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Veterinary visits can be stressful for dogs. One of my greatest joys as a trainer lies in teaching dogs to relax and even enjoy the visits, a task best accomplished by minimizing anxiety triggers. Some of the anxiety-provoking situations that occur during visits to the vet are easy to recognize, such as being physically manipulated or receiving immunizations. But other areas of stress are often overlooked, including the fear many dogs have of the slick flooring of the hospital.
Animals can panic when they feel unsteady on their feet, and slippery floors make it challenging to stand, move, stop or stay in one place. For some dogs, a fear of slick flooring may be isolated to the veterinary office or groomer’s, while other canines face their fear daily inside their homes or while out on walks.
Dogs that are well socialized during their prime learning period — about the first three months — have a better chance of dealing with circumstances they encounter later in life. That may be because the dog dealt with something similar in his puppyhood, such as having had a prior positive experience navigating slippery flooring, and/or he learned that the world is a safe place and he can cope with novel situations when he encounters them.
Though it's important to socialize a puppy to new situations, including varied flooring, it is possible to help a pooch gain confidence if he missed such early training or already has developed a fear.
In some situations, outside help is warranted. If you are concerned that your dog's hesitation may be related to a physical impairment or pain, seek veterinary advice. Dogs with conditions like arthritis, for example, are often more hesitant on slick floors because of the pain that occurs when they struggle to stay upright while slipping and the fact that their leg muscles may be weak from disuse.
If your dog is fearful due to his lack of control while walking on a slippery floor, provide him with some traction. Various accessories are available for your dog to wear, from canine booties to disposable paw grips to nail grips. If his fear of slick surfaces is based in the home rather than outside, area rugs provide greater stabilityon slick floors. In addition, keep nails and fur between paw pads trimmed to make the dog's paws less prone to slipping.
Training can also help a dog relax on slippery floors. Avoid forcing a dog into a situation he is afraid of (i.e., don't drag him onto a slick floor and hold him there). Such actions come with a high risk of making the fear worse and diminish the trust between person and dog. There are better methods to train a dog than to use force, which can border on being inhumane and increases the risk of aggression in dogs.
Instead, to promote confidence, allow the dog the choice to move onto the floor under his own volition and associate the flooring with rewards.
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