How do veterinarians and veterinary nurses get blood from zoo animals? They train them using positive reinforcement to offer a limb for the blood draw. You can reach your pet the exact same thing! Here’s how I explained it to a reader:
Q: My dog hates having blood drawn, but he has a health condition that means it must be done on a regular basis. Is there any way to help him become less fearful about it?
A: Believe it or not, there is. If zoo animals can learn to voluntarily offer a limb for a blood draw — and they do — so can your dog. Here are some tips.
First, teach your dog to offer his paw or leg. If he already knows “shake” or “high five,” this will be easy to do.
Ask the veterinary technician or veterinarian to show you how and where to hold your dog’s leg as if he were going to receive a blood draw, as well as where the blood will be drawn. At home, practice holding the leg in position. Moisten the area where the vein is with water or alcohol to prepare him for the sensation and scent of the alcohol rubdown. To simulate the feel of the needle, gently tap the area where the vein is using a toothpick or paper clip. All the while, give your dog high-level treats: cheese, warm deli turkey, hotdogs, whatever he delights in.
Do this daily for a month to help him become accustomed to being handled that way. Let him walk away if he wants, but stop the treats if he does so. Perform the training in a specific place each time so that he knows what’s going to happen there. If he goes to that place on his own, reward him for it and do a quick practice.
Do everything slowly, step by step, until your dog is comfortable with it. The next time you are at the veterinary clinic, continue to provide your dog with high-value treats during the procedure. See FearFreeHappyHomes.com for more tips.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.