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.