Cooperative Care and the Pet Tutor
By Deborah Jones, Ph.D.
One of my hobbies is working on cooperative care with my dogs. What is cooperative care? It is any sort of physical handling that is necessary in order to maintain my dog’s physical and mental well-being. Think vet visits and grooming, which I will often refer to as husbandry. Initially, I was inspired by work I’ve seen with trainers, keepers, and owners of exotic and non-domestic species. If you watch a hyena offer the behavior of targeting the side of a cage with his neck exposed for a blood draw you cannot help but be impressed! When you work with animals who are dangerous enough that you cannot make direct contact, yet they still need physical care, it’s important to get creative with your training.
We are fairly lazy about how we treat our pet dogs though. Luckily for us, most dogs are fairly easy going. Even when they don’t care much for something we are doing, they tolerate it. People often get by with coerced care, where they use whatever force and pressure is necessary to get the job done, then justify it by saying it’s necessary or the only way. They would be wrong! While there may be times when certain physical handling procedures are non-optional, we also have a responsibility to be proactive in our training and prepare our animals to be as comfortable as possible with their necessary care.
One way to make husbandry work more enjoyable and less stressful is to incorporate the Pet Tutor into the process. If you have already introduced the Pet Tutor you’ll likely find that your dogs have a HUGE positive association with it. They are excited when it comes out! We can make use of those positive feelings and connect them to our cooperative care training.
I have found that my dogs tend to focus intensely on the Pet Tutor when it’s out and treats are possible. This means that I can add in conditioning and handling work without my dog showing much concern for what I’m doing. I actually use focus on the feeder as a measure of how comfortable my dog is with my work. If they stay focused on the feeder then I keep going. If they take their focus off the feeder and onto what I’m doing then I need to stop, slow down, and possibly change tactics.
Here’s an example of my set up and how I take advantage of the Pet Tutor when conditioning Star to enjoy the sound of the nail grinder and eventually to having her nails done.
I am following the sequence of sound then releasing treats. The sound of the grinder comes first and becomes a predictor that the Pet Tutor is about to deliver. The process is simple here, but order definitely matters. The sound MUST come first. The power of this approach is in lots and lots and lots of repetition until Star’s automatic response to the sound of the grinder is a very positive one.
To get started with this procedure follow these steps:
- Set up your Pet Tutor so that it will be easy for your dog to access during grooming.
- Give your dog some free cookies from the feeder! (Your dog will really like this part!)
- Turn the grinder on, release a treat from the feeder, turn the grinder off.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat.
You are now on your way down the path towards to stress-free nail grinding!
For more details and next steps take a look at my recently released book on Cooperative Care for stress-free husbandry:
*BTW, the book now has 20 five star reviews!!!!
Deborah Jones, Ph.D. is a retired psychology professor who now trains animals full-time. She has been training for 25+ years and focuses on positive reinforcement based methods. Deb has written 12 books on dog training and has helped develop several DVD series. She has also trained and shown multiple breeds to high-level titles in agility, rally, and obedience. She is currently teaching online training classes and webinars at www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com. Visit her website at www.k9infocus.com for more information.