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Helping Your Puppy Love the Vet

By the time your puppy goes home, she hopefully has had at least one interactions you're your breeder’s veterinarian, and hopefully they have worked hard to make those fun and positive interactions. (It’s also advantageous if your breeder has started your puppy with tolerating restraint and handling.)

You will want to continue your puppy’s education by making all of her vet visits as fun and happy as possible. Bring lots of treats, and the minute you get to the clinic, give your puppy treats for any good behavior. That includes sitting quietly, greeting people appropriately, handling scary events, and more. Also, encourage vet staff to give your puppy treats.

Make sure your puppy has relieved himself before you get to the clinic. If your drive is over 15 minutes, find a nearby office or industrial park with no signs of dog use to give him a potty break.

Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early to avoid being stressed by a tight schedule and to allow your puppy time to adjust to the clinic and new environment.

Give your puppy a treat for each new encounter. For example, give a treat when you arrive at the vet and get out of the car. Give another for your puppy walking nicely with you, when you go through the front door, while you are waiting at the desk to check in, when you sit in the waiting room, when a new person approaches, etc. These experiences may not even be something you normally think about, but they may all be brand new to your puppy. Help him have positive experiences by being confident and giving him treats and praise.

Remember, you are your puppy’s main advocate. While you want the experience to be happy, you don’t want people to get overexcited with your puppy, so make sure all voices are calm and all interactions are calm. If anyone is getting over excited with your puppy, riling him up, or causing him to behave in a way you don’t want, pick up your puppy, step back from the person, and tell them you are working on training your dog in a calm manner and ask them to please speak and act calmly with your dog. If a person can’t act appropriately, leave their presence insofar as possible.

If a person approaches, give them a treat and ask them to quietly give the treat to your dog. Many people have good intentions but aren’t educated about dog training and can act inappropriately with your puppy. Be proactive and ask them to behave the way you want before they have a chance to overexcite or frighten your puppy.

Many people will allow their dogs to run over to your puppy and jump on them. Do not let this happen! Many dog owners do not properly socialize their dogs and don’t teach them to behave appropriately with other dogs. If you see a dog headed your way, especially if they are pulling their owner over by the leash, pick up your puppy and ask them to stay away before their dog encounters your puppy. And you don’t know the health status of that other dog and the last thing you want is to expose your puppy to diseases for which it does not yet have full immunity.

Tell them your puppy hasn’t yet had all of her shots, please don’t let the dogs near each other. Again, you are your puppy’s advocate. Stand up for her BEFORE there’s a problem, or step in as soon as possible after noticing a problem. Your puppy’s well-being is more important than a stranger’s opinion of you. This goes for ANY situation with your puppy, not just at the vet.

The vet’s office is not the place for socialization. You want your dog to know to act a certain way at the vet, and when you socialize with people and other dogs, you want to be in a more controlled environment.

If the overall atmosphere in the clinic is chaotic, ask the staff if you can wait outside or in your car, or if they have a quiet area.

Identifying stress

You’ll want to learn the signs of stress in your puppy so you can support her if she isn’t feeling comfortable. Provide support without coddling her. You want to help her, but at the same time you don’t want to encourage fearfulness. Again, this is not just for the vet’s office.

Signs of stress include:

  • Ears back

  • Tail down

  • Licking lips

  • Shaking

  • Whining (not the eager kind)

  • Not accepting treats

  • Trying to hide

If your puppy shows these signs, you will need to help him with his stress.

  • Step back from the immediate environment a little and give him a chance to look around

  • Give him a reward whenever he looks at you or shows signs of boldness, such as stepping forward

  • Keep other dogs and people away until your puppy has relaxed a little

  • Keep rewarding for when he sits calmly with you

In the exam room

Continue rewarding your puppy as you enter the exam room, and reward for every new encounter. For example, when entering the room, when she approaches the exam table, when she meets the vet tech, when she gets on the table, when the tech or the vet touches or restrains her. Ask the veterinary staff to greet your puppy with treats. Give the puppy a treat for each vaccination or blood draw. You get the picture.

A note about restraint. The one time you don’t want to reward your puppy is if he’s struggling during restraint or a procedure. Rewarding your puppy at that time will only reinforce the struggling, so don’t do it, even if your puppy seems frightened at that moment. Remember, unless it’s an emergency, you can always ask the tech or vet to stop working on your puppy and allow him to calm down.

Remember to pay attention to your puppy while you are checking out and leaving the clinic. This is not the time to forget to support and advocate for your dog. If someone is with you, have them take your puppy out to the car to wait. Once you leave the clinic, take your dog to a safe place to relieve herself.

Vaccine Reactions

We are supportive of vaccinating your dog, and think vaccinations are in your dog’s best interest, and in the interest of public health in general. Vaccine reactions are not common, but they can happen. Because of this, stay at the vet’s office for 20-30 minutes after a vaccine. If the waiting room is a quiet and suitable environment, you can wait there, or you can wait in your car. Any serious reactions are most likely to show up within 30 minutes, and signs include itching, hives, throat swelling, or vomiting.

Vaccine immunity

It takes up to 10-14 days for your puppy’s immune system to respond to a vaccine, so remember that the vaccine is not protective until that time has passed. Do not go from the vet to the dog park thinking your puppy is immediately protected. He’s not.


Titering measures the antibodies present in your dog’s system and indicates protection. So a sufficient titer for distemper, for example, indicates that your dog likely has immunity to distemper. Depending on state laws and your vet’s philosophy, you may want to check the titers on your dog before annual vaccines once your puppy has completed all of their puppy shots. Discuss this option with your vet if you are interested.

Rabies vaccine

It’s important to ensure your dog is as protected as possible through vaccination and/or titering. Besides health ramifications, if you do not adhere to your state’s required rabies vaccination schedule, you are putting your dog at risk of being impounded if he bites or mouths a person, or even if he is near where a dog bite happened. Please know he need not have bitten anyone to be impounded. Therefore, always ensure your dog’s rabies vaccination is up to date and that your dog wears her rabies tag. It’s also not a bad idea to have a copy of the rabies certificate from your vet stored in your smartphone.

Non-core vaccines

Core vaccines include canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis, and rabies.

Common non-core vaccines include leptospirosis, canine influenza, lyme disease, and bordetella. Discuss these vaccines and the risk in your area with your vet and give them if there is risk either in your local area or any areas you expect your dog to travel to. Some boarding and doggie day care facilities require dogs to have non-core vaccines, so also check with those before making vaccine decisions. You don’t want to go out of town for an emergency only to find you can’t board your dog overnight because she isn’t properly vaccinated. Risks in our area, for example, include leptospirosis, canine influenza, and bordetella, so we add those non-core vaccines into our dogs’ preventive medicine plan.

Other non-core vaccines include rattlesnake bite, giardia, and coronavirus. At the date of this writing, we have not seen strong evidence of efficacy and/or safety for these vaccines. Please discuss this with your vet if they suggest these vaccines and remember nothing is wrong with getting a second opinion if you aren’t sure.

If new vaccines come on the market, always discuss their risks and benefits with your vet before administering them.


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