Introducing Puppies to Vets and Groomers

Visits to the veterinarian or the grooming salon can be a harrowing experience for some dogs. The key to helping your puppy tolerate and even enjoy these experiences is to provide a serene and positive introduction early in life.

Setting the Stage

Between eight and eleven weeks of age, puppies are very sensitive to their environments. They experience their first perceptions of fear within these weeks, known as the socialization period. Experiences that happen during this time can lay the foundation for what provokes fear in your pet. They can also establish how your pet copes and behaves during frightening situations later on in life.

During the socialization period, your puppy will likely have to make one to two trips to the vet, and perhaps the groomer. Establishing these encounters as calm and enjoyable will help your dog to cope and even thrive during future visits.

How to Prepare for a Visit to the Vet or Groomer

  • At home, get your puppy used to his collar and leash, or any travel crates you plan to use.
  • Take a few short, pleasant car trips to let your pet know that car travel is safe and enjoyable.
  • Before leaving home, make sure your pet is neither on an empty nor a full stomach – motion sickness does happen!
  • Give your pet a bathroom break before taking any trips.
  • Schedule a “social” call to the vet and the groomer before an actual appointment is necessary. This way your pet can enjoy a treat and some positive attention when nothing stressful needs to happen.
  • Your breeder will likely recommend a post-purchase examination within a week of bringing your new companion home. Avoid scheduling uncomfortable procedures like vaccines or microchipping during this visit. This will help your pet understand that vet visits don’t always include unpleasant pokes.
  • Try to schedule first grooming appointments after all necessary vaccines have been given.

What to Pack  for the First Vet Appointment

  • Treats – have appropriate treats on hand to make the visit rewarding and to distract from anything that may be frightening.
  • Samples – don’t forget to bring any urine or stool samples that your vet requested.
  • Your pet’s health and vaccine passport from your breeder – and any other medical history that you have.
  • The name or a photo of your pet’s food.
  • A list of your questions for the vet.

How to Prepare for the First Grooming Appointment

  • Handle your puppy’s feet, ears and coat regularly during calm hours at home.
  • Introduce your pup to a pet toothbrush and a tasty pet toothpaste by letting them sniff and chew the brush without any pressure or restraint.
  • Visit the grooming salon to experience smells and sounds during the socialization period, however; save full grooming appointments until after 12 weeks of age.
  • Trim nails at home during sleepy periods, using lots of treats and praise.
  • Have your veterinarian email vaccination records to your groomer before your first appointment.

How to Act During First Appointments

  • Keep your pet safe and secured at all times using a leash or travel crate.
  • Consider waiting outside or in your car rather than in a chaotic waiting room.
  • Stay calm and speak in a soothing tone.
  • Never step away from your pet when they’re on an exam or grooming table. Wait until you know they are secured by the clinic/salon staff.
  • Avoid telling your pet they’re a “poor baby” or that the vet or groomer was “mean” during the course of the appointment…if your pet is going to believe they’re in a safe space, you need to believe it too.

What You Should Leave With

  • An idea of what your pet’s appointment schedule and medical/grooming needs will be over the next year.
  • Information about the cost of regular grooming and wellness services.
  • A date for your next appointment.
  • Information about your pet’s ideal diet and nutrition.
  • Information about basic training and socialization.
  • A microchip (for visits after the first one) and registration details.
  • Information about pet insurance.
  • Peace of mind.
  • A happy, relaxed puppy.

With a little bit of planning, and lots of positive reinforcement, visits to the vet and groomer can be joyful experiences for your pet, and your whole family. Happy socializing!

Jennifer Sperry, DVM, Veterinary Advisor