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Similar to humans, dogs can show signs of stress and fear when getting an exam or treatment for an illness or injury. While stress and fear can be understandable, a dog displaying such emotions could potentially expose employees to harm as the dog may feel it has no other choice but to defend itself. Presented in this lesson are tips and techniques that employees may implement to help make dogs feel more comfortable while at the animal hospital.


Since dogs cannot tell humans how they feel, they have to express their emotions through both vocal cues and body language. Learning how to read the body language of a dog is important because their actions will determine the employees actions.

A stressed or fearful dog may communicate their feelings either vocally or by displaying any of the following examples of body language:

  • Cowering
  • Exposed whites of the eyes
  • Low head or tail
  • Tense or trembling body
  • Ears that are flat against the head
  • Showing of teeth
  • Growling
  • Scanning the room
  • Excessive licking of the lips
  • Refusing treats


When working with a dog who is stressed and afraid, employees could potentially be exposed to some of the following hazards:

  • Bites
  • Scratches or lacerations
  • Broken bones
  • Emotional trauma


When working with a stressed or fearful dog, employees may employ some of the following tips and techniques to help the dog feel more comfortable:

  • Ask the owner of the patient to help alleviate stress or fear by helping their dog feel more comfortable or prepared for the visit. Owners can bring in washable toys, a blanket, or some of their dog’s favorite treats to help them feel at ease in the environment.
  • If a dog is known to have anxiety, employees may want to talk to the owner about using a small dose of antianxiety medication prior to coming into the office or during the exam or procedure.
  • Spray some dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) on items such as bandanas, blankets, or scrubs.
  • Use a calm or soothing tone of voice when talking to either the owner or patient.
  • Remain calm. Your body language and tone can affect how a dog feels.
  • Dogs may feel uncomfortable on slippery surfaces or cold floors. It is recommended that exam rooms have nonslip rugs or towels for dogs to lay on while they wait. It is also recommended that washable toys and treats be available as these can act as positive reinforcements.
  • Avoid leaning over or reaching for the patient. Leaning over or reaching could be seen as menacing to a dog. It is recommended that employees first squat or sit on the floor with a little distance put between the patient and attending tech or physician. If the dog appears to calm down, employees can then slowly approach from the side.
  • Do NOT make direct eye contact with the dog.
  • Always watch the dog for changes in body language. If the dog’s body language shows signs of aggression, back away and give the dog some space. A dog that feels cornered could attack.
  • If it appears that the dog may be more comfortable, perform the exam, give shots, etc. on the floor rather than the examination table. The height of the table could add to the dog’s feeling of stress or fear.
  • Let dogs sniff equipment (scales, stethoscopes, thermometer, etc.) before using it.
  • Guide dogs into a wanted position rather than forcing them. Forcing a dog into a position rather than using guiding techniques could create more fear or stress in the dog, causing it to lash out.
  • Use treats or preferred rewards during the entire examination or treatment process. Positive reinforcement should always be used over negative reinforcement.
  • If a dog appears to be more fearful of people wearing certain colors (white lab coats), it is recommended that employees avoid wearing such items with those patients.
  • Play some soothing music or an audiobook in the room while performing the exam or procedure.
  • Use compression garments on dogs that may relax under touch.
  • If a dog is too stressed or fearful for employees to safely work with them, employees should use restraining techniques and muzzles. If employees need to muzzle, they may want to put peanut butter or other food reward on the muzzle to build a positive experience with the item.
  • In certain cases, employees may want to sedate the patient for the exam or procedure.
  • Keep records of the dog’s behavior and techniques it responds to for future reference.


When a dog feels fear or stress, it could lash out to those who are trying to help. Working with a stressed or fearful dog could potentially expose employees to harm. To help avoid harm, employees can use the tips and techniques presented to help avoid injury and build a positive experience. There is no one size fits all for stressed or fearful dogs, as personalities will differ between each patient.