A new trick helps terrified dog calm down at the vet

March 11, 2014

ValAfterBathWouldn’t it be great if there was something to help dogs be less terrified at the vet? Especially if it was free, easy, and required no advance planning at all?

I’d always heard Greyhounds were more sensitive and prone to anxiety than my hardier Scottish Deerhounds, but until I adopted my two girls, Val and Stella, I didn’t realize just how bad it could be.

Both of them have separation anxiety, and Stella also has pretty severe thunderstorm phobia. And their terror at being taken to the veterinarian breaks my heart; they shake, drool, cry, try to escape, try to get under my clothes, try to crawl into my lap… it’s awful.

Not only that, but stress can distort results on many different tests, potentially leading to missed or inaccurate diagnoses.

Val, my senior Greyhound, has kidney disease, and requires quarterly vet visits to check her blood, urine, and blood pressure. Her anxiety is so bad that, even with Xanax on board, her in-office BP is routinely in the range of 170-180 systolic, well past the treatment cut-off of 160. (Normal is 150 or below, although Greyhound BP tends to run higher than that and still be considered normal.)

This time, however, her BP came back in the normal range, and she lay quietly on the waiting room floor while they took it. (She’s less stressed in the waiting area than the exam room, so her vet examines her there.)

What changed?

I’d seen a presentation by Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, where they’d talked about ways to make vet visits fear-free for pets. One of their suggestions was to have the dog run through any tricks or obedience commands they know while waiting for the vet. Since I had absolutely nothing to lose and Val was starting to escalate in her anxiety, I gave it a try.

I had a fistful of crumbled dog treats, and I asked her to sit. I think the command took her by surprise, but she did it, and I gave her a crumb of treat. Then I asked her to shake — and she did. Another crumb. Then heel, come, sit, stay, down, shake, kiss, and more, while everyone in the waiting area laughed and told her she was a good girl.

I have never seen her so happy at the vet. Her vet has never seen her so relaxed. And her blood pressure has never before been normal — 150 on the nose.

So if your dog freaks out at the vet, try it. You have nothing to lose but inaccurate test results and your dog’s fear.

Photo: Val sleeping by the fire, drying off after a bath.

Filed under: veterinary medicine — Christie Keith @ 6:07 am


  1. Yah!

    Comment by Liz Palika — March 11, 2014 @ 10:30 am

  2. I have a mixed rescue(lost in my area) who decided to my my home “hers”. She still has anxiety. Maybe, those comfort shirts.

    Comment by alyce — March 11, 2014 @ 3:36 pm

  3. This is great! Way to go you and Val! Anything to make it less stressful and easier on all involved that doesn’t involve medication is always the best. I am going to try this. :)

    Comment by Tamara L. Keegan — March 11, 2014 @ 3:49 pm

  4. My furbaby loves to go to the vet but she is impatient if she has to wait too long. They know to put her in the office that has Dutch door (top and or bottom opens separately). Kaydee can then see what is going on out there. When she starts to get impatient I turn on ‘her’ music and instantly she knows to relax and lays down. I play non vocal Celtic music. How I did it was to go into a quiet room/semi dark room, turn ‘her’ music on and start massaging her or scratching her, belly rubs being careful to use soft gentle strokes. It’s a great reward to see her relax and not be afraid!

    Comment by Lynn — March 11, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

  5. i will give that a try bless you for loving our furry childern having a good vet is a god send in it self

    Comment by bonnie hopkins — March 11, 2014 @ 4:53 pm

  6. my dog is afraid of thunder storms

    Comment by Nancy ball — March 11, 2014 @ 4:53 pm

  7. I sure wish I had some ideas to try with my cat, Schnitzel. They put him in a box and gas him just to examine him, shots, anything! Being anesthetized for every visit can’t be a good thing. And his fear and I just feel so bad for him I would rather not even take him for anything.THAT seems it could be worse. help??

    Comment by Jane — March 11, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

  8. What about those thunder storm wraps. I have heard good things about them.

    Comment by sally — March 11, 2014 @ 6:53 pm

  9. Jane, please email Dr. Becker, he can help. petconnectionfbt@gmail.com

    Comment by Christie Keith — March 11, 2014 @ 6:56 pm

  10. Thanks for great ideas to help our sweet fur friends..!!

    Comment by Nancy — March 11, 2014 @ 9:06 pm

  11. Has anyone tried a mobile vet? Best way to get an accurate assessment… Especially when medication dosages are contingent upon test results, which tests are being done under extreme amounts of stress… such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and the like. Even simple vitals are extremely accelerated and inaccurate. Your furry baby is at home and relaxed… Doctor comes, does what’s necessary, and leaves. Life is disrupted briefly for your pet, and much less stressful for you, which also transfers over to your pet, and the day continues as if nothing happened most times! : ) Lori

    Comment by I've Got the 'Scoop'! — March 11, 2014 @ 11:48 pm

  12. My rescue boy Snow a Maltapoo suffers separation anxiety. How can we help him?

    Comment by Margaret Benjamin — March 12, 2014 @ 12:14 am

  13. I have a beautiful Golden Doodle who is the smartest, sweetest, kindest etc etc etc dog you have ever seen! My problem is that I have difficulty clipping his nails. I had him groomed once and he came home and didn’t want me to touch his feet, very unusual for him, so I figured that he had been quicked. I have tried and it has taken a long time to rub and play with his front feet, but I get the clippers after his bath and he will not even let me touch them. I have tried treats which he loves and he will take them but begrudgingly. I don’t want to force him, but his nails are getting very long and strong.

