Veterinary visits cause anxiety in many dogs. Many dogs stress out in the waiting room and tremble through exams. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can train your dog to be calm at the vet’s office.
For dogs and people alike, the unknown is scary and stressful. Painful things are less stressful if you know what’s coming. The last couple of years haven’t been easy – oftentimes we couldn’t even accompany our dog into the vet’s office.
There are things you can do to make your dog more comfortable through vet visits, even if you can’t be there.
One of the scariest things at the vet is the exam table. Dogs like standing or sitting securely, which they can’t do on a slippery table. While the table has to be sanitary, there’s no reason you can’t bring a small rug, mat, or towel for your dog to stand on during the exam.
One of our favorite, inexpensive tricks is to get yoga mats from Five Below (they’re just $5!) and cut them up into whatever size pieces we need. Cut a couple of pieces large enough for your dog to stand on. Put one in the car ready to take into the vet’s office whenever you need to go. That way you don’t have to remember to pack it. With the other piece, practice getting your dog to stand on it.
Learning to stand on the mat
Start by putting the mat on the floor, rewarding your dog with yummy treats for any interaction with the mat. Even if they just look at it while you’re putting it in place. Reward for looking at it, sniffing it, stepping on it. You can even give the mat extra-special value if you toss the reward onto the mat. Do this about five to 10 times. That’s all!
If you practice teaching your dog to get on the mat just once a day for a week, you’ll see eager anticipation when you get the mat out. The next step is to elevate the mat onto a table or counter.
Your dog will probably think it’s weird when you move the mat up to a table. And it’s best if you don’t use a surface that your dog will be able to reach when you’re not looking. The last thing we want to do is turn your dog into a counter-surfer!
Repeat the process with the mat – reward for any interaction at first; looking, sniffing, stepping, etc. Throw the treats on the mat to retain its value for your dog.
Advanced table training
Getting your dog to “stand” on the mat is simple, too. Once your dog is comfortable on the mat, or even runs to it when they see it, you can focus in. Hold off on the treats until your dog is standing up. Dogs will try different behaviors to get you to do what they want.
The hardest thing in dog training is being patient, but this requires patience on your part. (You’re not alone in this – see our training tip: The hardest part of dog training.) The word “Stand” doesn’t mean anything to your dog – repeating it won’t help. So don’t say it at all until your dog is actually standing. Then you give a reward and say “Good Stand!” “That’s Stand!”
Again, with a week’s practice, once a day, we’d wager your dog will know how to “Stand!” on the mat. You can also teach your dog to “Sit!” on the mat the same way. Chances are, next time you visit the vet with your mat and a goody bag of treats in hand, your dog will be much happier on the exam table. Most vets will be happy to have you reward your dog for good behavior. Bring extra-special treats on exam days!
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