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Stop Torturing Dogs Over Nail Trims!

I grew up watching Cesar Milan. I thought he was magical and could do all sorts of wonderful things with these vicious, evil dogs. At one point, I think Merial even had a contract with him to help market their flea/tick and heartworm prevention. There was a big poster of him in our lobby for several months. I have a couple books by him too. They just help me remember where I started.

Following his philosophy, I was a jerk to my patients. I would yell at them, yank on the leash, force them through "obedience" to "make" them "respect me." I can't tell you how many times I got bit doing that. I thought I was doing the right thing. My vets agreed, the TV agreed, and the dogs were, mostly, "behaving" (aka, totally shut down, but you know.. details..). I think the turning point came when we hired a new technician to work at our practice. She was great! Very knowledge, great social skills, fit in really well, and we all liked her. Unfortunately, she only lasted a week.

The reason? We had no compassion for our patients.

That made me mad. Who the hell was this upstart to tell me I didn't have any compassion? I did everything for my patients. I cared for them when they were sick, held them when they passed away, helped them heal when they were injured!

The more I thought about it... the more I realized she was right. Sort of like the phases of grief, I had to go through my anger phase before I could start to change myself.

Over the next few years, I helped my practice go more and more force free. It started by just not scruffing cats anymore and using towels, not forcing nail trims, implementing more sedation for procedures. It took a lot of time and patience, but as time went on, we started seeing fewer stressed animals in our clinic.

I truly got into the "behavior world," after I went to the Clinical Animal Behavior Conference in Las Vegas one year. They were showing how to use desensitization/counter conditioning for veterinary procedures.

I was totally hooked!

Here's Van: the very first dog with which I did routine veterinary behavior modification. He hated having his face handled, but was incredibly sweet in all other ways. Back in the day I did it for free just because I was "practicing." His wonderful mom would drop him off in the morning and he'd spend the day with me. To this day, Van holds a special place in my heart. I love him to pieces.

Teaching dogs to tolerate basic handling is not difficult. It just takes a little bit of patience and understanding from our perspective. I work exclusively with dogs suffering from behavior disorders (I don't even get to play with the easy, impressionable puppies) and every since one has benefitted from handling training.

If you want more help, I suggest reading up on Cooperative Veterinary Care and Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses. Or! We can always come out and help.

Until then, quit torturing your patients. Get help, we can make a difference for ourselves and the pets within our care.