Does your dog struggle with husbandry behaviours like nail clipping, brushing, or baths? Do they wiggle and panic when they’re held still for a vet exam or a needle? We highly recommend practising COOPERATIVE CARE.
Cooperative care is when your dog willingly participates in grooming or veterinary procedures, without being forced to. The most important part of cooperative care is that the dog is given a CHOICE. For example, rather than just holding them down and clipping their nails, we would train the dog to offer their paw and hold still without restraint. Done properly, this type of training means that the dog is a relaxed, happy and willing participant in the procedure.
Cooperative care takes time and energy, but it is a very worthwhile investment. It turns potentially scary experiences into fun games, builds the trust between you and your dog, and the longer you practice cooperative care, the easier and smoother the procedure will be. In contrast, forcing a dog to tolerate husbandry behaviours is likely to get more difficult over time, and will damage your relationship with your dog in the long run.
These are some of the key aspects of cooperative care:
The scientific name for the process we use to ensure the dog enjoys the activity is Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning. The Desensitisation part means that we work with a version of the trigger that the dog is NOT stressed about. The Counter Conditioning part is where we teach the dog that the trigger leads to good things for them. For example, for a dog afraid of nail trims, we might start out by teaching them that lightly touching their paw leads to fantastically tasty treats. This process is very much dependant on the individual dog; some dogs might be stressed by even a light paw touch, so we would have to start even more cautiously, perhaps with touches on their legs, or even just hands moving near them.
There are a variety of resources available with instructions on how to teach your dog various cooperative care behaviours; here are a couple to get you started: