Vet Phobias – A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Your Dog Cope With Vet Visits

If your dog is afraid of the vet, he’s not alone. Even confident, happy-go-lucky, anxiety-free dogs have been known to exhibit fears of places like animal hospitals, groomers, and even dog boarding facilities and pet shops.

But why?

And more importantly, how can you help your pet work through his vet phobia? Let’s find out!

Why Are Dogs Afraid of the Vet?

If you’re a dog lover then chances are you already know that dogs have an amazing sense of smell. Dog’s are also incredibly in tune with our body language, facial expressions, and even hormones. 

So, if you’ve ever suspected that your dog seems to “know” you’re getting ready to take him to the vet, you’re probably not imagining things. 

Of course, as pet parents, it’s tough doing things we know scare our pets. Bathtime is never fun for dogs who hate water, and dragging your dog along to the vet or groomers can make you feel like an accomplice to your dog’s impending torture. 

Still, the vet is something critical. As pet parents, it’s our obligation to make sure our pets are as healthy and happy as possible. And yes, this means vet visits. 

But why is your dog so scared of the vet? 

Well, why are you afraid of the dentist? Or the doctor? Or of needles?

Dogs and humans aren’t all that different, you know. Just like one bad experience at the dentist can make you ignore the pain of a cavity for months, one bad experience at the vet’s office can make your dog loathe the very car ride on the way there.

Consider what happens to your pooch at the vet. 

He gets poked and prodded by strangers wearing smelly gloves. He gets a thermometer stuck in his you-know-where. His lips are pulled back and his teeth are examined. Sometimes he even gets shots! 

Worse, he’s cooped up in a small room that smells both sterile and like other dogs all at once.

And your dog can probably smell the fear the other dogs left behind. He can even smell sickness, stress, and other negative things that may have happened in that environment, and he has no way of asking you why he’s there and what’s going on.

No wonder he’s freaking out!

With that being said, it may not be possible to completely squash your dog’s fear of visiting the vet, but it is possible to help make it a better experience for him.

How? By using a training tactic we use all the time with our anxious dogs here at My Dog Spot! That’s right, we’re talking about counterconditioning! 

Let’s learn more!

What is Counterconditioning and How Can It Help With Your Dog’s Vet Phobias?

Counterconditioning is a tool used by many trainers to help essentially change a dog’s mind about something using treats and positive reinforcement methods.

For example, if your dog has a fear of his leash, you can help him associate the leash with something positive by slowly offering him treats each time he is near the leash or is wearing the leash.

The thing about counterconditioning is that it takes patience and time. So, while this is a great tool to use and you should begin using it immediately when visiting the vet, it may take a few visits before the effects begin to take place. 

Still, we highly recommend using this technique when working with your dog to help him get through his vet phobias.

To practice counterconditioning with your dog at the vet, you will need

  • A bag or pocket of treats
  • Your highest, happiest praise voice
  • An idea of a few tricks your dog knows or games you can play with your dog

How You May Be Making Your Dog’s Vet Phobia Worse

When your pet is scared or sick, all you want to do is help. Trust us, we get it. 

But it’s important to keep in mind that your pet is hanging on your every emotion. He’s looking to you for comfort and assurance that everything is going to be okay.

If your dog isn’t feeling good and you bring him to the vet and then fuss around while he’s being examined, he’s going to think he has good reason to be afraid because you’re afraid!

When you’re at the vet with your dog, play it cool. Be calm, give him smiles and praise, and assure him he is safe and everything is going to be okay not only with your words but with your body language as well. 

How Exercise and Mental Stimulation Can Help To Reduce Anxiety In Dogs

If you know your dog has a serious vet phobia, the last thing you’ll want to do is bring him to the vet with a ton of pent up energy that will only add on to the nervous energy of being somewhere that’s scary. 

Before your vet visit, we suggest going for a long walk or jog with your pet to burn off any excess energy before hopping in the car.

Of course, if you’re visiting the vet it may mean that your dog is sick and really isn’t in the best shape to go for a stroll or run. 

If this is the case, you can use mental stimulation to help ease your dog and get him tuckered out before the vet visit.

A change of scenery, a quick backyard outing, or even just going out front and sitting on the porch for a good twenty minutes can do the trick.

Should I Medicate My Dog Before His Vet Visit?

Sometimes dogs are just absolutely panicked about vet visits and that’s okay. If nothing else will work for your pet and you’ve tried exercise, treating, and counterconditioning, then sometimes the next best option is to offer your dog calming supplements or stress-relieving medications.

Of course, we always suggest that you contact your veterinarian before administering any medications or supplements to your pet before vet visits, and this is for a number of reasons.

For one, your vet may need to see your pet free and clear of any extra medications in his system. Your veterinarian may also be able to recommend the proper dosage and type of supplement or medication based upon your dog’s age, weight, and what he is going to be seen specifically for. 

Other Ways You Can Help Your Dog Cope With Vet Visits

Along with counterconditioning techniques, staying calm, exercising your dog, and using calming supplements or medications when necessary, dog parents can further help their dogs cope with vet visits by taking a few simple steps.

  • Communicate with your veterinarian before the visit.

If your dog has a serious vet phobia, call ahead and discuss it with your vet. There are often steps your vet can take to help ensure your dog has the best experience possible, like offering him one of the quieter exam rooms, approaching him in a certain way, or offering him treats from the moment he walks in the door. 

  • Don’t overload your dog with scary things all in the same day.

If you are going to visit the vet, don’t immediately schedule a grooming appointment right after if you know your dog has a phobia of the grooming salon too. Let the poor guy have a break!

  • Bring your dog’s favorite blanket or toy to help calm him.

Like a kid and a security blanket, a dog’s favorite toy can help bring him peace of mind and remind him that he’s safe. This is especially important if your dog needs to stay in the vet or animal hospital overnight. 

  • For extra nervous dogs, consider in-home vet care.

If possible, and if you can afford it, it may be worth having a vet come to you and your dog in the comfort of his own home. 

Do you have other tips and tricks for helping keep your dog calm, cool, and collected at the vet? Let us know in the comments section below! And to learn more about My Dog Spot and our training and pet care services, visit




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