How to Make Your Dog Less Fearful of Shots

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Why Is Your Dog Scared of Shots?

Does your dog start freezing, salivating, and panting when you take him in to the vet's office in fear of getting a painful injection? Was your dog okay with shots until he got micro-chipped? Has giving your dog daily shots for his medical condition become a hassle? You are not alone. Countless dogs are this way, and I know this from a personal stance having assisted vets in giving shots after shots at the animal hospital I used to work for. It was not at all unusual for even the largest dogs to become extremely agitated at the sight of the shot.

If your dog has received several shots throughout his life; he knows well the routine. Just as dogs develop separation anxiety by recognizing the cues associated with your departure, dogs fearful of the vet learn rather quickly about what to expect during a vet visit. But what causes exactly this fear?

1. Negative Associations

Dogs may generally be fearful of going to the vet because they have associated the place with pain and unpleasant procedures. If the dog is sent to the vet only to have painful procedures done on a frequent basis, it is natural for the dog to start disliking vet trips, especially if the dog is sensitive. Because of this, it is important since puppy hood to take the puppy to the vet to meet staff and get lots of praise, treats and pats. This way, positive associations should help override the negative. If the dog has learned that the vet's office is the place where great things happen, it should be less likely to become a place to fear despite being given shots. We will see more techniques to overcome the fear of shots below...

2. Fear of Being Handled

Because some dogs feel uncomfortable being touched by strangers, some may dislike being visited and given shots. For this reason, it is important to start making vet visits pleasant from early puppy hood by making "fake vet visits" happen. It is helpful to prepare "examination set-ups" . Basically, you would desensitize the puppy to have its ears, mouth, and other body parts touched along with counter-conditioning. You would touch the paw and give treat, check the ears and give a treat, open the mouth and give a treat.

By having a friend mimic a vet by placing the puppy on a table and have the friend touch the pup's ears, check the mouth and look at the paws and give treats, you would further enhance the training in associating handling with pleasant things such as food and praise.

My Dog Is Still Scared of the Vet's Office and Shots

While the above techniques may help make the vet hospital less threatening, there are still a few problems. One of them, is that for dogs in general the vet hospital may remain a scary place because of the nervousness of other dogs around. Dogs can easily sense fear of other dogs because scared dogs at times release anal gland secretions that are easily detected by dogs.

The other problem is that dogs can, yes, learn to see the vet's office as a nice place, but they still may fear the shots. I know this from personal experience; my dog hates shots but is happy to be in the waiting room because she has a history of going there just for treats. However, she knows that problems start when she is taken into the examination room and all the pre-shot cues unfold.

Unfortunately, mimicking all this is almost impossible, unless you find a vet office that is willing to have your dog see the examination room on a frequent basis and have a vet tech mimic shots as well. If you find a vet willing to do this, "great!", however, there are a few steps you can take to make those shots less intimidating. Let's take a look at them.

Dr. Sophia Yin Makes Shots a Pleasant Experience for a Cat

How to Make Your Dog Less Fearful of Shots

This guide should help improve your dog's fear of shots, making the vet visits more bearable. if your dog is very anxious in the examination room because he fears the shot, he is "over the threshold," a behavior term meaning your dog is overwhelmed. Most dogs will not take treats at this point. Through systematic de-sensitation and counter-conditioning you can help your dog learn that shots are not that big of a deal. The below exercise should be ideally conducted over the course of a few days at home.

Day 1: Syringes Bring Good Things!

  1. Get an empty syringe with no needle
  2. Let your dog sniff it and give a treat, sniff, treat, sniff, treat
  3. Remove the syringe (hide it behind you) and stop giving treats.
  4. Bring the syringe out again and give treats for sniffing it, sniff, treat, sniff, treat, sniff treat. End the session by giving a jackpot of treats after sniffing the syringe for the last time.

Day 2: Shots Are Great!

