Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On the importance of building tolerance to handling.

Oh, the indignities I make her suffer through...
The recent trip to the vet got me thinking about the importance of having a dog who is tolerant to body handling and being physically manipulated.

When it was obvious that Cohen had hurt herself she allowed me to give her a layperson's examination where I could ascertain roughly what was hurting her. She communicated clearly that she was in some degree of pain, but allowed me to palpate, stretch and squeeze as I went. Her "okay that hurt" signal was orienting to me and licking her lips.

When she was brought to the vet's, his examination was more thorough than mine. He checked patellas, hips (through some pretty invasive stretching) and other joints, not to mention taking her temperature. Clearly Cohen was stressed to be in a new environment and uncomfortable in a number of other ways, but she had very appropriate responses to her stress. All the while I was very mindful of her stress level and watched closely for signs that she was overwhelmed. I know that all animals are capable of biting, and those who are stressed and in pain have a lower bite threshold.

After how well she coped with the examination (and seeing an overweight elderly beagle having to be muzzled for an examination in the back room) it started me thinking about how much of Cohen's tolerance is genetic, and how much has been learned.

On the day we brought Cohen home, her breeder had just finished cutting her nails, and had recently bathed. Since then I've been cutting her nails every few weeks, brushing her weekly, and bathing her as necessary. Nail cuts are quick and uneventful. She's fine with being brushed, and unhappily tolerates me brushing mats out from behind her ears. "Do you want a shower" causes Cohen to toss out appeasement signals left and right, but she accepts bathing without additional complaint. I've taught Cohen to jump into my arms, and she is often picked up in play and is accustomed to being carried.

I've always made a point of handling her body casually while we play, and I'll offer up treats for particularly invasive methods. Lately I've been working at handling Cohen's mouth: pulling back her chops or opening it manually. In a perfect world all this preparation would be for naught, but accidents can and do happen.

The examination yesterday served to be a marker of my success. I won't deny that some of that success is due to her genetics -- she is unusually emotionally resilient when you look at how flighty she can be at times. It gives me confidence that Cohen will cope with whatever the future may have in store for her.

Don't underestimate the importance of desensitizing your animals to being handled. It can be achieved in mere minutes a day, and can really pay off in the long run.

1 comment:

  1. This is something I worked very hard with Steve on when he was a baby. He was very very uncomfortable with being handled. He'd tense and growl and I'm sure he would have bitten me if I'd pushed him about it. Especially when it came to his head/face/ears.

    It's very important to me that I be able to touch and handle and medicate my dogs easily and by myself, so it's something I'm totally willing to put time into. Cheese made all the difference in his attitude :) Now I can check all his parts, he was very cooperative about his physical therapy when he had his injury, and he tolerates a full examination by pretty much anyone.