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Communication leads to Co-operation

Have you ever wished that you could explain to your dog that the procedure they were trying to prevent happen, was for their own good, be it, getting their nails clipped, anal glands expressed, vaccination needle, a joint check on their legs or having their regular grooming done?

Or have you thought of how much easier it would be if they could learn to tolerate the procedure rather than battling you, the vet or the groomer?

Coming from the vet nursing world, I found that the more stressed a patient became, resulted in most vets and nurses to be faced with no choice but to use force and man-power to get the job done as quick as possible. This most often became a stressful experience for the pet who then started to anticipate these unpleasant experiences from when they walked into the vet, or for some as they arrive in the carpark. This is not a grievance against the vets and nurses, they are restricted with limited time with each patient and lack of support, let’s face it, they have a job to do. Some clinics are delving into the ‘force-free’ mentality and supporting a slower and gentle approach, which is great, but there is only so much that you can do in one yearly vet session, it takes a dedicated owner to make all the difference.

It also doesn’t take a bad experience at the vet or groomers to result in a pet who doesn’t like to be restrained, this can occur from experiences at home or simply be due to the individual personality of the pet. Some people prefer not to be hugged, restrained or to get too close to another person, our dogs have every right to have similar preferences.

So, can we improve our communication with our pets? Can we prepare them for these procedures and help them to walk away from each experience without increasing their anxiety?

Yes we most certainly can, with a recipe of training, desensitisation, body language fluency, and a whole lot of patience, it is very possible and most rewarding when we get there.

Follow these steps as a guide :

  • 1. Can you find a way to provide your dog with a choice? Allowing your pet to give consent to continue can help them to feel in control and therefore can rid them of that feeling of entrapment. In the video below, I have taught my dog to chin rest and nose target for each exercise. If my dog raises her head from the chin rest or removes her nose from the target, I stop what I’m doing immediately. 
  • 2. Can you break down all exercises into manageable steps. Then build a higher value for them before gradually increasing the difficulty? For example, don’t start by lifting your dog’s ear if your dog is already turning their head away when you approach your hand, start with a stroke of the ear, then reward, repeat until you see a softening of their body language. Only progress when your dog is ready. Once my dog is able to complete the exercise, I say my dog’s marker and she gets a reinforcement. She chooses to complete each exercise because I have individually broken down each exercise and desensitised her to the whole process at her pace. 
  • 3. This all takes time, depending on your individual dog’s previous learning and personality. Read your dog’s signs of stress and respond appropriately; if you have a agenda for each training session and push your dog out of their comfort zone, you may risk sensitising your dog to these exercises and causing more stress. Common signs of stress in dogs can present as; lip licking, ears going backwards, stiffened body, crouched body, lifting of one paw, backing away, moving their head away.
  • 4. Practice practice practice. Once your dog is happy to perform these exercises at home, practice in the backyard, then the front yard and then at a local park, at a friend’s house and finally in a free room in the vet clinic. 
  • 5. Reward generously! If your dog learns that if you simply clip one nail, they’ll get a whole sardine, or you’ll rain down grated cheese into their mouth…they may just let you do that again and again.