Many dogs show signs of fear during veterinary appointments. It is widely recommended to use desensitization and counter-conditioning training to reduce this fear. However, the efficacy of this method for reducing veterinary fear has not been examined. We assessed the effect of a standardized four-week training program on behavioural and physiological signs of fear in dogs with pre-existing veterinary fear. Owned dogs were randomly allocated to receive training (n = 15) or no training (n = 22; Control). Owners of dogs in the training group were instructed to perform exam-style handling on their dog and to visit the veterinary clinic weekly. Owners of control dogs were given no instructions. Fear responses were assessed before and after the training period by a blinded observer during clinic arrival and examination. Despite motivated owners volunteering to participate in the current study, 44% of owners were non-compliant to this training program. During examination, control dogs had higher odds (95% confidence Interval (CI)) of reduced posture compared to trained dogs (Odds ratio (OR): 3.79, CI: 1.03–16.3). Fear scores for trained dogs lowered during the second examination (p = 0.046), and 86.7% of dog owners reported a reduction in their dog’s fear levels across the training period (p = 0.007). When entering the clinic (p = 0.002) and during examination (p = 0.002), trained female dogs had a higher rate of lip licking than control females. The training program did not influence temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, avoidance, trembling, vocalizations, or willingness and encouragement to step on the scale. Results suggest that this four-week training program was mildly effective at reducing veterinary fear in dogs. Further research is necessary to explore the efficacy of longer, more intensive, and individualized training programs.
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