How to have a happy vet visit

Happy Vet Visit illustrations by Wetpaint Illustrations

Visiting the vet is a fact of life for most dog owners, and while some of our four-legged friends may not enjoy it - understatement alert! - it certainly doesn't have to be a traumatic trip.

Here's our guide to helping your dog have a happy vet visit:

Before you go

Make visiting the vet a more positive experience for your dog by taking the time to drop in even when you don’t need to go - perhaps once a week during a walk - and making sure the practice staff give your dog some tasty treats and a nice fuss each time (but only if you know your dog enjoys this!) That way, your dog will build up warm, positive feelings about the vets - and make your next trip, when they actually need to be seen, less stressful.

One of the things many dogs dislike about visiting the vet is being handled, especially in places they are not used to being touched. You can help your dog by getting him used to being touched long before you go to the vet:

  1. Start at home by touching him on a part of his body you know he enjoys - often the chest or behind the ears. Leave your hand there for no more than three seconds, then give them a treat, and let them relax.
  2. Gradually move your hand to a new area, perhaps the front leg, for a maximum of three seconds, and give a treat each time. If your dog looks uncomfortable at any point, stop what you are doing.
  3. Remember to take this ‘touch and treat’ approach super slowly. You’re aiming to be able to eventually touch your dog on their paws, lift up their tail, look in their mouth – in fact, all of the things a vet may need to do during an examination.
  4. Very slowly you can lengthen the time you leave your hand on them, building up from 3 to 10 seconds.

As with so many aspects of dog training, the ‘little and often’ approach tends to work best, so set aside some time each week and make this part of your play time.

Waiting room etiquette

When you’re in the waiting room, help your dog feel more relaxed by bringing their favourite toy or blanket, or ideally both. This should help them feel more relaxed and secure.

If you possibly can, make sure you sit well away from the door. Dogs can find it very difficult to relax near a door, so the further away you can be from this busy area, the better.

Also, make sure your dog is facing away from other dogs. If possible, try and leave some space between your dog and others. This may not always be possible, but if you can, try and book your next appointment at the practice’s least busy time of day.

Try and get your dog to focus their attention on you, this will help them avoid eye contact with other dogs – often a cause of tension or frustration within the confined space of a waiting room.

Examination time

Once in the examination room, remember that you are your dog’s best friend, and they are relying on you to speak up for them. if your dog gets stressed or begins to growl, feel free to politely but firmly ask your vet to stop what they are doing. Both your dog and your vet will thank you for speaking up.

Growling is your dog’s way of saying ‘I am really uncomfortable!’ so make sure you communicate with your vet, who may well be so absorbed with examining your dog that they can’t see their face or hear their voice. Never ignore your dog’s growls and never tell him off for growling, he’s simply using his voice to tell you he is distressed. Bites can occur during vet examinations because the owner and the vet ignored a growl, and the dog felt they had no other way to show how unhappy they felt in that situation. Being aware of the different ways your dog is communicating with you will help to make sure every visit to the vets is a happy one.

Having happier vet visits is just one of the day-to-day skills we teach at Dogs Trust Dog Schools.

Affordable and fun classes are now up and running in 30 different locations around the UK.

Find your nearest class >

If you can’t make it to a class, don’t worry – have a look at our short, fun films which will help you and you and your dog get the most out of life together.