vet exam room photo

Fear Free Veterinary Visits

Does your dog drag his paws when going to veterinarian’s office? Does the word “vet” cause your dog to cower and tremble? Have you started trying to trick your dog by saying you are going somewhere else, but somehow, he knows what you are up to and shakes and pants the whole way there?

Well thankfully there may be a solution to all that! Well known veterinarian, Dr. Marty Becker, created a certification program called Fear Free Pets that is designed to teach veterinary and pet professionals, how to use fear free handling techniques, as well and ways to create a fear free environment. 

Dr. Becker’s first certification course was offered in 2016 and today over 48,000 pet professionals have been certified by Fear Free. They offer courses for veterinary professionals, groomers, trainers, shelters and there’s even one for pet parents looking to create Fear Free homes too!

Some environments automatically create anxiety. Have you ever walked into a veterinarian’s office that is has all hard surfaces, a steel table and the smell of chemical cleaners? The people may be as nice as can be, but if the environment isn’t inviting, regardless of how warm their welcome, you don’t exactly feel like hanging out for a while. Your heartrate might climb a bit, and somehow, just based on the outside stimuli, you automatically start feeling fear.

Fear Free veterinary offices and hospitals have non-slip surfaces, soft beds or rugs to lay on, they may offer a variety of cookies to please the palate and there’s no icky chemical disinfectant smells lingering in the air. The exam may take place on the floor, calming music might be playing in the background and pleasing pheromones or essential oil diffusers are likely being used in the rooms. It’s all about your dog and what makes him more comfortable.

The exam may take a bit longer than traditional offices because the technicians use handling methods that are based on cooperation and not compliance. Nothing is rushed in a Fear Free office. But to ease your checkout, prescriptions and payment might be taken in the exam room so when you are ready to go, you can just leave and don’t have to wait at the front desk to get checked out.

For a Fear Free Practice Certification, more than 50% +1 of the full-time veterinarians, 25% of the staff and 100% of the leadership, must all be certified in Fear Free techniques. 

The certification course is taught through eight online modules, each with a test at the end, which must be passed with a score of 80% or better. Certification is valid for one year and continuing education courses must be completed for maintain active certification. 

The benefit of a Fear Free visit not only reduces the emotional anxiety the dog has when visiting the vet’s office, but also allows for more accurate measurement of heart rate and respiratory rate, which can be elevated when your dog is scared.

A Fear Free veterinary practice may charge a little bit more than another office, but the benefit is well worth a few extra dollars. To find a Fear Free practice, veterinarian, groomer or trainer Fear Free Pets has a listing to help you find someone near you.

Holistic veterinarians are usually “Fear Free” without the certification because the methods taught are what holistic vets have been doing for years.

At home, some of the things you can do to help your dog who is afraid of the vet, is to change associations.

  • Make weekly stops at the vet’s office just to weigh in and get pats and attention from the front desk.
  • Bring cookies with you and offer a cookie when you go through the door at the office.
  • Massage sessions are a great way to get your dog used to being touched all over is also a great way to help your dog start with some positive associations.

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