Training Your Dog for a Health Check

Nose-to-tail handling is something to start with puppies at a young age.

Created: 10/5/2020 Updated: 8/24/2021 - Vicky Payne

Behaviour & Training, dogs, health, Health & Wellbeing, puppy, senior, training

Nose-to -tail handling is something to start with puppies at a young age. Try combining gentle handling of body parts with cues to let the puppy know what part is going to be examined. Give small food when the puppy allows handling.

Handling older dogs may need a different approach. A popular method is to train the dog to focus on an object or place their chin on a target to receive a reward. While the dog stays in position the examination can continue, but if the dog moves off the target the handling should stop.

How to perform a dog health check

Developing a method for running through a health check to ensure nothing is missed is something all vets do. Pet owners should develop their own routine. Vets start their examination as the dog enters the consulting room. They are looking at how the dog moves, breathes, the coat, and the general demeanour. Pet owners should take note of any changes in their dogs, including appetite, energy, sleep, urine, and faeces.

Next vets move in for a closer examination. They may start by listening to the heart and lungs. This is not a step owners need to be able to do, but it can help to learn how to take a heart rate. You can feel the heart in most dogs by placing a hand under the chest, or feel for the femoral pulse (which is inside the back leg, near the groin).

Start from the head

The head can give a lot of information about a dog’s health. Are the eyes bright and open, are the ears clean and sweet smelling, are the teeth clean? A wet nose is not always a sign of good health, but owners should note any changes from normal.

Side on profile of a dog.

Moving onto coat and the body

The examination now moves onto the coat and body. Run hands over the coat feeling for any lumps and bumps. Brush fur backwards to check that the skin has no irritation or signs of parasites. The hands then move down the legs feeling for heat, pain, and swelling. Remember to move joints gently but stop the examination if the dog shows signs of discomfort. Carefully examined the feet for long or broken nails, cracked pads, or thorns. It is particularly useful to teach a dog to roll over to show their belly. This allows for easy checking of the mammary area for lumps, as well as for wounds post-surgery. Checking the penis and testicles in male dogs and the vulva in females is possible.

Palpating the abdomen is not a skill most pet owners need to learn, but a healthy dog should not mind firm stroking of the belly. Finally, the examination should include lifting the tail to check that the anal area is clean. This also gets the dog ready for a vet taking their temperature or checking their anal glands or prostate!

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email