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 Fear Free Expert Series

Handling For Pet Owners At Home And At The Vet’s Office - Mikkel Becker  

Mikkel Becker is on Animal RadioMikkel Becker, Lead Trainer for Fear Free Pets

Mikkel Becker is a certified dog behavior counselor as well as a Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner. She also has certifications through different dog training organizations like the Association of Pet Dog Trainers as both a behavior counselor and a dog trainer.

Mikkel says she has been very blessed to be able to have that kind of educational experience. She states it's just something where she feels like you can never learn enough and that there's just so much to learn.

Even with all of these certifications, Mikkel says the biggest and most important certification that she has is the Fear Free Certification.

The Fear Free Movement is trying to make veterinary care more like pediatric dentistry or pediatric medicine. This has changed so much from when we were younger and many of us were manhandled and manipulated, threatened and abused. Now, these offices are geared towards children to make them comfortable and relaxed to where they actually enjoy going. This is what they are trying to do for our pets.

So how do you get a fearful pet to the vet? This is a big hurdle for lots of people. Mikkel claims that there's not just one way that is a quick fix. It really depends upon the animal in figuring out what it is that's distressing for them.

For some animals, especially for cats, it's the carrier. The carrier itself is very concerning and we need to make it more comforting to the animal. You should always leave it out, along with your other furniture, or what Mikkel calls “purr-niture.” You know how it goes, we take the carrier out from the closet and the cat knows exactly what is going to happen. They then run and hide. You can even make it your cat's regular bed, the place that they like to hang out in.

You also want the carrier to be a big surprise in what's going to be in there. You can have little Hansel and Gretel type treat trails or toy type trails leading into it or even catnip. You want your cat to want to go inside. You can also almost make it like a cardboard box. Cats love boxes and they love to hide and love to feel secure where they have comfort on all sides. You can actually use that natural tendency in the way of getting them more comfortable with their carrier before you actually have to use it.

Many veterinarians are now Fear Free Certified. One method to teach veterinarians to be Fear Free is for them to observe an animal's body language and figuring out how stressed they are. And of course those animals are not going to be as comfortable in a lot of situations, like during a procedure, as they may be at home crashed out on the couch where they're just super relaxed. Maybe they won't be to that degree of relaxation, but what we really want to see is that pet in a really comfortable state. So we don't want to see any elevated degree of stress. And if we do see that, what we do is attend to those signs and try and get the animal to feel more comfortable.

This might be working with them in a way that they are most comfortable with. So rather than invading their space, for instance, or going right up to a dog that might be hiding underneath the chair, its seeing if there's a way that we can get the dog to come out on their own. It also involves actually setting up areas that an animal will naturally just gravitate to. For instance, for cats we may even have a slightly warm towel that is placed on the counter. That can be really helpful. So what we do is we just attend to their emotional state, as there are different levels of fear, anxiety and stress.

What are some simple methods of gentle control that we can use as pet owners?

Mikkel states that one of the biggest ones is in how we pet our pets. Sometimes it's a big surprise when all a sudden a hand reaches out and touches an animal. Have you ever noticed that when you go to pet your dog or your cat, if they don't know you're coming, it can be like “whoa” and they might jump back? One thing that we can do is to give them a cue to tell them that we're going to pet them. Sometimes she uses the word “pet.” She will then start off in an area where the animal is comfortable.

For cats, she will usually go towards their cheek area and put her hand out and let them naturally rub into her hand or start in a more neutral area such as right behind their ears.

For a dog, that neutral area is usually around the chest area or the side of their shoulder. Once we have initiated that first touch, and a lot of times we're giving treats with it to make it positive, then we can start to slide to those other areas that we want to handle.

So rather than just immediately going for your dog's paws or your cat's paws for a nail trim, instead what you can do is to use a key word such as "pet" and start in that comfortable area where the animal is okay being touched. You can then slide down to the other area versus putting your hands off and on the animal. You should think of it like a massage, where the masseuse keeps one hand on you as they do the massage. This makes it less of a surprise when they move, because you have an idea of where they're going. Just like how you would handle and walk around a horse. You keep your hand on them and we can do the same exact thing with our dogs and cats. It's very helpful, less of a surprise, more predictable and we can make it a positive experience for them.

Visit Fear Free Happy Homes for tips on making your home fear free and to locate a Fear Free Veterinarian near you. Go to Fear Free Pets to become certified.

Listen to this Fear Free Segment


Fear Free Experience For Pet Owners and Pets - Dr. Kathryn Primm  

Dr. Kathryn Primm is on Animal RadioDr. Kathryn Primm, owner of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, TN.