  1. Repeat step 1 through 3
  2. Bring out the syringe and mimic giving a shot by putting a little bit of pressure on the skin and make a silly noise like "picccchu" and give a treat.
  3. Remove syringe from out of sight and stop giving treats.
  4. Repeat mimicking the shot and make the silly noise and end the session with a jackpot of treats.

As your dog gets good at this, you can invite a friend to do the same and make the event more realistic such as placing the dog on a table or getting a fold of skin to pretend you are injecting. When the day for the shot comes, as the vet is about to give the shot, have treats ready. Say "pichuuuuu" as the vet gives the shot and give a treat as the vaccination fluid is injected.

Thundershirts or Wraps

If your dog is very fearful at the vets office despite making fun trips, the use of anxiety wraps or thundershirt may take a bit of the edge off.

Alternative Locations

Another great option if your dog is fearful of shots and has learned to associate the examination room with shots, you can ask your vet to give the shot in the parking lot. Many vets are willing to accommodate for this. This worked great for my female that used to yelp, urinate and put up a struggle when getting a shot. I combined the desensitization and counterconditioning method with getting the shot in the parking lot and she did not wink.

She really did not expect the shot in the parking lot due to the absence of cue suggesting a shot was to come. She was wiggling her silly butt to say hello and right when he was petting her he quickly gave a shot and I gave a few treats and she cared less. I could not believe the improvement!

© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 16, 2020:

Have you tried the step by step process? It's important to go gradually and make super high value treats happen contingent upon seeing the syringe (without the needle), then feeling a bit of pressure (without the needle, I use a pencil). Have your tried doing this outdoors when your dog is more distracted? A muzzle is important if the dog wants to bite.

JAZMIN RANGEL on May 15, 2020:

@Tiffany, please let me know if you figured out a way to help, mine does the same thing, he has renal failiure and needs to go through this ongoing shot treatment, its so painful, I see the same thing that happened to your pup, we dont know what to do...

Tiffany on June 20, 2018:

I have a diabetic dog and is extremely sensitive. He knows everything. He watches every move and won't fall for tricks. We tried to give him his chicken and treats but he won't eat it because he knows we're actually giving him a shot. When we give him the shot, he turns his head and body like a bull really crazy refusing to let us inject the insulin. He starts to bite us and his personality changed completely ever since he became diabetic. We feel really bad but he has diabetes and has no choice. Any suggestions on how to give the insulin shots more smoothly?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 23, 2015:

My girl is the same, when she was a puppy she even cared less, then one day she just decided to be terrified of them. The best experience was when the vet came out the parking lot and he pet her and then quickly gave the shot and she didn't even notice!

krazymind on April 23, 2015:

My female dog was not afraid of shots on her visits to the vet and she received treats for her behaviour. But now, she is 8 months and she is terrified, althout she gets really excited and happy when waiting and when she sees the vet. She plays a lot with the vet but I don't know what happened to make her afraid of shots, even if the vet gives her treats. We tried giving the shots on the floor but same reaction. Although she is happy she knows that that needle is going to appear at any second! I'll.try at home, faking the shot to see what happens. Thanks for the advice!

InizimiShooth on December 19, 2012:

You're so cool! I don't suppose Ive read something like this prior to. So nice to locate somebody with some original thoughts on this subject. really thank you for starting this up. this site is something that's needed on the web, someone having a little originality. valuable job for bringing something new to the world wide web!

NFL Throwback Jerseys

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 24, 2012:

Thank you, the video with Dr Sophia yin shows her doing the exact same thing..

Larry Fields from Northern California on April 24, 2012:

Voted up and interesting.

A friend had a diabetic cat. I asked her how she got the cat to hold still for her insulin injections. She just gave the shot when her beloved pet was eating, and the cat didn't even notice.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 23, 2012:

They can be helpful in the case of vet visits, but I have seen best results when accompanied by behavior modification.

Natasha from Hawaii on April 23, 2012:

I've thought about getting one of those shirts for my girl dog. She panics at the vets. Even when boy dog is being prodded, she will jump on your lap and cling to you. She also starts shedding with nervousness instantly - it's pretty impressive.

