The goals of our training were to improve our interactions with dogs and cats by: learning to recognize fear and aggression, helping reverse fear and aggression, learning different methods of handling and restraining pets and practicing methods to help these animals accept veterinary medicine procedures such as nail trims, injections and muzzle placement.
The course helped us identify how the position of our bodies, the placement of our hands and even our most subtle movements can provide the direction and guidance animals often need to stay calm, trust and interact successfully with people. Every interaction we have with an animal affects its perception of us. By learning how to guide an animal from place to place and support it appropriately, especially when we are restraining it, we can reduce the level of fear and frustration and increase the animal’s willingness to cooperate.
In addition, every sight, sound, smell and touch that a pet encounters in a veterinary clinic has the potential to increase fear and anxiety. Identifying ways to create a calm, safe and secure environment in the exam room can help decrease fear and anxiety. How does this translate into a different experience for your pet? In our new procedures, for example, kittens often will receive their initial examination on a towel laid out in my lap with a tasty treat of turkey baby food offered to them. Many of these kittens will be so distracted by their treat that they will allow their full exam and administration of their initial vaccines without even seeming to notice.
We’ve also learned that over-arousal can lead to aggression. By using various towel-wrapping techniques for cats and small dogs when we need to clean ears or draw blood, we can help pets feel comfortable and secure. As we all know, dogs can be highly motivated by food treats. Subtle differences in the type, timing and location of the treat and its placement can lead to a dramatic difference in the mental state of a dog.
By taking a few moments to change the mental state of a dog from anxious and hiding under the bench at the vet clinic to willingly accepting treats from a staff member, we can change the entire veterinary experience for that pet. A pet that is happy during its visit is much more likely to approach subsequent vet visits with reduced fear and anxiety.
One of the easiest pieces of advice I have for owners is to withhold food the morning of a visit to the veterinary clinic. No harm that will come from delaying a meal, and a hungry dog or cat will be much more likely to accept treats from clinic staff members. If your pet is on a special diet, feel free to bring a baggie of his or her favorite treats or kibble along for the visit. The positive mental state that a dog or cat is in when it is accepting treats makes it much more likely that we will be able to provide a successful, low stress visit that accomplishes our ultimate goal: successfully addressing your pet’s health needs.