Training: Preparing for Veterinary Visits, Grooming and other Stressful Outings

Story and photos by Jeremy Brown, The Complete Canine
When it comes to stressful outings for our canine friends, some struggle more than others, yet we can do things as handlers to help them through the rough times. For me, if we have a new puppy in my home, one of the first things I start to do is desensitize them to human touch. If we touch every part of their body early on, then it becomes normal and can actually be enjoyable for them, not scary. I like to focus on my dogs’ feet, nails, ears and tails as I massage and touch each of those areas daily. The same principles apply with brushing their coat and brushing their teeth. This can increase your ability and lesson the stress on your canine friend! Mary Alice, the owner of Groomingdales in Northwest Tucson, states “It is important to have confidence while doing this as well as being patient.” We can inadvertently make these situations more complicated by forcing behavior and being too gruff with grooming.

Another important thing to consider, is to make these places a normal, fun place to go. After having her back leg amputated as a puppy, my rescue dog Lacey did not like going into the vet’s office. So, each morning I would wake up, walk to our vet office, have them give high value rewards and show her this place is not bad. However, her past made it hard to trust this at first, but hot dog treats allowed her to let her guard down for a second and feel more confident. She is the only dog I have ever seen that pulls in excitement to get into the lobby of the vet’s office and this is only after a little bit of work to shift her mindset.

At a vet hospital or grooming studio, our canine friends are typically placed on a table to raise them up and allow whoever is working with them to have an easier position to work from. Before they go to the groomer or vet, it would be a great idea to have them practice this. Mary Alice likes to have her clients place a bathmat on the top of their washing machine, so the pup does not slip and to practice being in this situation. If we have less control than desired, it is a dangerous situation for the canine and human alike, so a little training can absolutely alter these situations.

Training a few commands to assist can even push this to the next level. It can be very hard to work on a dog that lays down or sits when on the grooming table. Therefore, teaching watch me, touch and stand stay will make your groomer and/or vet love you and your dog more! Watch me teaches your dog to look into a person’s eyes. If doing this when on the table, we will have less movement and a better attention span. The touch command can be a huge game changer, for touching your hand can allow them to change positions easily which can make it easier for the human to do their job! However, the most important command is stand-stay, especially for the poodles, doodles and longer fur/haired dogs. The longer they can hold a standing position, the easier it is to check out their body on the vet table and trim their fur or hair at the groomer.

To teach watch me, hold a treat between your pointer finger and thumb, bring it to your canine friend’s nose. While drawing it to the side of your eye, you say watch me and hold it in that position. When they reach the goal duration, mark the behavior and reward; slowly adding duration and correcting if they look away before reaching that goal. Touch can be taught so very easily. In fact, you place a treat under your thumb in the palm of the hand, draw it to the side and say touch. Once they touch your hand, because the treat is in it, you mark the behavior and reward. Stand-stay is another easy command to bring home. You want to start with a stand command first, then add stay to the equation. Stand is simply taught by baiting them into a standing position (on all 4 feet) from a sit. Once they understand this, then we will add stay so they can hold multiple positions.

When it is a little harder than just basic training, we may have to be a little more creative so we can set them up for success. One tool that I absolutely love to use when touching, brushing, etc., is difficult, is the Lickimat. These silicone mats can be an easy way to help, as they distract our dogs with enticing foods that keep their attention. Cream cheese, peanut butter or something that is spreadable then frozen can allow you to distract enough to have things done that couldn’t happen before. One of my favorite clients has a pup that would bite when trying to trim their nails, but a little work with the LickiMat turned that troublemaker into a happy canine when he gets his nails done. Also, calming collars can be a tool to relieve stress and I have seen great results with the Sentry Calming Collar. The lavender and pheromones allow for a less stressful life as they bring them down a notch in stressful settings.

Being proactive with these situations can help immensely. In fact, this goes a long way in allowing our canine friends to succeed in a very stressful environment. Think about the situations we want to thrive in and make these situations a normal occurrence. None of us would ever be good at math if we did one problem a week, yet we expect our dogs to do so with little to no practice. Be patient and be a good leader and your confidence will make the situation much more manageable and less stressful for everyone involved!



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