We have a little game we play with puppies. It usually starts after Dr. Burns gets finished examining one and starts chatting with the pup’s people. While the family is distracted, the puppy mysteriously disappears—sometimes until the visit is over and Dr. B walks the family back up to reception, where the missing puppy is usually sitting happily in a team member’s lap. While they’re chatting with Dr. B, we play “Pass the Puppy.”
It’s a simple game, really. All we do is spend a few seconds making a fuss over the puppy, breathing in puppy breath, and getting all slobbery before we pass the puppy on to the next teammate. We point out cool collars and neat markings and talk about how cute it is that one ear stands up and the other one folds at the tip or how big the beast’s feet are. And we hand out treats and pats. Lots of treats and pats. Like us, most puppies love this game.
And while Pass the Puppy is fun and seems like a silly distraction, it’s a critical part of helping puppies have a great experience here. They get a chance to meet folks, smell smells, and be handled gently by many hands. And they get treats. It helps them forget that we took their temperature or trimmed their toenails or gave a vaccination. In return, we get puppy therapy and a reminder of just how great our jobs are. And when we play this game well, we get a puppy that can’t wait to see us next time.
Preventing fear of veterinary visits is all about making them less scary. It starts at home, for sure, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t continue when you get to the veterinarian’s office. We play this little game with kittens (when their personality permits—some cats would hate it), and small adult dogs, too (Natasha will start a round with your chihuahua faster than you can say sombrero!). When a pet is too big or nervous to play, we change the rules to suit them because every pet deserves to have as pleasant a visit as possible. Reducing stress is a win-win-win, really: pet owners avoid the stress of putting their pet through a difficult experience, pets that like trips to the vet are more likely to get the care they need, and we get patients that help make our jobs safe and rewarding.
So, what can (or do) we do to make your pets’ visit as pleasant as possible?