5 Ways To Help Your Dog Overcome His Fears

Dog phobias aren’t often talked about, but we’ve all had a dog who was deathly afraid of something- thunderstorms, baths, being alone, the dreaded vacuum. It can be a horrible experience when your fur-baby is upset and you feel powerless to help. But did you know you can help your dog overcome his fears- at least somewhat?

Just like with people, most doggie fears are rooted in a bad experience. Maybe he went to the veterinarian and got shots that hurt and the dog in line before him was screaming during his entire examination. Maybe your dog could even smell the fear and anguish of the dog who came in that morning to be put to sleep after being hit by a car. Dogs are extremely sensitive creatures, and they amplify the emotions of the humans and animals around them.

One of the best ways to help your dog get over his fears (or at least reduce them to a manageable level) is to replace those memories with good ones. We can condition our fur babies to learn a new reaction when those once-fearful situations occur. Here’s how:

  1. Food is usually a good motivator. One of the easiest ways to change your dog’s mind about something is to involve yummy food . If he’s afraid of the vacuum, turn it off and leave it near his food bowl during meal times every day. Eventually, he’ll learn to be less fearful of the monster and may even decide it’s not out to get him after all.
  2. We’re part of the problem. One of the things we often do unconsciously is to get nerved up when we know our dogs will become upset over something. We feel anxious the night before a grooming appointment when our dog is afraid of the bath, or worry about how he’ll react the next day during his veterinarian appointment. Your dog can sense this, so try to relax, be intentional about being calm and relaxed to avoid pushing your anxiety off on your dog.
  3. Rewarding bad behavior is a bad idea. As a dog mom, I tend to want to soothe my dogs when they’re upset. I pet them and cradle them and give them kisses and say nice comforting things about how much I love them and how it’s going to be okay. But in reality, I’m rewarding my dog for his bad behavior when I do this. He gets anxious and acts out, and I reward him with attention and affection which encourages his continued bad behavior- not very smart on my end. Instead, I now try to ignore his initial upset and remain calm myself. I then help him find his own happy place or let him self-soothe by asking him to get his favorite toy or by walking him into a quiet room to sit with me for a few minutes. I don’t coddle him- I don’t even pet him- I simply stay with him and serve as an example of leadership and calmness during his panic.
  4. Rewarding good behavior is key . When my dog finally manages to get it right and not freak out when the I drag out the mean-monster vacuum, I make sure to reward his appropriate behavior. He may give the vacuum the side eye, but as long as he’s not lunging and snarling at eh sight of his foe, I throw a little doggie treat party for him. The first couple of times I did this, he wasn’t sure what was going on. (He probably thought I was off my rocker.) But after it happened a few more times, he started connecting the dots between his calm reaction to the vacuum and my lavish rewards. Just be sure to use a high-level dog treat for this kind of conditioning to make it stick in his memory.
  5. Help him through the rough patches . Even a dog who’s making huge progress toward overcoming his fears can have a big setback. Don’t be discouraged. Just keep right on loving him. You can also give him a natural calming aid for dogs to help reduce his anxiety if needed.

When your dog has fears, it’s important to remember that no matter how unreasonable those fears seem to us, they are indeed very legitimate to him. Always treat him with kindness and respect. You never know, maybe he does know something about that vacuum that we don’t.

2. State Of The Union

This is a no brainer: if the immune system is healthy (old enough or nourished enough), it can and will respond to an invader.

The immune system doesn’t go on vacation unless the state of health is compromised or encumbered by poor nutrition, too many vaccinations or an unclean environment – all factors that may limit its ability to fully respond.

Anything you can do to detox the body and nourish the immune system will go a long way to equip it to be ready, willing and able to fight enemy invaders.

Why is My Dog Scared of Everything?

We often can’t know exactly why your dog is afraid of things.

There’s a pervasive myth that fearful dogs were abused – they often weren’t. This ties into the myth of “it’s all in how you raise them.”

