Living the Cooperative Care Lifestyle

It’s frustrating when your dog doesn’t cooperate when you are trying to give them important medical care or routine grooming. It is even more upsetting and even embarrassing when your dog is screaming or lunging at the vet or groomer. Cooperative care is the popular new solution to ending the battle for physical health and wellness, while at the same time being considerate for emotional health. The days of “just get it done” are ending and it’s time for us to begin to incorporate a cooperative care lifestyle with our dogs so that we can easily transition into this new standard of care.


Giving Your Dog a Seat at the Table

It is easy to fall into the old habit of forcing your dog to comply because they are a dog and you are human. The problem with this is that while we may know what is best for them, we are not teaching them to understand what is happening to them and how to feel secure. Much larger and more dangerous animals such as tigers and bears are taught to comply with routine husbandry using cooperative care training. An integral foundation of cooperative care is that the animal can say no when they are uncomfortable. If we can get a tiger or a bear to comply without any form of compulsion, it should not be hard to get a species that is emotionally committed to us to also cooperate. The added benefit is that your care will be quicker, more effective, and less stressful. 

Teach Instead of Force

It is normal to want to quickly mold our animals into the body position we need to clean their feet, dry them off, give them ear drops, or simply cut their nails. The problem with this is that with physical manipulation comes a considerable amount of stress. We think it is faster to just do it and our dogs will get used to it. But it will actually take longer and has a huge chance of stress-induced side effects like avoidance, mouthing, fighting, crying, and biting. Instead, spending 6-10 weeks teaching our dogs to cooperatively participate in grooming, care, and handling activities allows us years of easy motivated interaction with no more fear and frustration. 


Proactive versus Reactive

When we proactively plan something, we can approuch it was clear motivation and enthusiam. When we react we are filled with adrenalin and leave the situation feeling fatigued. When it comes to our dogs it is easy to take things for granted like car trips. For our dogs who spend 99% of their time at home, trips in the car stir a lot of emotion, both positively and negatively. Planning a trip ahead of time with everything you will need to keep your dog comfortable will make travel much easier. Car travel is so much more than being strapped into a seat or deposited into a crate. Give them something to do like a food puzzle. Give them something familiar to smell like a bed, blanket or towel and put on some soothing tunes like classical music or an audiobook. Stop frequently and reward your dog for making it a mile or two while remaining calm and relaxed.

There is No Place Like Home

When going somewhere, bring home with you. Have a familiar bed, blanket or towel for your dog to lie on when you get to your destination. Reward your dog frequently for staying calm and attentive. Refrain from interacting with other dogs and make the trip all about the two of you. Stay attentive and connected to your dog rather than introducing them to everyone. Think about what it is like for you to go to a brand new place where you know only one other person. You stick to them like glue and slowly get used to your surroundings. It is the same for your dog. Keep them close and focused on you. 

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Cooperative care isn't just a technique. It is a lifestyle. Making an effort to plan out practice visits to care locations like the vet, groomer, or boarding kennel. Keep it short. Just 5-15 minutes. Do some training, get treats, and go home. Practice sits, downs, and resting on a mat, along with any lifting, weighing, restraint holds, or exam techniques while you’re there. Then head home and have a party. Try to fit in at least one trip a month. Just remember to call ahead and let the location know. Every time we go to the local pet store (weekly!) we hop in the self-serve bathtub, spritz the feet with water, eat treats and leave. You bet my dogs head straight for the tubs when we arrive, ignoring everyone and everything else. Cookie tubs, cookie scales, and cookie tables are the best! But they have to be taught and reinforced often.

No cutting corners

Care at the vet and the groomer is usually easier to keep upbeat because you have to think about going there. Care at home is much easier to get lazy, rushed, and sloppy with. But when we do we get in the habit of ignoring our dog’s voice. Ignoring them during home care usually leads to trouble. If your dog is ducking or attempting to flee care, you’ve already got a problem on your hands. Instead of doubling down on brute force, contact a local cooperative care dog trainer and set up some lessons to get you and your dog back on track. Cooperative care based training session will teach your dog to like the care and handling they receive and you will learn how to maintain it.

If you haven’t already - get started today!

Contact a local Fear Free certified trainer, an IAABC behavior consultant, or other trainers that specialize in behavior and fear free, low stress, or LIMA, training techniques. We offer beginners online class as well called "Handle Me!” available periodically throughout the year. 

Show us your Cooperative Care lifestyle in our forum or Facebook group!