Dr. Kathryn Primm has the honor of being the first Fear Free Certified Veterinarian in the nation. The “Fear Free” movement, developed by Dr. Marty Becker, aims to “take the ‘pet’ out of ‘petrified’” and get pets back for veterinary visits by promoting considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in calming environments.

It was very important to Dr. Primm that she become the first to be certified because she really felt like the fear and the anxiety and stress in her patients was impacting every part of her job. She had longed for a way to make this better. When she heard Dr. Marty Becker talking about the whole Fear Fee idea, she thought it was a complete game changer and she couldn't wait to make it happen in her practice.

Think about it, years ago when you tried to take your dog to the veterinarian; you probably had to pull them, as they usually put the brakes on. You probably couldn't even get them into the car. They knew what was going on and then when they got there, it was just an unpleasant experience, but Fear Free has changed that. Now when you go to a Fear Free vet, it's a whole different experience that your dog enjoys and who knows, they might even put the brakes on when you try to get them out of there.

Dr. Primm explains that being Fear Free makes her day so much better because her patients are happy to see her and because she loves animals. Which is why she went to vet school in the first place.

What is the first thing that you would notice if you went to a Fear Free vet? Dr. Primm states that she’s not sure if there's any one thing, because each pet is an individual and they appreciate different parts of all the things that they do. But in her online reviews, people very frequently mention that they give a whole lot of treats. Dr. Primm tells her clients all the time that she’s not afraid to bribe the animals.

One of Fear Free’s quotes is “Putting Treat into Treatment.” So why is “treating” important for a positive experience? Dr. Primm states that if you think about the way memories are formed, you develop associations. She is always telling people that when she was 17, she worked at a toy store and served as seasonal help at Christmas. She claims there is nothing like a huge toy department store at Christmas time and the smell of that huge toy department store, even to this day, will trigger some associations for her. So we develop associations and a Fear Free veterinarian wants those associations to be good.

We know that dogs and cats love going to a Fear Free vet, but what do pet owners like about Fear Free? Dr. Primm tells us she receives a lot of really positive reviews on Google and several of her clients have mentioned that they like the fact that she’s willing to get down on the floor with their pets to do their examination. She loves doing that, because then she really gets to interact with the pet and she gets to love them, pet them, cuddle them and make them feel comfortable, and that's the best part.

When asked to give us one story that drove home the change Fear Free has made for Dr. Primm, she tells us about the most amazing story that just happened recently. She was in a room with a client who had a new puppy. It was there for its second visit. The client said to her, “Do you remember when I had my previous dog, I would always leave the room when you did things?” Dr. Primm really hadn't thought about it, but then she remembered that they had put an alert on her chart that she liked to leave the room. Everyone just assumed she was afraid of the needles.

The client told her that she didn’t have a needle phobia, but that she had an anxious and horrible experience at a veterinary hospital as a child. After that, whenever she had to go to a veterinary hospital as a child, she would pass out. Now, as an adult, she doesn’t pass out any more. But ever since Dr. Primm implemented these Fear Free changes, she can be a part of her baby's health care and she can stay in the room because she knows her dog’s going to have a good time and she’s going to have a good time, and it has changed her life. The client even got a little bit choked up telling her about it and it even gave Dr. Primm chills. It made such a big difference for her client.

Dr. Primm would recommend all veterinarians definitely become Fear Free Certified.
She states not only does it help her patients it also helps her be happier as she now wants to go into those exam rooms because it's fun again. It's also good for her business because of all the excellent reviews that they've gotten and all of the positive changes they've seen because of it.

If you would like to find a Fear Free Certified professional in your area, you can go to fearfreepets.com and type in your zip code. It will tell you if you have a Fear Free Certified professional in your area. If you don’t, mention it to your veterinary hospital or your veterinary professionals and encourage them to become Fear Free.

Visit Fear Free Happy Homes for tips on making your home fear free and to locate a Fear Free Veterinarian near you. Go to Fear Free Pets to become certified.

Listen to this Fear Free Segment


Why Is Understanding Our Dog’s Body Language So Vital? - Debbie Martin  

Debbie Martin is on Animal RadioDebbie Martin, Licensed Veterinary Technician - Certified Dog Trainer - Fear Free Certified Professional Level 2

Debbie Martin teaches at the Karen Pryor Academy. She's a certified training partner and she knows just about everything about dog behavior and how to read your own dog's body language.

