Dancing around thresh hold
I have recently returned home from a week of presenting at the Veterinary Congress of Quebec, and to the Pet Professional Guild in Orlando Florida. At both conferences, I educated on less stressful handling during veterinary care. The Quebec audience was veterinarians and veterinary staff while the Orlando audience was primarily dog trainers and other non veterinary animal behaviorist who also offer counter conditioning animals to veterinary care.
|In french - translation - less stressful handling of companion animals|
So, how do I keep care low stress knowing the injection will cause stress? The answer is keeping the care short and sweet. You remove as many stressors as you can, giving rewards to counter condition for all parts of the exam and when the moment of stress comes, you give the injection quickly and remove your hands and move the dog away praising and giving rewards from the handler, then the vet to help them settle. You have crossed over the threshold for aggression, but quickly removed triggers to help the dog come down below threshold and take the reward. This stimulus - stop - reward is dancing around threshold.
|Allow the handler to evaluate, communicate and reduce escalation|
What is good about this technique is that the animal learns that the high stress point is going to be short, they are not stimulated to escalate up the ladder of aggression from where the present high point is, and the warnings they show us are heeded for reducing stress and anxiety. By heeding these warnings, the animal learns to warn and give more time before escalating to panic or biting.
Knowing the animal in front of you for their triggers, and their body language is essential. Even if you are not certain if a nervous animal will escalate higher, bet on the side of fast escalation. So keep the stressor short and sweet with lots of rewarding before and after. Understanding that both the handler and care administrator must communicate that the animal is approaching thresh hold is of utmost importance. If the threshold for panic or aggression is not recognized, and the animal is triggered for more than 1 second, it will escalate - you are taking too long and are forcing the animal to react. This is a video of a dog who is nervous but we keep the actions short and sweet that would trigger him up to panic . video of nervous dog dancing around threshold
Clear understanding of the animal indication that it is over thresh hold takes experience and education. The lab 3 and 4 of the Handling, Moving and Restraining modules of the Low Stress Handling Certification program demonstrates this very clearly. Dr Yin works with an aggressive dog pointing out the threshold for stress during a counter conditioning session. For many pets, they may shut down just arriving at the veterinary office. If care can be rescheduled, then have a house call for this pet. Another idea, is to do the exam or care in the car or grounds outside the building. As a practitioner in a rural community, I have seen many a farm dog less agitated in the bed of the farm truck for exam or vaccination or standing on the grass outside of the building. It may seem crazy, but I had yellow Lab patient who would be very nervous in the waiting area, and attempt to aggress in the exam room. Outside, he was calm and happy. So I would do his exam and vaccinations standing in the grassy area to the side of my building. When he needed more advanced care, I would give him the sedation injection outside and then take him into the building when he was sedate. It may have looked weird to see me outside listening to a dog's heart , or giving a vaccination but it prevented this dog from escalating. I was willing to make it less easy for me for the dog's benefit. That is what I like about reducing fear and aggression during veterinary care - you get become creative in handling, see a more relaxed patient and deliver more care.
|Quick use of a blanket to hood allows an injection to be given with less stress then move the dog away and reward immediately|
Dancing around threshold is a skill that veterinarians, technicians, assistants and trainers must learn to prevent escalation of anxiety and stress during needed care or events. Understanding this animal's body language for escalation, how to block or minimize the trigger to stress and work quickly to lower the stress through rewards and movement away from the trigger is an essential skill. I look forward to hearing from my readers and attendees to know how they are starting to use these skills
Dr Sally J Foote DVM