Every dog can benefit from learning how to comfortably handle a routine examination and the common veterinary procedures they may have to face during their life time, conscious.
To be honest most veterinary procedures are not painful (and for those that are then an anaesethetic should be used), but for some animals, even simple things have become a source of panic and fear. Some dogs may be so fearful that they then pose a threat to the humans who are attempting to perform the procedures.
Dogs are often forced to endure a procedure before they have been taught to perform all the necessary steps that make up the procedure.
They have received no reinforcement for their cooperation and may have even been punished for struggling against a procedure, thereby learning further negative associations with handling and care.
Let’s take, for example, having a rectal temperature taken: this may involve placing the dog on a table, restricting the dog’s movement, whilst lifting the tail and then inserting the thermometer. If the dog has not been taught to associate all of these individual components with a reward, but is expected to deal with the restraint and the discomfort, the dog may, over time, become more and more reluctant to have the simple procedure done. If, on the other hand, the whole procedure is taught, and each step of the procedure linked with a high value reward, then the dog learns that the event is something positive and he/she will likely participate in the procedure, as he/she would in any other learnt event. The earlier a dog learns to make a positive association with care required the easier it will be for the dog and the caregiver. Overcoming past negative experiences can be fraught.
More often than not caregivers expect dogs to submit to their physical pressure, yet pressure and restraint is a natural thing to fight against. “Fighting back” is hard-wired in animals to allow them to escape the grip of predators, and can be stimulated by simple procedures such as placing dogs in unnatural positions (being tipped off their feet) or that involve force and a feeling of being unable to escape.
Just because we think an animal shouldn’t be afraid does not mean that what they are feeling is not real. If animals are acting afraid the terror is REAL.
The canine cooperative care movement takes its lead from zoo animal trainers who have taught tigers to have blood taken voluntarily and lions to open their mouths on cue to have dental examinations. It is bizarre to think that we might struggle with a three kilogram Chihuahua who won’t allow a caregiver to clip his nails, but the fault lies not with the uncooperative Chihuahua, but with the animal care professionals who have not adequately educated the caregivers on how to condition their dogs to partner with them in their husbandry needs.
Times are a changing (hallelujah) and now vet students are no longer taught to upend dogs on to their sides and hold them down to clip their nails. Vet students (at least the ones I teach! ) are now taught how to desensitise those dogs who are afraid of nail clipping and to teach others that they need not be afraid in the first place. If they are not yet ready for a procedure that truly MUST be accomplished today, then sedation that works, should be used so that fearful memory is not created.
Here is a recent example of some cooperative care with a fearful patient, called Cash. Cash had recently been diagnosed as having Addison’s Disease and this serious medical condition means he now needs bloods taken every three months to keep an eye on his electrolytes. Previous to his illness, handling had always been stressful for Cash and he had had sedation to have anything intrusive performed.
His caregivers worked hard in a short period of time to condition him to a wearing a muzzle, to lie on his side and have his limbs handled, all with the aim of collecting blood in as low stress a method as possible. Prior to this video he had not performed this behaviour anywhere but his home and with his caregivers and trainer.
This is Cash – after about ten days of training – and is an example of how giving a dog time and choice allowed for a successful blood collection (with more improvement to be expected over time). This shows that the procedure was not time-consuming, despite the hiccups – it took 15 minutes – and resulted in a dog that did not need to be sedated, was safe for caregiver and veterinarians, and maintained a patient who was not made worse by experiencing fear or panic.
There are many good example of trainers working to help caregivers give their dogs a happy and low stress veterinary experience.
Here are some examples that should inspire you to excellence in canine cooperative care:
Laura Monaco Torelli
Chirag Patel – Domesticated Manners
And locally – Sonya Bevan – Dog Charming
Need to find a local course? – Manners N More Canine Cooperative Care classes