Striving for Fear-Free Interactions in All Dog Care Fields

VSPositivelyLowFearVetarticlephotoEvery dog behavior professional keeps a mental list of other dog care professionals such as dog walkers, pet sitters, boarding facilities, groomers, etc. that meet their own personal care standards. Those standards will likely mirror their own philosophy of how dogs should be treated. Those who practice behavior modification with modern scientific-based methods in their pocket are careful to not refer to other dog care professionals who view dogs with a more old-fashioned philosophy, as this can lead to a more confrontational interaction style than we wish to expose dogs to.

We know how to reduce the stress of a dog, so we want to make sure that dogs get the same level of understanding across the board. Understanding how dogs think and learn is crucial to how they are handled. Compounding the stress of a vet or groomer visit with force can make or break a dog’s mental state in the situation. It helps everyone involved in the process to better prepare for creating as stress-free of an environment as possible.

Unfortunately, there are still veterinarians as well as vet techs and groomers who apply force rather than using compassion and understanding. Lack of knowledge of how to create less stress, in some cases, is the culprit. In other cases, a simple refusal to accept the more modern knowledge that dogs have emotions is the problem. A lack of understanding that using old-fashioned, dominance-based thought processes with our canine friends creates an unnecessarily confrontational relationship is widespread. We must, as modern rewards-based dog professionals, help this information to be not only more widely spread, but more widely accepted. It is only with wide acceptance of this information that is crucial to dogs as a whole, which ensures everyone being on the same page.

Speaking out politely and professionally with facts and figures not only benefits the dogs in the care of those professionals, but also the humans who work with the dogs. Helping dogs feel safer about the respect of their bodies will help them be far more amenable to said humans interactions for important health-related reasons. This alone can increase safety and drastically reduce the chance that something unfortunate might occur.

Learning how to recognize and respect the body language signals that dogs show us with regards to handling is crucial to making vet visits and grooming as force-free and fear-free as possible. A relationship-based interaction should be the goal of every dog caregiver of any kind. Force-free and fear free behavior professionals can often be very interested in sharing what they know with other dog care professionals, if it means that dogs as a whole benefit from this sharing. Facilities interested in learning more hands-on might consider reaching out to local quality credentialed behavior professionals. There are many mutually agreeable ways that information sharing can benefit both parties, resulting in a win/win situation for local dogs.

There is an abundance of information available on how to create a fear-free or reduced fear environment for dogs, especially in a veterinary capacity. Veterinary hospitals as well as individuals in the pet care industry in any capacity can earn the late Dr. Sophia Yin's certification in low stress handling.

The American Animal Hospital Association also offers a certification for veterinary facilities called Fear Free Certification.

Dr. Marty Becker also has great information through his Fear-Free program.

Dog parents should take responsibility for learning what to look for in animal care professionals in order to make the experiences with these professionals as stress-free as possible for their dogs. Any dog care professional that uses old-fashioned terms such as "dominance", "alpha", or "correction" and uses forceful or punishment-based methods to control the dogs in their care, is a professional to avoid.

Read more about how to choose kennels and daycares here and here.

The philosophy that any dog care professional subscribes to with respect to how humans should interact with dogs affects how they treat dogs. This applies in all dog professional fields including, but not limited to: veterinarians, vet techs, groomers, trainers and behavior professionals, specialty training facilities, boarding facilities, daycare facilities, dog walkers, pet sitters and even rehab facilities. I am sure that I am leaving some professional out, so use your judgment. If the person in question will interact with your dog for a fee of some kind, it behooves you to know how they view dogs as a whole.

Be your dog’s voice. Don’t be afraid to speak up. If your vet holds your fearful dog down in order to perform a procedure, without helping your dog feel more comfortable first, then you can potentially have years of work ahead of you to undo the damage that may happen. You have the right to take things slow when possible. Find professionals who are willing to work with you on “happy visits” so that your dog can gradually feel comfortable, and include an emergency plan so that one illness or accident won’t set you back to square one.

Every living creature has the right of respect. The amount of pressure you can take off of your dog by allowing them dog a say in the matter cannot be overstated. My hope is that someday all dogs will have the opportunity to be treated with appropriate respect by all dog care professionals. Let’s all do our part to make sure that someday is in our lifetime.


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Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


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