a puppy stands on an examination table with a vet nurse standing behind him.

Your puppy's first vet visit

Most puppies enjoy being touched, handled and stroked by those that they know well. However, when your puppy visits the vet for the first time, they will have to be handled by a stranger in a new environment and all this has the potential to be a bit overwhelming.

Vets will often have to handle your dog in a different way to how you would normally be handling them at home, so it makes sense to help prepare for them for this, so it becomes normal for them. You can teach your puppy all about how they are likely to be handled during an examination. It will be quite different from how you usually handle your puppy, but it doesn’t have to be scary.

  • A piece of vet bed, or a thick towel - this way your puppy will quickly learn what sort of things you’ll be doing together, and it will also help manage their expectations. In addition, it lets them know when the training begins and when it ends as it is something you can easily get out and put away. You’ll also be able to take it with you to the appointment and ask your vet to use it. This will all help prepare them mentally for the type of handling they need to expect.
  • Prepare some tasty treats such as small pieces of ham, chicken or even bits of their kibble, and make sure you can access them easily
  • A metal spoon and some earphones to replicate a stethoscope

Encourage your puppy over to the mat and begin offering them treats for just standing on the mat - this teaches your pet that being on the mat is a pleasant experience.

Start by gently stroking areas of your puppy that you know they’re comfortable with (usually their shoulders, under their chin, along their back etc). Try to keep your movements slow and steady to avoid exciting your puppy, and give them a titbit after each stroke. 

Once they're comfortable with the above, slowly and gently touch your puppy’s legs, tummy, feet, tail, head, eyes and ears. Then move onto lifting up the lips to examine the teeth too – many dogs find this difficult, so help your puppy feel comfortable with this by taking it slowly, rewarding and taking plenty of breaks.

Keep these initial sessions short (remember puppies have a short attention span), a couple of minutes will be enough, but try to do this a couple of times a day.  

Once comfortable with being handled on the mat at floor level, you can then begin doing some of this training on a surface so your puppy gets used to being examined on the vet's table. This is quite different to being picked up in your arms for your puppy and it can be quite alarming, so the right preparation is important. Here's how to do it:

  • Place your towel or vet bed on a table surface with your treats easily to hand
  • Say ‘lift’ (or choose another word) and gently scoop your puppy up, place them on the surface and immediately begin feeding them, either by hand or directly in front of them. Avoid scattering food as this encourages your puppy to wander about.
  • If you have a wriggler or you are worried your puppy might fall, pop a harness on them so you can easily keep hold of them
  • When they have finished the food, pop them on the floor and repeat the exercise a few more times. Do this a couple of times a day and your puppy will soon get used to being lifted and placed on a surface. Make sure always you say the cue word ‘lift’ just before you pick them up to help prepare them for what is about to happen.

Hold your puppy gently in a hug, close to your body, and give them a treat. If they wriggle, wait for them to stop, praise and give a treat. If your puppy fidgets a great deal, becomes worried or very frustrated, don’t hug at first – instead place a hand around their body, praise and treat and build it up slowly from there.

Once your puppy has got used to being held for a few seconds at a time, carry on building the time that you can restrain your puppy for – this training will help prepare your puppy for being held still which will be necessary for procedures like injections.

Once your puppy is comfortable with being handled and kept still, gently hold the loose skin between your thumb and finger at the back of their neck and immediately reward heavily with treats popped on the mat in front of them, which will keep them in the right position for a few seconds.

When your puppy is really comfortable with this, you can then use your finger on the other hand to gently touch the bit of skin in between the scooped skin – this will introduce  your puppy to the sensation of pressure they will experience when being injected. Remember to reward lots for this, too.

Although you are unlikely to have stethoscopes, syringes or bandages lying around, you can improvise at home and help your puppy get used to novel items whilst they are on their pretend vet station.

Once they are happy being handled and used to being relatively still, you can introduce a metal spoon, and after allowing your puppy to investigate it, place it gently on their chest. Leave it there for a second and reward generously.

Repeat this and gradually build up the time – this will really help prepare them for the unusual experience of having someone listen to their chest. You could even pop some old earphones in prior to doing this to make the experience more authentic for your puppy or get creative and make your own stethoscope.

  • If at any point your puppy looks worried or begins to panic, then go back to the stage your puppy was comfortable at and begin again
  • Keep sessions short (no longer than a few minutes at first). Remember, puppies tire easily and have short attention spans. 
  • Keep up this training regularly throughout your puppy’s life 
  • Make sure that you reward your puppy heavily with praise and treats
— Page last updated 05/08/2021

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