If that myth were true, it would make sense to look for dramatic past experiences that explain fearful behavior. However, many anxious dogs don’t have any puppyhood trauma. So what’s the deal?

1. New Stuff = Scary Stuff

Fearful dogs, more often than not, are afraid of something because they perceive it as new. For adult dogs, new = scary. If your dog was undersocialized as a puppy, she’s more likely to be strongly neophobic.

That’s why puppy socialization is so important – if you teach your puppy that things are normal, they won’t fall into the “Scary New Stuff” category later in life.

2. Your Dog’s Genetics

Other times, your dog’s genetics are working against you. Poorly-bred dogs and dogs of certain breeds are more predisposed towards being environmentally sensitive. In excess, sensitivity becomes fear.

Likewise, puppies born from a highly stressed mother (like a mother who gave birth in the shelter, a puppy mill, or while a stray) are more likely to be pre-wired for fearfulness.

This is evolutionarily advantageous in wild animals – if mom was stressed out while pregnant, there’s a good chance that the pups should be on high alert. But in pet dogs, this can have devastating consequences.

3. Traumatic Past Events

Finally, yes, sometimes we can point to an actual event that caused the fearfulness.

  • Your dog was attacked by another dog and now is scared of dogs
  • A horrifying thunderstorm happened while you were gone, and now your dog has separation anxiety
  • You used a warning beep on a shock collar, and now your dog is terrified of the microwave.

In all honesty, it’s not always helpful to spend a lot of time trying to find the root of your dog’s fear. We’re not trying to be Freud, probing deep into your dog’s subconscious. We’re just trying to make her feel better.

Take Your Dog To The Office And Stress Less

Patch, a Great Dane, has a memo for you. Brian Smith/Flickr hide caption

Any dog owner will tell you that they're a lot less stressed out when they're with their dog. Even at work. And now science agrees.

People who took their dogs to work in an office in Greensboro, N.C., had lower stress levels through the work day, as reported on self-reported test.

The employees who hadn't brought their dogs to work said their stress levels increased through the work day. So did the non-pet owners. But the dog owners said they stayed mellow as the day went on.

The researchers say that dogs in the workplace may help buffer work stress, and make the job more satisfying for non-dog owners, too. Their results were published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

A quick poll here at Shots Central reveals that Scott Hensley and Julie Rovner would be far less stressed if their dogs were snoozing under their desks. Of course, they'd also be less stressed if they were outside tossing a ball with their dogs on this beautiful spring day, rather than boning up on health care policy.

This leads us dogless workers to wonder if workplace dogs function as an excuse to take a much needed break from work a healthy version of stepping outside to take a smoke, or going to the vending machine.

That could well be true, according to Sandra Barker, a professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University and one of the study researchers. During the week of the study, she saw people borrowing co-workers' dogs to go for a walk instead of sit in the cafeteria during breaks. "People may be getting more exercise," she told Shots.

The company that hosted the current study, Replacements LTD, is clearly pro-pet. They've allowed dogs in the office for the past 15 years. The average tenure for a worker there is 10 years, which is high in the industry, says Barker. But it's unknown if that worker satisfaction is dog-related.

This current study is hardly dispositive. It followed just 75 employees, paging them four times a day to report on their stress levels using a standardized quiz. And Barker and her co-author and husband, management professor Randolph Barker, are avowed dog lovers. So there may be some bias here.

But there is plenty of data that shows that interacting with pets can make people healthy, or healthier. Earlier this month, shameless pet partisan Julie Rovner reported on studies that found that petting one's dog lowers the owner's blood pressure, and that interacting with animals increases people's level of the hormone oxytocin. It's a neurotransmitter that's said to increase trust and reduce fear.

Barker speculates that workplace pets could be a low-cost intervention to keep employees happier and healthier. But this only works, she admits, if the dogs in question are friendly, clean, and well-behaved.

This raises the question of whether supervisors would have to vet pet behavior, and banish troublemaking pets. That sounds like a recipe for stress.

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