Going to the vet is typically not something your puppy is going to look forward to. Why would he? Most people avoid the doctor unless it’s for a physical or because of an illness. Hospitals are even more famous for being avoided. Bad associations with them abound.
Think about it from his point of view. He’s ripped from the litter to get a checkup and de-wormed as his first vet experience. His next trip is probably going to be shots at six to eight weeks. At this time, it’s likely he will receive his microchip and get preventative treatment for fleas.
This begins a series of events that result in multiple jabs and anxiety-inducing experiences. Depending on the schedule established by your veterinarian, he is likely to be back in that scary place at 12 and 16 weeks of age as well. It is recommended that dogs be neutered or spayed around six months. So, before his first birthday, he has been to the vet several times to be poked, prodded, and cut. No wonder he starts slinking away when you mention a car ride.
First steps: make it a learning experience
Not many people like being rushed into anything. Your puppy is not going to be any different. Instead of building negative associations by bombarding him with treatments and physical examinations multiple times in his first six months, why not create positive associations by making it a learning experience.
Instead of letting him think car rides lead to trips to the vet, why not take him to the parking lot at the vet’s office and do some training? Work on simple commands and tasks like a down-stay or a recall.
Get excited that you’re going on a trip. Let him see your excitement. Make it a game. Make sure he’s secured in the car—either in a crash-tested crate or in a special seatbelt—and take him to the animal clinic parking lot. Take him out on the leash and give him a treat.
Yeah! He had his first trip. Walk around. Practice your commands. It doesn’t have to be all afternoon. Less than ten minutes will work. Do this a few times before he even has to see the vet. Walk him to the door of the clinic and give him a treat. Get excited because he’ll get excited to.
It’s not as horrible as he thinks
Most vets have treats. Let your dog know this. Talk to your vet and see if you can bring your pup into the waiting area just to sniff around. Let him get used to this place where he will be spending some time off and on throughout his life.
If he’s well-behaved, the receptionist or aide is sure to give him a treat from behind the counter. Always remember to keep him secure. You need to control the environment. You may know your dog, but he doesn’t know the myriad animals that may be at the clinic.
Should he exhibit signs of becoming anxious, take him back out. It is always best to go into these things slowly and well-prepared rather than throwing him straight into the deep end of the pool.