Many people are oblivious to actually understanding what our pets are saying with their behavior. Animals can't just yap out when they're feeling hungry or upset, but they do show it with their bodies. Unfortunately most of us don't know how to interpret that.

Why is it important understand your pet's body language anyway?

Debbie explains that its really important that owners can read their pet’s body language, whether it be a dog or a cat, because its their main mode of communication to humans. Animals communicate in a variety of different ways through vocalizations as well as smell or scent within their species. But their main mode of communication for people is really going to be body language. These are things that we can pick up on as pet parents and advocates for our pets so we can recognize when they're feeling relaxed and happy about something or when they might be a little bit nervous or anxious.

What are some common signs of distress and anxiety?

There are obvious signs that are going to happen when an animal is trying to get away from a situation. It could be that their tails are tucked really tight underneath them, they're frozen with fear, they're trembling or their ears are back. Those are very obvious signs that animal is distressed or nervous or anxious, but there can be very subtle signs that lead up to that as well. Its important that we're aware of these signs so that we can perhaps change the environment or the interaction that's happening so our animal doesn't become overly distressed.

Some of the subtle signs are such things like licking their lips, avoiding eye contact, maybe turning their head away or moving away slightly. It could be panting when they're not hot or being active. Sometimes we'll see dogs do things like the “wet dog shake” when they are playing roughly with another dog. They may all of a sudden stop and shake off even though they're not wet. This is kind of a stress reliever for them. So these can be kind of subtle things that are happening that could just say our dogs a little bit nervous or anxious or it could be higher arousal.

What's really important to realize is that body language tells part of the story. But the other part is context. Looking at the context of when it's happening. So for example, if a stranger approaches your dog and the dog looks away, licks his lips and maybe does a wet dog shake and starts to turn away from that person, your dog is probably saying, “Hey I'm not quite comfortable interacting with this person right now.” And we shouldn't force the issue.

So does a wagging tail always mean that a dog is happy and is approachable?

Not always. It depends how the tail wags, according to Debbie. Then again there is the context. Is it in the natural position that that dog will carry its tail? This can get tricky because dog tails come in a variety different shapes and sizes and carriage. Some dogs carry them naturally really high over their back and some don't even have tails, which make it even more challenging. But others are going to have just kind of normal tail carriage.

You need to be able to recognize your own dog's body language, like where their tail is when you come home and they're happy to see you. What does that look like? It should be kind of wag back and forth. That's a fairly neutral position and its not way up high over their back, unless that's how your dog normally carries their tail. There are breeds of dogs that their tails curl up over their back and so it doesn't always apply depending on the breed or the combination of breeds that your dog has within them.

There is one thing that Debbie always sees people do that she wishes they would stop. She states that there’s this misconception that we need to put our hand out for a strange dog to smell us so that they can kind of get to know us. However, dogs can smell us from a mile away. A dog can smell a human fingerprint on a pane of glass six weeks later. You don't need to put your hand out!

When you put your hand out, in dog language that is getting into their personal space maybe before they're ready. Debbie’s biggest tip for people is to play hard to get even with dogs that seem interested in you. Act very nonchalant. Avoid eye contact. Turn sideways and let them approach you on their own terms instead of trying to be their friend right away. Because even the most well intentioned friendly person can put a dog off very quickly by getting into their face and trying to be their best friend immediately.

Just think if you were out walking and someone said hello to you. You would probably say it back and that would be fine. But if they ran up right into your face and tried to give you a little hug, you would be pretty overwhelmed. It's no different with dogs.

Visit Fear Free Happy Homes for tips on making your home fear free and to locate a Fear Free Veterinarian near you. Go to Fear Free Pets to become certified.

Listen to this Fear Free Segment


Tips for Fighting Fear, Anxiety & Stress at Home - Dr. Lisa Radosta  

Dr. Lisa Radosta is on Animal RadioDr. Lisa Radosta, owner Florida Veterinary Behavior Service

Dr. Lisa Radosta explains what causes fear, anxiety, and stress in our pets? How does this fear, anxiety, and stress affect them? Why is it so important that we address the fear, anxiety, and stress in our pets? What is one simple thing we can do to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress in our pets?

Do you ever wonder what your new pet, be it a cat, dog, bunny, etc., thinks about when they go into a veterinary hospital for the first time? Most of them will be naive as to what is going to happen and will probably be pretty open to the experience. They may think the vet seems nice and decide to just let the experience happen. But once they get poked and prodded, even in the name of helping them, they may think the doctor is up to no good.

