We must consider dogs too, when we implement ‘low stress handling’
‘Dog Friendly Practice?! Really?! Why would we need that?! Dogs are easy, right?! They mostly do what you tell them, and can’t you just muzzle them if necessary, and/or get an extra person on to help you hold on to them so you can get the job done?’
Last year I attended a veterinary behaviour CPD day on the theme of ‘the pet’s perspective’. It was an excellent day of canine and feline behaviour lectures from the country’s most eminent and knowledgeable veterinary behaviourists.
Cats’ and dogs’ points of view regarding how they experience life in our human world were considered and discussed.
It’s looking good for cats
After lunch, the conversation moved to pets at the vet clinic. One of the speakers commented on what a hot topic low stress feline practice has become, and what a good thing that was. He credited International Cat Care/ISFM with the surge of awareness, interest and enthusiasm they had built due to their Cat Friendly Practice scheme, which was making a real difference to cats in the care of veterinary staff, and inspiring many to learn more. While low stress practice is an ongoing endeavour, things are really changing for cats.
What about dogs?!
However, he bemoaned the plight of dogs, commenting “why can’t someone come up with a Dog Friendly Practice scheme?” In any other room full of people, the phrase may have raised a snigger – ‘Dog Friendly Practice?! Really?! Why would we need that?! Dogs are easy, right?! They mostly do what you tell them, and can’t you just muzzle them if necessary, and/or get an extra person on to help you hold on to them so you can get the job done?’
The difference between dogs and cats
Yup, unlike cats, dogs are socially obligate – they have co-evolved with humans, and will do what they can to avoid a confrontation with us. At the vet clinic, they are often ill, stressed +/- frightened, but despite feeling bad, they will often use distance-increasing body language and appeasement signals to avoid an escalation of a difficult situation for them. In general, they don’t want a struggle, which poses a risk to all concerned and threatens to make the situation worse for the dog.
Very often the dogs that we ‘get away with’ managing in the clinic are quietly suffering horribly, or are being labelled as ‘difficult’…
Dogs’ emotional, social and welfare needs are often misunderstood, or even disregarded – but really, as more and more studies into canine cognition and emotion are published, we discover they are so like us! Ignoring dogs’ feelings and needs becomes hard to continue doing if we are practicing ethically.
Dominance theory? Really?
Much of the problem for dogs stemmed from outdated misunderstandings on ‘dominance-style’ handling informing our interactions with dogs. These theories have been debunked and we no longer have to try to ‘be dogs’ boss’, but rather be kind carers, who dogs can predict and trust.
We can and should do more for dogs
There’s so much more we can do to practice in a way that respects dogs’ needs and helps improve their situation whilst at the clinic. Not only does this make things easier for our often-sick patients, who may be suffering enough, but working in a dog-friendly way improves efficiency, improves practice staffs’ job satisfaction and makes our work safer. Dog Friendly Practice is really not optional!
Learning to read and respond to body language and to predict, prevent and alleviate distress for the benefit of all is something we can, and should, all be doing our best to achieve in our day-to-day work.
This article was written by Linda Ryan, who tutors our Patient-Friendly Practice course.