How to help your dog stay relaxed at the vets

Going to the vet can be stressful. Find out how to help your dog stay calm in the waiting area and consulting room.

labrador and owner looking at leaflet in waiting room

Taking your dog to the vet can be stressful for both you and your dog, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some useful tips to support your dog during a vet consultation.

Before your appointment

There are lots of things you can do to prepare your dog for visiting the vet, like puppy socialisation visits, getting your dog comfortable being lifted and examined during consultations.

Even for older dogs, making regular visits to the vet when you don’t have an appointment can help them get used to it. Just to pop inside and feed your dog some treats when you’re passing. You could even ask for permission to go into a consulting room if one is empty. Done over a couple of months, this will give your dog many opportunities to learn that the vet can be a nice place to visit.

The waiting room

Bright lights, strong smells, loud noises and other animals can all contribute to making the vet’s waiting room a challenging place for many dogs, whether they have visited before or not. Here are some ways you could help your dog to relax in the waiting room:

  • Do a trial run. Ask the reception team when the waiting room is likely to be empty and arrange to go along to simply sit calmly inside and practise settling your dog. Practise a few simple tricks that your dog knows well at home, like ‘sit’ and ‘give paw’. Doing these familiar tricks in a different place can help your dog feel confident and relax.
  • Bring a familiar blanket. Having their own blanket can help your dog settle in the waiting room, especially if you’ve practised settle training. But don’t force your dog to lie down if they want to stand, and don’t expect your dog to stay completely still. Try to help them to feel comfortable in whichever way is best for them.  

Where to sit in the waiting room

  • Give your dog as much space as possible. Wait for the doorway to be clear from other owners and their pets before you enter, as narrow spaces could worry your dog. Keep them on a short, loose lead. If possible, choose a chair away from anyone else. Encourage your dog to face towards you and keep them focused on you (treats can help). If the area is small, crowded, or your dog usually finds it difficult to settle here, they might prefer waiting outside. Inform the receptionist if you need to leave so they can let you know when it’s your turn.

  • Smaller dogs might prefer to sit on your lap, especially if they’re used to this. But a dog who is happy to sit on your lap at home might not feel quite as comfortable doing so in the waiting room. Let them choose.
  • Let your dog hide if they want. If they tuck themselves beneath your chair, let them stay there until it’s time for your appointment. They are showing you that of all the places they could be in the waiting room, this is where they feel safest. 

How to keep your dog calm in the waiting room 

1. Distract and reassure your dog. Reassure your dog by calmly giving them attention and give them treats to keep them distracted (unless you’ve been told not to feed them). If your dog enjoys a gentle fuss this might help them to relax, but stop if you sense that they are not enjoying it.

Be aware that if your dog is worried, frightened or excited they might feel and behave differently here to at home. They could snatch treats a little less gently than usual, or completely refuse them altogether.

2. Use your knowledge of your dog. Reception staff might want to say hello and offer your dog a treat. Some dogs may enjoy this and it could increase their trust in vet staff. Other dogs may be worried or too excited by this, so it may be best to avoid interaction. Remember, you know your dog best, so observing their body language should let you know how they are feeling and help you to act accordingly.

3. Politely avoid interaction with other owners and pets. However well-intentioned and friendly others might be, interactions in the waiting room might excite or worry your dog. This is also the case with prolonged eye contact. Avoid your dog staring at other dogs and distract them if they are being stared at. Use a treat or your voice to move your dog further away from other animals if necessary. Your vet clinic might be able to provide a screen if needed, or you could consider waiting outside instead.

4. Stay as calm and composed as possible. However worried you might be, staying calm should help your dog to settle. Staying calm shows them that you’re managing well within this environment, so they can too. They look to you to guide them safely through life, so if you are tense, they will be tense. Try not to get frustrated — even if your dog has a toilet accident or behaves in a difficult way — as it is probably due to anxiety or fear. Getting frustrated will only increase those feelings.

Reception staff will be used to this behaviour, and certainly won’t be cross about having to clean up any accidents, so make sure you tell them straight away if one happens. If your dog is really struggling, it might help to pop outside to let them sniff around, move about, and have a breather. 

How to keep your dog calm going into the consultation room

Even if your dog has coped well on the journey and in the waiting room, the consulting room may be a particularly scary place. Here are some ways you could help your dog stay calm going into the consulting room:

1. Stay calm and relaxed. When it’s time for your appointment, stand up calmly, showing your dog that you aren’t worried. Greet the vet or nurse and ask them to hold the door wide open. Quietly encourage your dog to follow you inside.

2. Use treats as incentives. Unless there’s a reason not to (like if your dog has an upset stomach or they're having a blood test or procedure and you've been asked not to feed them), use treats to reward your dog for moving into the consulting room. Feed them from your hand or drop a trail of treats onto the ground for them to follow. Make it as easy as possible for your dog, by dropping treats down just in front of them so they’ll get a reward for every movement forward. 

3. Pick up smaller dogs and carry them into the appointment room, if they’re used to being carried. If your dog is comfortable and used to being carried this could help them feel secure. Take extra care with small dogs who are ill or injured, or who are older and perhaps stiffer than they used to be. Even if they’re happy being lifted, they might find it uncomfortable if they’re ill or in pain. Avoid picking up larger dogs, as they’re much harder to lift safely. Vet teams are trained to be able to effectively ‘team-lift’ larger dogs in pairs or even threes or fours, depending on the size of the dog. Many clinics also have equipment to help them lift larger, heavier dogs, so it’s best left to them. Take a look at our guide on lifting your dog.

4. Be patient. Some dogs might pull away, suddenly stop in their tracks, or start scratching. Stopping on the approach to the consulting room is a sign your dog is feeling uncomfortable about going in. Be patient with them. Stay still and calmly keep talking to the vet or nurse, to allow your dog to take a breather. If they take another step closer, reward this choice with a treat and see if they are ready to carry on.

Going at your dog’s pace can help them feel understood and supported, so can help to strengthen your relationship. If they’re forced, your dog is likely to get more stressed. Never drag your dog into the consulting room, it could injure them. the tightening of the collar or lead, and the force involved, will likely make them even more worried too.

Take a look at our guide to dog body language so you can spot the signs that your dog is anxious and respond in a way that supports them. 

What if my dog won’t go into the consulting room?

Ask the vet or nurse if it's possible to examine your dog outside. This might not be possible depending on the space, type of appointment and whether it’s safe or appropriate, but your vet will help however they can.

Any dog trying to completely avoid interaction with the veterinary team is communicating that they are extremely uncomfortable. This is unlikely to get better by itself. Ask your vet to refer you to a behaviourist who can help you teach your dog to feel better about visiting the vet clinic.

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