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Part 4 - Medication

As many of you know by now, I come from a medical background. I entered the world of behavior as a licensed technician originally to help my patients tolerate medical procedures and handling. Cooperative veterinary care (CVC), is what they call it these days. One of the biggest complaints I get about CVC from the veterinary community is that it takes time. They want to get their patients in and out and get on to the next appointment. Well, as all our fabulous force free trainers are aware, that's just not how it works. If you want to teach animals to work with you, it takes time and effort and patience. The other option, is to get a leg up in the process.

In our last post, we talked about arousal. To review: arousal is the intensity of an emotion. I can have a dog who is having a grand time or one who is terrified, they are both experiencing high levels of arousal. High arousal makes it difficult for animals to concentrate. They can't rationalize as easily and don't make good decisions. Typically, we use management to keep arousal as low as possible so the pets can learn more appropriate responses. Some examples might be blocking access to windows, using white noise to block out sounds, going for walks during quiet times of day, etc. Management is important, but it has it's limitations. Some animals have such a hairpin trigger that no amount of management prevents them from going over threshold. Without keeping them under threshold, they can't learn. If they can't learn, they're not going to change.

This is where medication comes in. The goal of medication is to help bring down the pet's arousal baseline so that it takes more stimulation to push them over threshold. This gives the trainer/handler more time to intervene, counter-condition, and teach new skills. We use it as "chemical management." The goal is not to sedate the dog, make them so sleepy they can't react, or otherwise change their personality, it's simply to give them more opportunity to learn.