    Comment by Sandra Wentz — March 12, 2014 @ 8:06 am

  14. Working in a vet’s office, I see firsthand these anxious, fearful animals. Owners also contribute to the anxiety because they too are anxious about the bill or the prognosis and their companion picks up on this. It helps immensely if the animals get to go places BESIDES the vet when they get in a carrier or the car. If your vet office is close and the vet staff amenable, try simply visiting just to say hi for a social call. Bring your treats and have staff just say hi, pat them, treat them, then leave. Several short, happy visits will ho a long way to relaxing your pet.

    Comment by Kim — March 12, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

  15. Amazing! We just had our dog to the vet yesterday for dental cleaning, and it was so sad, because she was so anxious. I had been given phenobarbital tablets to give her before bringing her in, and she still freaked out. When she came out of the anesthetic she freaked out again. I will keep this information for future visits to the vet and hope that her future visits to the vet will become calmer for her, and for me. Our poor pets.

    Comment by Shaughna — March 12, 2014 @ 5:14 pm

  16. Thank you for the wonderful information

    Comment by Bonnie Allen — March 12, 2014 @ 5:25 pm

  17. I feel lucky that I got a dog from a vet tech school who can come with me to work (a vet clinic) on a regular basis. She falls asleep on the floor of the darkened surgery suite while I take her blood pressure for regular monitoring (she’s on Proin). She hops up on the table regularly for weight checks. I do a lot of her exam stuff at home, including regular blood draws (by myself, as she has been taught to stay still when a vein is occluded). An exam by the vet, ear cones, ophthalmoscope and all, is just another event in her day.

    I am INCREDIBLY lucky to have a dog like this.

    With that said, I do believe that, in addition to what she went through at tech school, KEEPING IT UP and also doing regular obedience training and socialization have also helped her keep relaxed. Doing basic Novice and Open exercises at the clinic during off-hours or slow periods has made the whole vet clinic-environment thing a non-issue.

    It pains me to see dogs (mostly small ones, but by no means limited by size) shaking in fear, and no wonder, because they don’t leave the house or yard except to come to the vet. I wish I could explain to people what that state of mind is like. The whole “prison planet” mentality, and the stress, anxiety and fear it causes when there is any change in routine, smells, sights, sounds, etc. That’s no way to live.

    Great job finding a solution with Val, and hopefully Stella too. Love when things work out, and between this and your vet being flexible (examining in the waiting room is something VERY rarely done at our practice), sounds like you’re part of a great team.

    Comment by Viatecio — March 12, 2014 @ 7:12 pm

  18. I use this for my very worried little Saluki girl at handling class, or at a show. I run her through ‘schooling figures’ circles in both directions, working on right then left then right, all with lots of laughter and encouragement. Takes her mind off the “big evil show ring”
    I also have a ‘special needs’ dog who is over reactive. When he’s beginning to tense up we run through his SIT DOWN BOW then Come To Hand at which point he remembers life isn’t so difficult

    Comment by Monica Stoner — March 13, 2014 @ 10:24 am

  19. 4 weeks ago we put our 6 yr young Golden Retriever to sleep. She had cancer. I also had cancer 2 yrs ago and now I am cancer free. But when they told us our dog had cancer I was devastated. I wished that there was a foundation for dogs and cats to find out why our pets are dying of cancer. It took us by surprise not to mention the shock. I still cannot believe that he is gone. I expect to see him meet me at the door when I come home. I cry daily and nights are so lonely without him. He was my buddy and filled the emptiness in my heart since my spouse left me in June and then we put our 13 yr old cat also to sleep 2 mo ago. I miss him so much. I have gone to two shelters here in Pueblo but to avail they have nothing even close to a Golden. I will not give up the search. I even have volunteered walking dogs in my area, and that I hope will help in the healing process. Anyone out there knows of puppies or a grown one?

    Comment by Nora — March 14, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

  20. Love hearing how it helped made the vet visit less stressful for your dog. I do this with my dogs who can be a little reactive around other dogs. We find a quiet area and go through our behaviors. It’s made the waiting room wait so much easier and the crew thinks the vet hospital is a great place to be.

    Comment by dawn — March 15, 2014 @ 8:45 pm

  21. My Italian greyhound/chihuahua cross has the fast growing, very strong greyhound claws. Clipping them was almost impossible even with three people. Then we discovered grinding instead. Now he stands quietly, confident he will not be hurt. Thanks so much to Petsmart for their great groomers.

    Comment by Susan Carroll — March 17, 2014 @ 9:43 am

  22. Yes, I’d probably try this new-found way to calm down dogs when visiting the vet. Heck … got nothing to lose. Thanks.

    Comment by Micky — March 28, 2014 @ 10:25 pm

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