There’s a saying often repeated by dog trainers to their students, “The leash transmits all of your emotions straight to your dog.” Whether you are worried, afraid, nervous, or confident, your dog will feel that.
There’s much more to this, of course, because your dog or cat knows you so well they can sense and feel all of your emotions; no leash needed. This is wonderful when you’re happy but it can be a problem if you are bringing your pet in to the veterinary clinic.
Sharing Emotions Can Be A Problem
Sit in any veterinarian’s waiting room and the nervous pet owners stand out. They look worried and convey that in their facial expressions as well as through body language.
Worse yet, they are sharing it with their pet. They are petting their dog or cat with nervous hands that are shaking, their movements quick. They are fussing here and there touching the collar, adjusting the leash, fussing with their pet’s ears. Pretty soon the pet is just as worried and fussy as the owner.
By the time the dog or cat goes in to see the veterinarian (or groomer, dog trainer, or other pet professional) the pet is stressed, worried, and potentially fearful.
Tips To Calm Yourself
When you are conscious of your own emotions and their effect on your pet, then you can learn to calm yourself. When you are calm, you can work on keeping your pet relaxed and fear free.
First of all, be aware of your thoughts. If you are truly worried about this veterinary visit or are stressed about leaving your pet at a boarding kennel, that’s okay. You care about your pet, and you’re allowed to be worried.
However, that concern doesn’t need to put you into a state of extreme stress. When you realize that you are in a bad mental loop, close your eyes, hold still, and breathe. Pull air in through your nose and out slowly through pursed lips. You can even do this in the veterinarian’s waiting room; hold your pet close and concentrate only on your breathing.
Then pay attention to your hands. If your hands are moving quickly, touching your pet here and there, or constantly fussing, just stop. Keep your hands still.
If you’re having a hard time keeping your hands still, try this exercise. While still securely holding on to your pet’s leash, take the thumb of one hand and press it firmly into the palm of your other hand. Using that thumb, massage slowly in a circle until you feel calmer. Then reverse hands.
Once you and your pet are in an exam room and you’re away from other pet owners, there are a couple of other calming exercises you can do. The first is a stretch. Either sitting or standing, just reach for the sky as you inhale and reach toward the floor as you exhale. Three or four of these will help you release some stress as you loosen those muscles that tightened up as you worried.
Finally, hug yourself. Yes, hug yourself. Wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze. Not only is a hug good for you, even if you do it to yourself, but hugging yourself is guaranteed to make you smile.
Pay Attention To Your Pet
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize stress in ourselves, especially the early signs of it. Many times we are all worked up before we see what we’re doing to ourselves. Although it’s important to try and catch the earliest feelings of stress before it affects our pets, until you develop those skills, pay attention to your pet because she will mirror your emotions.
When you see your pet begin to pant or shiver, she’s reacting to your worry. She may also try to cling to you or, in some cases, get away from you. Her pupils may dilate and her ears can flatten to her skull. A dog may hide under your chair, and a cat could hide in the back of her carrier.
When you see some of these behaviors, begin by looking at yourself. As you calm and relax, so too will your pet.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT