Have you ever wondered how zookeeper’s draw blood from a hyena? How about taking x-rays of a giraffe’s foot? Did you know you can brush a bear’s teeth? Stingrays can get ultrasounds? Sounds amazing, right? Many zoos having been using positive reinforcement to teach their animals to happily participate in their care. The best part? There is no need to force or restrain them, which helps keep them calm and relaxed.
Cooperative care, also called husbandry training, focuses on giving animals choice and control during veterinary and grooming procedures. The animal can choose to participate, and if not, they are not restrained or forced to endure the procedure. If the animal chooses to participate, they are given control over how to procedure progresses and when it is time to stop or take a break. By allowing the animal to make choices and control the procedure, they become more confident and willing to participate, even if it becomes uncomfortable.
For example, I despise having my teeth cleaned. I do it because I know it is important to take care of my teeth, but something about the scraping and high-pitched whirring noises makes me cringe. Luckily, when I start to feel uncomfortable, I can ask my dental hygienist to stop so I can take a break. Imagine if you couldn’t ask the person to stop, or if you were strapped to the chair during the appointment. You might feel stressed, anxious, or scared. I know I would.
Unfortunately, our pets do not speak a vocal language like humans do, and many pets can find the vet or groomer, scary and unpredictable. Dogs especially communicate mostly through scent and subtle body language. To humans, what looks like quiet acceptance of a vet exam may in fact be a dog experiencing extreme fear. We see this as a necessary evil and can rationalize the temporary fear and stress because “it has to be done.” We know our dogs have to get vaccinations to keep them healthy, but our dogs don’t. Instead, your dog is learning: person in the white coat = they get poked, prodded, and restrained, and this is how negative associations are made.
Cooperative care aims to change that by teaching dogs what to expect during vet care and grooming, how to communicate when they want to stop, and most importantly, teaching humans to listen to their animals. It may seem counterintuitive, but by giving your dog the ability to “opt in” and “opt out,” you are working together to accomplish a goal. Your dog will learn to trust you. They will be more willing to tolerate temporary discomfort because they know you will listen when they want to stop.
If you want to find out more about Cooperative Care, here are some of my favorite resources:
· Cooperative Care: Seven Steps to Stress-Free Husbandry by Deb Jones – for sale at YYD for $14.95
· Blog Post from Dogminded: Cooperative Care is a Promise I Made to My Dog
· Article from the Whole Dog Journal: Cooperative Care – Giving Your Dog Choice and Control
Last but not least, I hope this video from Laura Monaco Torelli and her dog, Santino, will inspire you to try Cooperative Care with your dog.