Ask the Trainer | Roscoe can learn to love the vet |

Ask the Trainer | Roscoe can learn to love the vet

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,

We have an 8-month-old puppy named Roscoe, who was adopted when he was 8-weeks-old. Roscoe has been raised with two kids, ages 8 and 10. He loves everyone in our family and we’ve never had any problems with him growling at our kids, their friends or adult visitors. Our problem is when we recently took him to the vet, he growled and made them so nervous that they muzzled him. He’s never had anything bad happen at the vet so we aren’t sure why he’s suddenly so scared. Is there anything we can do?

Thank you,


Dear Barbara,

Yes, you can help Roscoe become more comfortable at the vet. It’s not uncommon for puppies to react fearfully to something that they’ve previously been fine with. In fact, puppies go through several fear periods during the first couple years of life. When they do act fearful of something, you need to allow them to investigate and overcome the fear themselves. You don’t want to push them toward something (or someone) that makes them nervous. This will only overwhelm them and will likely result in more fear.

The fearful response Roscoe is experiencing at the vet’s office may be totally unfounded, but it is very real to him. You will have to change the emotional response he is having in that environment from negative to positive. The most effective way to change an emotional response to something is with counter-conditioning and desensitization (CCD). This process gradually desensitizes the dog to something that scares them and changes the emotional response to the trigger.

To do this, you will need to take a field trip to the vet’s office. You are not going to see the doctor, just to visit and hang out in the office.

Prepare some really great treats like hotdogs, cheese or something else that is very high value for Roscoe.

Go into the waiting room, sit down and feed Roscoe treats. If the staff have time, ask them to give him some treats too. Once he seems comfortable with them feeding treats, ask them to touch him lightly then feed.

The ideal progression would be for the staff to start with whatever Roscoe is comfortable with, and work up to looking in his ears and mouth and touching his paws, all while feeding great treats. You will need to do this on several occasions. You’ll know he’s starting to have a good association when he perks up and gets excited when you enter the building.

When Roscoe seems very comfortable in the waiting room, you can ask if they will let you go into an exam room to work. By this time, many pups think the vet’s office is a wonderful place and happily move around without any problem, but work at whatever pace Roscoe is comfortable with.

Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at

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