By Roohi Kulkarni Kale*
A visit to a vet’s clinic or to a grooming salon can be tiring and can make a good dog nervous as well. Preparing your pooch for these visits with a little simple training beforehand will ensure that she has less anxiety, and professionals such as the vet or groomer will also be able to provide a better experience to your pooch.
Remember to go at your pup’s pace, reward small progress, and always keep the training short and light.
CREATING EXPERIENCES AT HOME
Handling & Gentling: It is important that we touch our puppies since day one. Touching should not stop at just petting or cuddling. We must ensure that puppies are not reacting as we gently touch their paws, ears, tails, teeth, and belly area. This ensures that they don’t snap as a vet examines them or when a groomer is giving a trim.
Preparing for Nail Clipping: Along with handling, I encourage pet parents to use the matchstick technique, which teaches puppies to allow their paws to be held and get their nails clipped without any fuss. Simply, take your human nail cutter or a dog nail clipper and a couple of match sticks. First, get your puppy used to the sound of a ‘nail’ being cut by cutting the matchsticks and rewarding them with praises. Then place the matchstick on puppy’s paws and cut the matchstick few times. After your puppy is comfortable with the sound and the feeling of clipper touching his paw, you can get a professional to cut her nails.
Dryer, Scissors and Body Clippers: One of the scariest experiences for a pooch is the sound and feel of the various equipments professionals use. We should expose our puppy to various sounds, scents, textures of items like hair dryers, scissors, face trimmers, and combs, which are easily available in our homes.
Getting Used to Being on a Table: Generally, when we brush our pooch at home, we get on the floor at their level for ease of movement. However, at clinics and salons your pooch will be placed on a table and the sudden height change can add to your pooch’s unease. You can keep your pooch on any table available at home, like a study table for instance, brush him and get him back down. Rewarding her with calm praise and few treats will help create a positive association with being on the table. However, avoid exciting them as you don’t want your pooch to keep moving on the table.
Getting Used to Being Wet: Many dogs love getting wet in rain or roll around in mud, but they run in the opposite direction during bath time or when the vet wants to spray medication in their ears. Instead of forcing your pup under the shower when they get dirty, get them acquainted to feeling wet with doggy wet wipes and sponge baths.
Using Tools Correctly at Home: You must consult your trainer or groomer to know which tools, like brushes, are correct for your dog breed and how to correctly use them. If you clip nails or clean ears at home, learning the correct technique would help your pooch not dread grooming time.
At Home Visits: If you call the vet and groomer at home, ensure the area designated for these visits is a happy place and your pooch does not associate that area with only bad experiences like getting a vaccine. Allow him to use that area on a regular basis and create positive experiences there.
Teaching your pooch to behave well around people, dogs, and other animals, which he may encounter during a visit starts at a young age. If you want to reduce visits of an unvaccinated puppy, you can still expose him to surroundings by frequent car rides and home visits of friends.
If your puppy follows you from room to room, chances are he will not be very happy being alone at the groomers’ place or worse for a check-up at the vet. Teach your puppy to be calm when left alone for short periods of time.
Once our puppy is fully vaccinated, we tend to take him to the vet an entire year later for annual vaccinations. After such a long gap, your adult pooch may not know what to expect at the clinic and can have a bad experience with injections. Taking him for a short visit to the vet and groomer where they just interact with your pooch, habituating him to the clippers, blowers, being touched etc., he also gets familiar with the scent, sounds, and ambience. The professional gives a lot of positive feedback and the puppy has now made a positive association with going to visit the vet or groomer. Do not keep vet visits only for annual vaccinations or emergencies.
VISIT WHEN FOOTFALL IS LOW WITH PRIOR APPOINTMENT
In a non-emergency situation, visit when the professional has time; hence always take a prior appointment for a time when the footfall is low. You want the vet to be relaxed and give your puppy time and a good experience. A rushed vet would not be able to give extra time that your pup requires.
DESENSITIZING TO CAR RIDES
A pooch that hates car rides would not love to visit the clinic. Take your pooch on rides around the block just to expose him to happy car rides.
THINGS TO AVOID
Forcing Treats When Pooch is Extremely Frightened: We tend to distract our pooch with treats when she is scared of injection or dryer. However, offering food at such a time will create negative associations to the food itself. Do not push your pooch to face the situation more; instead, try to finish the visit as soon as possible.
Taking to the Vet/Groomer Only for Emergencies: In emergencies, your pooch is already not feeling at ease. If she is not used to visiting the vet, it will trigger more anxiety in her. Jolly visits, mentioned above help immensely.
Not Grooming at Home: You are scared because your pooch nips your hands, or unsure of how to groom, don’t have time, or your pooch has short hair, for any reason you don’t regularly groom your pooch at home. This leads to her not wanting to cooperate at the salon and hence doesn’t have a very good experience.
Mixing Visits to Two Professionals in One Day: Your pooch has done a good job in the waiting area and on the table. After a check-up at the vet’s clinic, it is a nice idea to give your pooch a break and unwind than putting additional stress, even if it is mild, by taking him for a grooming session. Put it for another day when she is recharged. Excessive stress would make your pooch unwilling to cooperate making it difficult for the groomer to do her job well further increasing your pooch’s stress resulting in an overall bad experience and unhappiness for the next visit.
Creating a Negative Experience at Home: Forcing your pooch in the bathroom at bath time and punishing him for entering the bathroom otherwise, incorrectly brushing, or clipping nails too far, all this lead to bad associations for grooming or vet visits. You can get help from a professional to create a good at-home experience.
END ON A HAPPY NOTE:
End the visits with treats or something your pooch enjoys, like a sniffing game. Doing something to release the nervous energy, even if it is a walk, especially if it was a long visit, will help your pooch decompress.
A well prepared pooch will not just have a stress free time but it will reduce stress of the professional and of you as well, ensuring everyone looks forward to more visits!
*Roohi Kulkarni Kale is a Certified Canine Trainer from Canines Can Care (India). She is also certified as a Canine Trainer & Behaviourist from The Northern Centre for Canine Behaviour (UK). She specializes in companion dog training, therapy dog work & aggression after completing specialized courses for the same. She also has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Animal Protection Laws form NALSAR. Recently, she became a Canine Groomer from Akil’s Pawsh Pawz (India).
Roohi has pioneered the concept of pet dog training with reward based, positive reinforcement methods in Nagpur. She helps match families with the correct puppy for them and guides them from the very beginning of puppy keeping. With ‘Coach the Pooch’ dog training, her aim is to help pet owners build the best bond with their dogs through communication, compassion & commitment. You can find her at: Instagram & facebook: @coachthepooch PUT IT IN A SEPARATE BOX