Reactive Dogs and Vet Visits


Small Dog in Bandana Sitting on an exam table

It's challenging as-is to have a reactive dog, but going to the vet can be miserable for all involved. Here are some tips to make it easier:


Always Call Ahead

Your veterinary office may have procedures in place for handling reactive dogs. Some have back doors, special lobbies, or specific exam rooms away from the front door and lobby of the office. Many will instruct you to call once you arrive so they can clear the lobby for you if there is no alternative route.


In addition to a smooth and calm entrance, calling ahead ensures all staff involved are aware of the situation. There may be technicians in the office better suited to helping a reactive dog, and depending on the size of your dog and the nature of the reactivity, your vet's office may want to make sure they have enough staff on hand.My dog Murphy is only 12 pounds but I've seen it take four people to safely draw his blood! If you recognize that your dog does better with some people than others in your office, don't be afraid to ask for them next time you go in!


Other Options

If your vet recommends it, there are a slew of medications and calming treats or tools you can try to make your dog's visit easier. Some veterinarians will prescribe a trazodone pill to give your dog 30 minutes before arriving. Other options include calming pheromones (Adaptil), thundershirts, and various treats with ingredients like CBD, Tryptophan, or chamomile may help your dog. Your results may vary with these options, but I've had the best luck with Trazodone.


Consider Your Scheduling

Try to schedule your appointment early in the morning on a weekday to avoid other clients and catch your dog at his "freshest." If you had to sit through hours of traffic, go to work, fix a flat tire, and argue with someone at home, you'd have a pretty low tolerance for dealing with a root canal at the end of the day! Dog's have a meter just like humans for how much they can tolerate in a day, so try to get them in early and don't chance any incidents on a walk or trip to the park before the vet.


Training

Bring HIGH VALUE treats! Hot dogs, deli meat, cheese, cooked chicken or beef, peanut butter, whatever it is that your dog will focus on! For Murphy, he is too keyed up to eat at the vet, so we bring his favorite ball and mat to lay on! Find what it is that comforts your dog.


Consider muzzle training! Muzzle training is completely humane, and basket muzzles allow your dog to eat, drink, and pant normally. I find that it gives dog owners and those around them peace of mind, which in turn rubs off on the dog for calmer temperaments all around! If you are interested in muzzle training, reach out to me before you buy one! :)


Have your dog wear a harness instead of collar around the neck. It's easier to control a dog wearing a harness, and they won't injure their trachea if they lunge at something or pull too hard!


Be Your Dog's Advocate

Your dog doesn't have a voice (wouldn't that be nice?) so you have to talk for them. If you notice something, speak up! For example, when they try to get a rectal temperature on Murphy first thing, the entire rest of the visit goes downhill, nothing gets done. Now, I'm not shy about telling them slooowww down with that thermometer going right for his butt! If we can't schedule the vet we like to work with because she is calm and quiet, we wait until she is available! When possible, I ask if we can have a consultation over phone or email rather than forcing an office visit on Murphy.


Speaking up for your reactive dog is important because YOU are the one who knows their little tics and other behavioral markers, not the vet tech. Be calm, clear, and arrange it to go as smoothly as possible for all involved. It may not be easy, but it will be better than just "whatever happens, happens."


Curious About Our Vet?

We see Dr. Erin Knickerbocker at Aloha Animal Hospital on Torrey Pines Drive. A dog with reactivity and seizures can be a challenge! Dr. Knickerbocker doesn't hesitate to get down on the floor with my dogs, and always makes us feel heard and understood.