Most dog owners are aware of how scary it can be when its time to pay a visit to the vet or the groomers. This doesn’t have to be the case. With desensitization and counter-conditioning, you can change your dog’s outlook on these events. The truth is that a lot of scary things happen at these places. Between the nail clipping, baths, brushing and dryers at the groomers and the pokes and prods at the vet, your dog has good reason to be wary. If only scary things happen at these places, you’re unlikely to convince them not to be fearful. However, once you mix positivity into the equation, you can make scary places a lot less intimidating!
The first step is to mimic some of the sounds and physical touching that happen at these places while in the comfort of your home. Make sure to have plenty of high value treats on hand and maintain calm body language and voice. As always, start small! If you want to practice the sounds of a dryer, use a hair dryer that has a really low setting. Turn it on without pointing it at them and immediately give your dog praise and treats. Before they have a chance to get anxious, turn it off. Repeat this until they are fully comfortable with the intercation. Eventually you can either turn up the setting or point it at them, but make sure to change only one variable at a time and to MOVE SLOWLY. Work your way up to the highest setting as you point it right at them. You can also use this technique with a dremmel for nail filing. Start with a low setting and with the dremmel a safe distance away as you treat and praise. Slowly move it closer and closer as your dog remains calm and tolerant. Eventually, place the end near their paw so they can feel the vibration as you praise and treat. Once they seem completely accepting of this practice, you can start to touch the dremmel to their nail, one second at a time. As long as you build slowly and use plenty of treats and praise, you should continue to make progress until you are able to calmly file their nails. This training can even help save you a trip to the groomers if you’re feeling like you can continue by yourself!
When practicing for vet visits. you can use the same technique to desensitize your dog to the physical handling the vet may need to do. Start small with light touches focusing on paws, ears, eyes, mouth and then the rest of the body. With lots of positive reinforcement, you can work your way up to stronger touches and manipulations that they may encounter as a vet examines them. You can practice taking their temperature starting with very short and small movements and working your way up to a full reading. One great trick for manipulations is to put peanut butter on the floor or in a kong that will keep them happily busy while you use your hands for other things. Using a safe needle, pin or other object, you can also practice small pokes that may resemble a shot or the physical handling that the Vet may do for an IV. Be careful not to catch your dog off guard and to get them acquainted with these objects and tools before you do anything physical with them. These techniques can take a lot of repetition and you may have to make small steps day after day depending on how sensitive your dog is. Make sure not to jump to quickly from one step to the next as you’ll only increase your dog’s fear rather than get rid of it.
The other part of practicing these positive encounters is to practice visiting these places with lots of treats and praise and without the scary things that may happen during regular appointments. Take your dog to the groomers a couple times a week and give them lots of treats and positive attention as you walk in and around the shop. Do the same with the Vet Clinic. As long as you tell the employees what you are doing, they should be more than happy to have you in and out as often as it takes to make these positive associations. Eventually, you should end up with a dog that is excited when it’s time to go for an appointment or at the very least, remains calm during the entirety of their stay.