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Do dogs know when they’re going to the vet?

Do dogs know when they’re going to the vet?

It has to be done, but no one likes to do it. Your dog needs to go to the vet, but you know the experience won’t be fun for either of you. You think the easiest way to get them to the vet is to not let them know where they are going. However, as soon as they get into the car, they give you a look of betrayal. Do they really know where you are going? 

Do dogs know when they’re going to the vet?

Some dogs seem to know when they are going to the vet, while others may be blissfully unaware. How do they figure it out? 

Dogs Are Extremely Observant

Dogs watch you constantly. They can identify your moods and even your health status. Do you ever see your dog watching you closely? 

The phenomenon is similar to that of children and parents. Children watch their parents closely. They often imitate their behavior. They learn quickly what they can get away with, and what they can’t. They can tell when they are about to be in trouble by the tone of your voice or the set of your jaw. 

In the same way that children rely on their parents for their survival, your dog relies on you. It’s natural for them to be closely tuned in to your actions, behaviors, and emotions. 

The Smell of Stress

You are bound to be stressed, and perhaps even feel guilty, when you are taking your dog to the vet. It turns out that your dog can actually smell many of your biological processes, including those related to stress. 

When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol. Your dog can smell this easily. This alone won’t tell them that they are headed to the vet, but it will put them on high alert. They know that something’s bugging you. 

Car Ride

If you don’t take your pooch for car trips other than going to the vet, they will know as soon as you put them in the car. Dogs have a surprisingly good memory, particularly associative memory. 

This means if the car always means a trip to the vet, they may not remember they are going to the vet. However, they will remember that they are heading towards an experience, even if they aren’t sure exactly what it is. 


Dogs are creatures of routine. They remember events and know when to expect things to happen. They will know you feed them after their morning walk, for example. They know when you will be home from work, and what they can expect from you at bedtime. 

Dogs understanding of routine can also clue them in to a trip to the vet. If you give them a bath right before taking them to the vet, they may remember this. If you only put them on a leash for a vet trip, they will know the leash means vet. 


You may spell the word doctor in front of young children, but you probably don’t think anything about saying you are taking your dog to the vet. However, your dog may understand the word. 

Dogs have the capacity to learn between 150-200 words, and they are more likely to learn words that have a direct impact on them. They probably know what the words walk and food mean, for example, because they affect them. 

Seeing the Vet’s Office

If your dog has been to the vet before, expect them to know where they are when you arrive. Even if they’ve been clueless for the entire trip, they will likely remember the building. 

Do dogs know when they are at the vet?

Assuming it’s not your dog’s first trip to the vet, they will know where they are when they get there. 

Recognizing the Environment

Dogs are masters of recognizing and being aware of their environment. When you take them to the park, they know it’s time to play. They will get excited and happy. 

When you bring them to the vet, they will know what to expect based on past experiences in that environment. 

They may recognize the building, the waiting room, or the people dressed in medical coats. These things will tell them they are at the vet. 

What do dogs think when they go to the vet?

Dogs may not have the same thinking and reasoning capacity that we do, but they aren’t too far behind. In fact, you may be surprised by the amount of awareness your canine companion possesses. 

Sensory Overload

Dogs use smell and hearing as their primary senses. Both of these are much more sensitive than ours, allowing dogs to gather much more information about the environment. 

When at the vet, this becomes problematic. They can smell many different animals in the waiting room, which can be overwhelming. They can smell every animal that has passed through the room that day, and possibly even the day before. 

To make matters worse, they can also smell the emotions of these other animals. They will notice that many animals were afraid or anxious, and this will contribute to their own anxiety. 

Sounds also play a role. Your dog will hear dogs in the exam rooms barking and even whimpering. This will cause them further anxiety. 

Confusion and Betrayal

They don’t understand that the vet is there to help them. They simply know that they are hurting one of their kind. They likely wonder why you would take them to such a place, knowing they will be afraid and potentially hurt with injections or other care. 

