Cooperative Care Paves the Way for Low Stress Vet Visits

Lyla was an easy natured people loving 85 pound Labrador prone to ear and skin infections. Consequently, her owner, a petite and polite woman, loved her dog and always diligently followed up with her veterinarian. Meanwhile, Lyla had begun to associate the vet with painful ears. That day Lyla’s mom entered the veterinary clinic and Lyla put on the breaks. Indeed, dog and owner were entrenched in a full fledged tug of war!

As she flailed and thrashed, Lyla’s loose collar threatened to come off. Mere yards away from the door was a busy intersection. Finally Lyla with a chuff acquiesced. She and her frustrated owner both panted as they both marched into the exam room for their appointment. Lyla and her owner would both benefit from learning about Cooperative Care!

cooperative care
This corgi exhibits a number of communication signals such as whale eye and a paw lift to indicate he is uncomfortable.

Ask any vet tech or groomer and they will recount hundreds of stories of animals stressed by their visits. Fearful dogs will struggle and even bite at their appointments. These dogs have been overwhelmed and set up to fail. As a result they are fearful. They learn to bare their teeth, growl, and even bite as a way to avoid handling. Consequently, these interactions pave the way for even more stress in the future. Luckily it’s all avoidable if you know how to set your dog up for success!

Recognizing the signs of building stress is critical to help your dog relax. Most dogs appreciate a little space and time as they to acclimate to a new environment. Arriving at an appointment 15-20 minutes prior to the start is a simple way to let them have time to decompress from the car ride itself. As the situation permits, and assuming that your dog is non-reactive, take a brief walk around the perimeter of the building. Avoid social interactions during this point to allow time to explore and investigate the new environment.

Taking the time to desensitize animals to the care and husbandry results in less stress and more productive treatments. Consent is key! Calls for bodily autonomy fill the airways. Certainly no one wants to be forced to do something even if it’s for our own good. Consent gives one the opportunity to comply willingly with full understanding and cooperation. Using force makes bad associations that will be compounded by future stressors.

Teaching your dog to participate in his own care requires consent behaviors. In other words, these behaviors are specific actions your dog can perform to let you know that he’s ready and willing to take the next step. For example, your dog may sit to ‘say please’ in order to get his meal. Similarly, for veterinary or husbandry activities, a chin rest in your palm or lap can indicate your dog is ready to begin.

Confidence comes from the ability to avoid or pursue certain outcomes. Allowing your dog the chance to consent empowers them with the control they need to feel confident. Because we can’t explain to them with words what is going to happen, we break it down into smaller portions. Each step of the activity becomes smaller successes that create positive associations. Throughout each exercise tasty morsels incentivize participation.

Giving our dogs more control might be counter-intuitive to some but its paramount to reducing stress. The more force and restraint used the more stress your dog will experience. However, when the animal feels in control and confident there’s no reason for them to feel fear are anxiety. As owners or pet professionals, we don’t have to manhandle our dogs to accomplish our goals. In conclusion, when our pets willingly comply and participate it makes our interactions much more successful and low stress for everyone!

To learn more about how to make veterinary and grooming visits more enjoyable, and SAFER, for you and your dog consider attending our Cooperative Care Group Class.

Register for Cooperative Care Today!

In Cooperative Care you will learn how to:

  • Improve two-way communication and increase trust with your dog.
  • Teach your dog “start button” (consent) behaviors.
  • Decipher Canine body language to ensure your dog is truly comfortable with what’s being done to them.
  • Train your dog to calmly station on a platform or mat with duration instead of fidgeting, fleeing, or fighting.
  • Get your dog to target your lap, your hand, etc. so you can place them where you need them to be
  • Get your pup to actively assist you with getting dressed (donning a collar, harness, leash, etc.) and much more!

All group class attendees should be able to tolerate strangers within a proximity of 6-15 feet. If you’re unsure if this class is right for you email to register for an Initial Consultation!