so that the car ride doesn't always equal bad things. If your dog enjoys traveling by car then going to the veterinary clinic will go a lot smoother from the start.

Checking in:
Once you arrive you will need to let the receptionist team know you are there for your scheduled appointment. This is where Leash Manners and a fluent Sit and Stay will help. It is also a good idea to keep your dog on a short leash to prevent them from jumping on people (Greeting Manners come to mind) or getting into the faces of other pets in the lobby, which is considered a rude greeting by other dogs and can startle cats in their carriers who can not move away.

After checking in, move to a quiet area of the waiting room (if there's a space available) and have your dog positioned so that other animals aren't in his or her direct vision, this can be a Sit facing you, or under the seat/ bench behind your legs. A game of Watch Me may help distract and keep your dog's focus on you.

Just before you enter the exam room, your pet's weight will need to be taken, it is important to get the correct and exact weight so that the proper medication amount can be administered and/ or the correct strength can be prescribed. However, the majority of pets are scared of the metal surface or getting up on a platform.

For puppies, exposure to different surfaces should be part of their socialization, to prevent them from being scared of novel surfaces.

For adult dogs, Platform Training with a Sit and Stay will curb the all too familiar need for you and the veterinary team member from having to pull, lift, or shove your dog into the scale multiple times in a row to get their weight. 

In the exam room:
A veterinary technician or assistant will accompany you into the exam room and take notes on the primary issue/ illness and any other concerns.  If you have been visiting the veterinary clinic for fun introductions, then your pet will not start to become concerned about what will happen next. If that is not a service that is available at your clinic then playing a game of Find It can help distract and make the room a fun place while waiting for the veterinarian to see you.

Before the veterinarian gets started they will befriend your dog and talk to you first before starting the physical exam to put your dog at ease. If you have some treats with you, hand them to your vet to give to your dog.  The physical exam comprises of scanning the coat for any dryness, bald spots, irritated areas, pustules, or parasites. Which means your dog needs to allow him or her to Run Their Hand Over your dog's coat. 

Your veterinarian will look at their eyes with an ophthalmoscope, having to be close to their face may mean that the veterinary technician or assistant restraining your dog or holding the dog's muzzle. Your dog trainer can guide you on practicing Holds so that your dog is comfortable being held, and teaching a Chin Rest so that your dog's head remains still.

The ear's will be examined first by hand and then with an otoscope if there is cause for concern. Practice being able to Touch The Ears or fold over the flap, so that they allow the veterinary team to look, take samples, treat or clean your dog's ears.  The mouth, teeth and gums will also be assessed. Your dog trainer can teach a Lip Lift and have your dog Open Their Mouth with duration.

When it comes to checking your dog's heart and lungs the coolness of the stethoscope against their chest can be off putting and they may want to move away. Your dog trainer can provide you with steps on how you can Create Ease with this and also add a Stand and Stay.  Especially for having his or her abdomen palpated.

Your dog's legs and hips will be examined by your veterinarian by stretching and maneuvering the hips, patella, stifle and hock. While you may not be familiar with this motion, touching and Holding The Feet will help your dog comply while your vet feels for any swelling, stiffness, or pain.

After the physical exam, your veterinarian may need to administer immunizations, other injections, or draw blood. While it is not advised to try this at home, a pen lid can act as a point of contact pressed to the skin with not a lot of pressure. Your dog may need to have their leg held out and the cephalic vein held off for blood collection. While Fear Free veterinarians will work with you and your dog on performing this with as little or no restraint possible, if you do not have a Fear Free Clinic nearby, then holding/restraining is the common practice.

If x-rays are needed, lateral recumbency will be needed first, that will mean a good Lay Down on their side, practice this on different surfaces. It will also help to teach your dog to Lay on its Back, extra points for holding the feet while in this pose.

If your dog needs to stay at the clinic for treatment, they will need to stay in a kennel for the safety and security of your pet, the staff, other clients and their pets. This is another reason to teach Crate Training, to prevent barrier frustration and or aggression towards the veterinary team or other pets that go by. 

After the visit:
Medication for illnesses, intestinal parasites, fleas, and ticks, and heartworm preventatives may be prescribed. Your dog trainer can teach you Force Free Pill Administration.

Crate Training comes into play if your dog needs to remain rested at home after a major surgery such as an cranial cruciate ligament repair, otherwise known as ACL surgery.

If you have a dog who has shown signs of fear or reactivity at the veterinary clinic, muzzle training is recommended as your first step. By training your dog to feel comfortable and stress free wearing a muzzle, they can receive some treatment and care. Many times reactive dogs are not able to be seen because they will not allow a muzzle to be worn, which means that they are turned away or have to be brought back at a later date with sedation on-board. That then takes up your time and additional money. Your dog trainer can recommend the appropriate muzzle type and provide the best training steps.


Written by - Joanne Bignoux McMahon, who is currently a student of the 'Fear Free Animal Trainer Certification Program.'
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