While sitting in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office the other day, I watched two mothers interacting with their middle school-aged daughters. The first mother came in with a roller bag and set up shop as soon as she had checked in. She pulled out her daughter’s homework, set her books and papers out, and explained to her what she was expected to do. Then, she planted herself in the chair next to her daughter and watched her work. She wasn’t staring her down, but she was nearby. When the little girl got frustrated, confused, or bored, Mom was right there to refocus her. As a result, she finished her homework quickly without complaining. The second mother came in just after the first. She asked her daughter to do her homework, handed her the materials, and then went to visit with the receptionist. The second girl hemmed and hawed, complaining about why she had to do her homework. It was clear that she was having a lot of trouble with the math calculations. Eventually, she gave up and began to watch TV. I wonder if her mother will remember that day when her daughter gets a D on her math test.
My experience with pet owners is similar to what I saw in the pediatrician’s office that day. There are two general categories of dog parents: drivers and passengers. A driver walks into situations and instructs her puppy how to be safe and confident (like the mother above who stuck with her kid), supporting the puppy’s independence and shaping positive experiences. The passenger sits back to see what will happen and reacts to events (like the mom who didn’t help her child with homework but will be disappointed when she fails her test). Which puppy do you think will grow up to be well adjusted—the one who gets instruction or the one who is left to his own devices? Be a driver to make sure that your pup’s first veterinary appointment is enjoyable. It is an investment in his future.
You should make an appointment with your veterinarian within about 24 hours of adopting a pup, even if she is not due for vaccinations. This allows the veterinarian to make sure that she is healthy and to assess his behavior. It also allows you to begin to form a relationship with your veterinarian regarding this particular pet so that in the case of an emergency, your pup has already been examined. If the puppy is sick, you may need to invoke your state’s puppy lemon law. The following states have animal lemon laws: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Vermont. Depending on the individual law, the consumer has between 7 and 20 days to make a claim regarding serious health problems and 10 days to 2 years to make a claim against congenital or hereditary defects. Some laws provide for the replacement of the puppy, a refund of the purchase price and/or reimbursement of healthcare costs up to 150% of the purchase price of the dog. There are limitations with each law, so it is important to know what is allowed under the law in your state.
Now, you’ve made the appointment. Great. Start shaping a positive experience for your puppy before you even get in the car. Would you ever leave your house with an infant without a diaper bag? No Way! Don’t short-change your puppy either. Pack a bag with treats, toys, and a small bath rug with a non-skid backing. Prepare a small food toy to keep him occupied while in the car (shaping positive conditioning in the car) and head to the doctor’s office.
Before you step foot in the hospital lobby, walk a mile in your pup’s paw prints. You are taken by an alien (you) to a place that smells like other dogs, but not in a good way. It is populated by other aliens who don’t speak your language, don’t seem to understand even the basics of communication and don’t look anything like you. The aliens put you on a cold metal table and put something up your butt. Up until now, you thought that part of your body was exit only! Yikes, it isn’t a Halloween horror movie, it is your first trip to the veterinarian!
When you arrive in the waiting room, get to work! Take your puppy and approach every hospital employee, asking them to hand the puppy a treat. If your puppy is doing well, they can also pet him. This will condition your puppy to believe that people at the veterinary hospital always carry treats! Because some dogs may be sick or aggressive, it is best to avoid socializing with other animals at the veterinarian’s office.
When you get to the exam room, put your puppy down the floor and let him explore. Reward him for bravery such as approaching the big metal exam table, the veterinary technician, or the scary doctor in the white coat. When someone comes into the room, immediately ask them to hand him a little treat. Unless you want your hand slapped by your veterinarian make sure the treats that you bring low fat treats that are about the size of a pea. Low fat treats such as freeze-dried chicken breast, beef liver, and sweet potato are highly motivating and also low fat.
When it’s time to put your puppy on the table, put the rug down so that the puppy has something that smells like him and will not slide across the table. This will help him feel secure. Remember to put yourself in his paws—would you rather have good soft footing or be slipping on a cold, slick table. Feed your puppy treats throughout the exam. That’s right, throughout the exam. When animals get treats in relation to when they are examined is a big pet peeve of mine. Scientific studies have shown that reward or punishment must take place within 1- 1 ½ seconds of behavior to be associated with that behavior. Most pups get a treat after the exam is done and they are put back on the floor. What is the pup being rewarded for? Being put on the floor! She will not associate that treat with the physical examination. If your veterinarian is not used to this technique that’s okay. Bring a copy of this blog with you to your first appointment so your veterinarian doesn’t think you’re loopy!
At the initial puppy examination, you can expect that your pup will be examined from nose to tail including his eyes, ears, teeth, abdomen, temperature, and heart. Your veterinarian should also watch the puppy walk around to assess his gait and demeanor. Depending on the age of your pup and what has been done prior to adoption, she may need vaccinations or deworming.
Which vaccinations your pup gets will depend on what she has gotten previously and his risk. Basically, there are two types of vaccines: core and noncore. The core vaccines are the ones that all puppies should get and the noncore ones are the ones that your pup will get depending on his risk. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that the following vaccines be regarded as core: Rabies, Parvovirus, Distemper virus, and Adenovirus meaning that all puppies should be vaccinated with these vaccines. All other vaccines are to be regarded as noncore and administered depending on the risk to the puppy. Puppies will generally be vaccinated every 3-4 weeks between 6-16 weeks of age. Your veterinarian will probably deworm your puppy two ways: with a broad-spectrum dewormer prophylactically and with a specific dewormer if needed based on your puppy’s fecal test results.
End your visit on a good note by asking the employees in the lobby to hand your pup some small treats. She is bound to be tired after her first visit so take her home for a nap. Meanwhile, pat yourself on the back and put your feet up. Job well done!