In a recent article, I obliquely discussed companion animal husbandry and encouraged readers to protect their pets from unnecessary distress that could risk safety. Now I’d like to offer you some information on pro-actively preparing your pets for the stressful situations that all pets must face at one time or another. After all, every companion animal needs a veterinarian, and many pet owners prefer to hire additional service providers including groomers and pet sitters as well. Therefore, unless we are ourselves veterinarians who also groom our own pets and never, ever leave home, it behooves each of us to help our beloved companions prepare for these experiences.
In the fear-free, force-free, pain-free, intimidation-free world of modern, humane animal training, we call this important aspect of animal welfare, cooperative care and handling. The word “husbandry” has been replaced with the principle of cooperation because in modern, humane animal training and handling — including in modern, humane animal service industries — the owner works cooperatively with the animal to achieve the desired goal, and the service provider works cooperatively with the animal and the animal’s owner to achieve the desired goal. Unlike the old days when many people, owners and service providers alike, would just hold down an animal and do whatever needed doing, even if it physically hurt or emotionally traumatized the animal, the goal of cooperative care and handling is low-stress to no-stress, willing cooperation of the animal, without the use of force or intimidation, without causing avoidable pain, and without purposely instilling fear or leveraging pre-existing fear.
Through the training and practice of cooperative behavior, many previously distressing if not impossible tasks may be accomplished: Things like force-free nail trimming, bathing, blood draws, vaccinations, temperature-taking, dental examination, limb and body exams, ear and eye medicating, and much more.
There are crucial foundations from which to best build a cooperative relationship with your pet, one of which may be likened to a trust account. Your pet learns over time you are trustworthy by your deposits into that trust account—your actions, which are your pet’s positive experiences of you, are the deposits. We all make errors once in a while and so will you; those are your withdrawals from your pet’s trust account. The fewer withdrawals you make, the less likely your pet’s trust in you will be seriously damaged. Staying positive in the treatment and training of your pet is the best way to avoid withdrawals that drain your pet’s trust account.
Doing the scary, stressful things like nail trimming, hair detangling, bathing, and vet-visiting, will be less scary with those of you who develop a strong history of trust and positive reinforcement with your pets, and the good news is you can begin that right away. Then when you are ready to tackle the next step, look to your local, certified, R+ behavior consultant and trainer for the cooperative skills you need. For nails, you can learn how to have your dog hand you his paw and wait calmly while you trim a nail, and you can also teach him to file his own nails. For baths, you can learn how to condition your dog to like the bathroom, then to like the bath or shower, then the water, and so on. For vet visits, there are many different positions and behaviors you and your dog can learn that help make exams and procedures much easier and less stressful for your dog, for you, and for your vet as well. With cooperative care and handling , everyone wins.
I’ll be teaching a local workshop on cooperative care and handling soon. Hope to see many of you there.
Rain Jordan, CBCC-KA, KPA CTP, is a certified canine behavior and training professional. Visit her at www.expertcanine.com.