Past Memories

Your dog will also remember other trips to the vet. If they received injections or needed stitches, they will remember the pain of the experience. They will remember being touched and prodded by a stranger in a way they don’t experience at home. 

In addition to fear or anxiety, they may feel hurt that you would expose them to such an indignity. 

Why do dogs dislike the vet?

Do you enjoy going to the doctor? How about the dentist? You don’t enjoy these experiences for the same reason your dog doesn’t like going to the vet. 


Visits to the vet or the doctor can be painful. As a human, you know that the shot you receive is for your benefit. However, your dog doesn’t understand this. They simply know that this is the place they get those pokes that hurt. 


Sensory overload from other animals and their anxiety, combined with memories of discomfort, will cause your dog anxiety. Keep in mind that they don’t have the thinking ability to know that it’s for their own good. 

Owner Stress

Your mood has a major impact on your dog’s emotional state. You are stressed when you bring your dog to the vet, so it’s natural for them to feel stressed as well. 

According to a study by the Americans Veterinary Medical Association, 41% of dogs were afraid of going to the vet in 2014. In 2015, it jumped 10%, showing 51% of dogs were afraid of the vet. What caused the change?

It’s theorized it was actually the owner’s anxiety. The number of owners who had anxiety when taking their pooches to the vet rose from 30% in 2014 to 38% in 2015. Humans and dogs experienced nearly the same increase in fear and anxiety, which indicates much of your dog’s anxiety at the vet may be because of your own. 

How can I get my dog to be calm at the vet?

Being afraid at the vet is normal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help your dog through it. In fact, you play a critical role in your dog being fearful or calm during their visit. 

Practice Makes Perfect

Part of what makes a trip to the vet an ordeal for your dog is that it’s the only time they are examined physically. The vet will hold them still and check their body from teeth to tail.

If your dog isn’t used to this, it will understandably make them nervous. You can help them conquer this fear by performing the process at home. Ensure your dog is calm and happy.

It’s best if you have a play or petting session before you begin. This will help them see it as a positive experience. Now, you’ll want to check it’s ears, teeth, and paws. Run your hands over their body, feeling gently as well. Move their legs as the vet would to check for flexibility. 

After you’ve examined them, give them some praise or a treat. They may even start looking forward to the process, knowing that it results in a treat. 

 Make a Social Call

When your pooch visits the vet when they are sick or in need of immunizations, it’s bound to be an unpleasant experience. You can combat this by allowing them to have some good times at the vet’s office. 

Bring them by just to hang out. Let them go into the waiting room, and have quick interactions with staff if possible. This will create some positive associations with the vet’s office, which will make them calmer when they have to go for a checkup. 

Keep Calm

Remember, your dog is extremely tuned into your feelings. If you are anxious, they will be too. If you have vet anxiety, you’ll need to learn to manage your own anxiety before you tackle your dog’s nervousness. 

You may find meditation or calming music helpful. Breathing exercises can also be very helpful when stress levels start to rise. These techniques can benefit you in many areas, so it’s great to practice them anytime you begin to feel stressed. 

Talk to Your Dog

You probably talk to your dog frequently at home, but you may feel embarrassed to speak to them in public. Your vet will not think you are crazy if they hear you talking to your furry friend. In fact, they will likely encourage it. 

Speak to your dog about whatever comes to mind, but keep it light and calm. Tell them about your after the vet plans, which should include a special activity or treat. Tell them they are doing a great job. 

Don’t apologize to your dog or display guilt for bringing them to the vet. This will likely only confuse them. Instead, keep it positive. 

Last Resorts

If your dog has severe anxiety when visiting the vet, you may need to take other actions. One option is mild anti-anxiety medication. Your vet can prescribe this before your visit. You’ll need to administer it 30 minutes to 1 hour before your appointment. 

Another option is a muzzle. If you are afraid your dog will be aggressive due to fear, this is a good idea. However, it can understandably contribute to the fear your dog experiences.