The Millennial Dog Owner Experience: Driving Fear Free Certification

By Jesi Peck, VetSupport Specialist

In March 2021, my husband and I adopted a 14-week old mixed puppy from the local humane society during COVID quarantine and named him Holder. He did pretty well during visits to his veterinarian as a puppy. However, once he reached about 7 months of age, he began developing a lot of anxiety and was fearful of just about everything! He is now 15 months old, and with the help of multiple trainers, a veterinary behaviorist, and lots of time and effort, we are making strides with Holder’s anxiety and fear.

A few months ago, I started becoming quite anxious myself with the thought of bringing Holder to his veterinarian for his annual vaccines. The last time he received vaccines was when he was a puppy – before he developed a fear of strangers and new places. How was he going to handle getting vaccines now? To ease my own anxiety, I decided to look up the nearest Fear Free Certified Practice.

Although this new veterinary practice was a 30-minute drive away (Holder doesn’t like being in the car) and it would be a completely new place for him with all new faces, I decided to book an appointment. Yet still, I was going back and forth in my head as to whether or not I made the right decision (spoiler alert! – I made the right decision).

Upon arriving for our scheduled appointment, I called the front desk while I was still in my car to let them know that we had arrived and that Holder is reactive to dogs. The front desk team was kind enough to let me know when the lobby was clear so we could come in. When we entered the hospital, the front desk staff and the veterinary assistant helping us made sure to keep their distance from Holder and stood near the exam room doors to ensure no other dogs would come out while we weighed him. Then, we were escorted to a fairly large exam room and asked what Holder’s favorite type of treats are.

Throughout the exam, Holder only had to meet 2 new people (the doctor and the veterinary assistant) – both of which always made sure to sit on a stool low to the ground, and toss some treats to him at a distance. If there was something that we, as his trusted owners, could perform instead of the doctor, they allowed us to (ie. Checking his microchip and showing off his pearly whites). They brought out cheez whiz and peanut butter when it was time for the doctor to physically examine him. But based on his body language, the doctor made the decision to not use an ophthalmoscope or an otoscope, as Holder eyed them up as big scary devices!

While the primary goal for our appointment was to establish care with a new veterinary practice, we had also intended for Holder to receive several vaccines since he was due for them. However, ultimately the doctor felt it was best to not provide any vaccines that day, and to schedule another appointment to bring him in, and give him some medicine to help him feel less anxious. Honestly, the veterinary team advocated for Holder’s feelings more than I did – as I was reluctant at first. They are saying I have to bring him back and drive another 30 minutes here?! But they were completely right. They didn’t want to instill too much fear in him during his first visit. It was definitely the right call to leave on a good note, and bring him back for his vaccines.

While there are plenty of veterinary practices 5-10 minutes away from my house, I will continue to make the trek from Vancouver, WA into Portland, OR on a weekday (anyone who lives in the Portland, OR area understands this trek I speak of!) anytime Holder needs care. Here’s why:

  1. They made me feel so welcomed. My dog deserves the same level of care and attention as the friendly neighborhood dog down the street. His emotional well-being matters just as much as his physical well-being – and I could tell the team truly believes this!
  2. They advocated for my dog’s feelings and did not push him to go over threshold. They showed me that they are flexible and more than willing to adjust timelines and procedures to help my dog feel most comfortable.
  3. I feel confident that the whole team will understand and respect what Holder communicates through his body language. And if being the owner of a dog with heightened fear, anxiety and stress has taught me anything – it’s that dog body language can be nuanced and difficult to read at times!
  4. They have many things in place to help my dog have as good of an experience as possible – including a multitude of treats, different-sized exam rooms, and likely many other things behind the scenes that I didn’t get to see.

Are you ready to set yourself apart? Pet owners like me see the value in this type of approach. By pursuing a Fear Free Certification, you and your team will be able to provide an exceptional patient, and client experience to the wide variety of individuals and pets that walk through your doors…including the stressed, anxious and scared ones!

Jesi Peck

VetSupport Specialist


Encore Vet Group is excited to announce that Pet Care Veterinary Hospital (Virginia Beach, VA) is now a Fear Free certified practice! This incredible designation shows their commitment to preventing and alleviating fear, stress, and anxiety in their patients, and promoting educational opportunities for those who care for them. Fear Free Certified Practices have successfully implemented Fear Free into all aspects of their business: culture and leadership, client education, staff training, facility, and patient visits.  Congratulations to the Pet Care Veterinary Hospital team on this remarkable designation!