As a Certified Fear Free Veterinary Handling professional, the “learn to love vet procedures” is my favourite puppy lesson to give.
“Fear-Free” stands for reducing the chance that animals are traumatised by veterinary intervention through behavioural prevention, teaching the pet and treatment. We don’t just leave it in the hands of professional trainers and behaviourists, we also teach dog owners the ropes.
So what is the secret? Essentially, it’s about these five steps:
1. Tons of fun visits at the vet: as in, freebies. The dog goes in, gets petted (if he likes it), fussed over (if he likes it), gets treats, then leaves. OFTEN. Try minimum once per week from 2-3 months of age.
2. Name every procedure for the dog : this is something you do in the comfort of your own home, say, when watching TV and petting your dog. All you do is warn them (e.g. “Am gonna grab your PAW!”), pause for one second, then grab the paw (or lift the ear, approach with an empty bottle of eardrops, and pretend to put them in). As soon as the dog shows signs of noticing (but BEFORE he minds), say ‘yes’, stop the procedure, give a treat. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, etc. until the dog is completely comfortable with the entire procedure.
4. Then gradually introduce the named procedures at the vet’s too, in what we call ‘victory visits’
5. And finally, instruct/guide/suggest to the vet or vet tech to pretend to go through these same named procedures, with you saying ‘yes’ to indicate when they need to back off. Again, these need to be done again and again, until the dog stays relaxed through every single step. After that, it’s a question of rehearsing it once in a while.
Through out all this, stick to the golden rule: Expose the pup at such a level of intensity that he notices but does not mind.
Note: Each session should last no more than 1 minute, max. But the key is to work in as many short repetitions of ‘name it – pause – do it – say yes – stop it – give treat’ as possible.