Dr. Evil’s Exam Room Of Horrors

By March 24, 2017News

You look around you and find yourself in a tiny, unfamiliar room. It smells like veterinarians, and your human is jittery. You shiver, and then there’s a knock at the door! Do you abandon your training and bark at the sound? If you did, who could blame you? Certainly not your human partner…

It turns out that many well socialized and well trained Service Dogs get upset when medical personnel knock and come into an exam room.  You can teach them to enjoy this situation. Start by training in  your own bathroom at home!

Why do dogs get anxious when the doctor comes in?

Small rooms: Make dogs feel trapped and cornered.

Knocking: Reminds dogs of strangers at their home door.

Sudden entrance of staff: Startles dogs.

Behavior of medical staff: They are sometimes also startled or nervous about your dog (and, it is unrealistic to expect busy staff to learn and remember to act totally differently for your visits).

Scents: Disinfectant and medical odors are similar to veterinarian office exam rooms.

Owner anxiety: Your feelings about doctor visits can affect your dog (so, try to breathe calmly and relax if possible!)

For Hearing Dogs

This gadget helps you know when your training helper is knocking. It hangs on any door and flashes when it senses the knock.

Step One: Bathroom Training

Goal: Dog enjoys familar visitors knocking and entering bathroom.

What You Need:

  • A small enclosed, but familiar safe place for training. The bathroom in your home is ideal.
  • People to knock and enter. Beloved family members, not strangers!
  • Food treats, happy attitudes, friendly talk, toys.
  • Treats to reward your helper.

What to do:

  • Help your dog feel comfortable in your bathroom.
  • Some dogs are worried about getting baths, so start feeding your dog its regular meals in the bathroom.

Start without a helper

  1. Dog and partner in bathroom.
  2. Knock on the inside of the door, and give the dog treats and praise.
  3. Keep things calm, since you do not want excitement when knocking happens.

Add your helper

  1. Leave the door half open.
  2. Dog and you in bathroom.
  3. Helper comes in without knocking.
  4. Your helper must ignore the dog, because crowding the dog in close spaces can be scary! It’s up to you to reward your dog and keep it happy.
  5. The helper can hand you the dogs dinner bowl with a little food in it. You put the bowl down for dog to eat.

You give the dog treats for down or calm sit.
You greet the helper with calm friendly voice and behavior.

Now close the door. Add knocking by the helper

  • Dog and you in the bathroom.
  • Door is closed.
  • Helper knocks and enters.
  • Give your dog big rewards!

Now train with other helpers.

  • You can start with family members, then move to non-family people the dog knows.
  • Your goal is for the dog to be relaxed with people it does not know so well.

Step Two: Train at a friends house bathroom or small room 

  • Visit a friend.
  • Repeat all the steps, in their bathroom.

Step Three: Train in hospital bathrooms, or doctors office bathrooms

Be sure to join Martha and others from the Service Dog community on the Martha Hoffman Hearing Dogs Open Forum Facebook group. It’s an open community where dog trainers, both professional and owner/trainers, exchange ideas and tips about training their dogs.

Martha Hoffman is the Training Director for the Hearing Dog Program. She has trained several hundred Hearing Dogs and tested over 20,000 shelter dogs over the course of 25 years. She is the founder and lead trainer at Martha Hoffman Hearing Dog Academy (MHHD) and the author of the highly respected text on Hearing Dog training, Lend Me an Ear.

 You are ready!!! You need to train without annoying the staff. Although you may have public access rights, you want your doctors and staff to have a positive attitude about Service Dogs and their handlers. Making demands is annoying to them. So, plan carefully.

  • Small doctors offices: bathrooms are busy, and crowded. Not a good training place. If you have a good relationship with your doctor and can arrange to come at a non-busy time, that would be okay.
  • Hospitals are best for training. Hospitals have many single bathrooms, and you can find one that is not near busy areas.
  • Go through your steps in the hospital bathroom. If a person wants to use it, you need to leave. Don’t give cranky people an excuse to complain and make trouble about your dog.
  • You can train alone, and knock on the inside of the bathroom door, or you can bring your helper and go through the steps. Repeat all the steps all over again!

Step Four: Real Exam Room Training

  • Do you have a good relationship with your doctor? Ask if you can come at a non-busy time, or come early to your appointment, and practise in the exam room. Hopefully, the staff will love the idea of a friendly calm dog that behaves well at appointments.
  • Bring a sign to tape on the exam room door saying “Dog training, please do not disturb.”
  • Some staff might be confused if they hear your knocking. They might open the door to see if you are in trouble. Use this as a training opportunity, and give your dog treats for remaining down.
  • If you go alone, sit in the exam room, get your dog relaxed, and knock on the inside of the door yourself. Give treats to the dog for remaining down or for doing a Hearing Dog alert.
  • If a friend can come with you and knock, great. Repeat all the steps.
  • Bring TREATS for your doctor and staff!!!

Transfer this training to Vet Visits, after your dog is doing well with human-doctor visits

Finish your human-doctor visit training first. Why?

Because if your dog hates vet visits, you might “contaminate” your dogs opinion about the similar smells at a human-doctors office.

  • Call and ask if you and your dog and helper can come at a non-busy time and pracise in an empty exam room.
  • Your helper can enter in and out through the waiting room door, not the interior door.
  • You probably should not practise in their bathroom, since they usually only have one.
  • Knock very softly, so you do not upset other dog patients.
  • Bring Treats for the Vet and staff!!!


Does your dog show aggression, extreme barking or fearfulness when when real visitors come and knock at your HOUSE door?

Deal with this issue first. You need a trainer. If your dog also acts this way when doctors knock on an exam room door, it is not ready for doctor’s-office public access training.

Is your dog friendly, but barks when when when real visitors come and knock at your HOUSE door?

Establish this routine using helpers or real visitors to teach your dog to be calmer and bark less. It will help your dog’s exam room behavior, too.

  • When your dog is barking at the door, always call it to you for treats, and have it do a behavior or two. Lure it away with treats in front of its nose, if you need to.
  • This teaches the dog to connect with to you, and start paying attention to your feelings, instead of working itself into a frenzy of excitement at the visitors.
  • Keep an old leash by your door, and put the dog on leash before you admit visitors.
  • This link gives you the full visitor training technique:
    http://marthahoffmanhearingdogs.com/academy/redirect-your-relatives-at-thanksgiving/

You can do this AND do your exam-room training in separate sessions.

Enjoy your dogs’ happy relaxed attitude now! For more public access training, see my earlier article — “Cubicle Dogs


Be sure to join Martha and others from the Service Dog community on the Martha Hoffman Hearing Dogs Open Forum Facebook group. It’s an open community where dog trainers, both professional and owner/trainers, exchange ideas and tips about training their dogs.

Martha Hoffman is the Training Director for the Hearing Dog Program. She has trained several hundred Hearing Dogs and tested over 20,000 shelter dogs over the course of 25 years. She is the founder and lead trainer at Martha Hoffman Hearing Dog Academy (MHHD) and the author of the highly respected text on Hearing Dog training, Lend Me an Ear.