Unless there is no effort, or even if there is just a little effort but not enough to immediate that fear, which can grow and snowball very quickly, most of the pets (about 80%) are afraid of going back. They also want to leave immediately after the examination is done.

So how does this fear affect our pets? Think about how it feels when you are scared. When humans or animals are scared, there is a physiologic stress response, which is outside of anyone’s control. It starts in the brain and the neurotransmitters in the brain control that entire body. It starts in a nanosecond and that entire cascade occurs in seconds. It feels like a tight chest, a stomach that is upset, tense muscles, panting and or a heart that is racing.

Your first response may be to just say get over it. But when it’s physiologic, it’s not a “get over it” moment. It’s a moment where we have to do something external to help the pet get over it.

Over time, this stress can wear a pet down. Imagine if you worked at a job you hated and there was no way you could quit. It’s outside of your control and you had to go every day. Think about how emotionally stressed you would be. Again, we go back to the neurochemical stress response, which snowballs into a chronic stress response. And yes, it beats an animal down. What Dr. Radosta sees, is that these animals have a shorter “fuse” over time, especially at the veterinarian’s office, and it takes less and less for them to act as if they are fighting for their life, to hide under a chair or to urinate or defecate on themselves.

The Fear Free Movement is trying to make veterinary care more like pediatric dentistry or pediatric medicine. This has changed so much from when we were younger and many of us were manhandled and manipulated, threatened and abused. Now, these offices are geared towards children to make them comfortable and relaxed to where they actually enjoy going. This is what they are trying to do for our pets.

We want our pets to live happy lives, as much as we want to live happy lives. There are many things you can do to help your pet, but the most important thing you can do is to understand your pet’s body language better. Our biggest fault as pet parents and as veterinarians is not reading the animal properly.

Dr. Radosta explains that there have been many times when she sat with an owner and told them that their dog’s tail was tucked, which meant he was scared. The pet parents were surprised and didn’t pick up on meaning of this. She states that these are great pet parents and people who truly care about their pets. They just have no clue what those fear signals are.

Dr. Radosta feels that if all pet parents could read their pet well, they would be aware of these signals and awareness is always the first step when you have a problem.

But what can you do at home? Remember, if your home isn’t fear free, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad pet parent. We all have places in our lives where we lack knowledge and this might be a place for a pet parent to grow.

Chronic stress in a home setting has also been linked to other emotional disorders in pets, but also to suppression of the immune system and to some dermatological problems as well.

The number one thing we can do for our pets at home is enrichment, for cats especially! For example, Dr. Radosta is a runner and if she doesn’t get to run, her family actually brings out her running shoes and pushes her out the door, because her attitude is poor. She actually needs this enrichment, and cats and dogs need that as well. Every age, every breed every species, can have an enriched life.

There are other things you can do as well for your pets. For cats, carriers can be left out around the house to become a natural part of the landscape, perhaps sitting out near inviting food or with the top off so that it becomes an intriguing box to investigate. This way, the carrier doesn't suddenly appear as a menacing object that's inevitably associated with a trip to the vet. For dogs, it may be things like basic training, daily walks and food puzzles to challenge their minds.

Visit Fear Free Happy Homes for tips on making your home fear free and to locate a Fear Free Veterinarian near you. Go to Fear Free Pets to become certified.

Listen to this Fear Free Segment


Taking The Fear Free Movement Home - Dr. Marty Becker  

Dr. Marty BeckerDr. Marty Becker - Fear Free Founder and America's Favorite Veterinarian

Many veterinarians are practicing "Fear Free." Pets that like going to the veterinarian are generally healthier. Now, the Fear Free movement is coming to your home with ideas for enriching your pet's life everyday. Dr. Marty Becker is back to explain how your pets can live an improved lifestyle.

We have always been concerned with out pets physical well-being. Now we need to also look at their mental well-being. This is where "Fear Free" comes in.

For far too long the veterinary professional has just been focused on physical well-being. This included thinks like vaccinations, parasite control, clean ears and short nails. When an animal was sick or injured, a vet would take care of them.

However, the emotional distress that an animal had was treated like collateral damage. Yes, the owner might have had to literally drag them in; and yes, the cat might fly out of the carrier like a furry jack-in-the box, but they got the job down not matter what it took. In other words, the end justified the means.

Now there is the "Fear Free Movement," which currently is an advisory group of about 175 people. There are only 73-boarded veterinary behaviorists in the country and 53 of them are part of this advisory group. Other people on the board include icons like Temple Grandin, the head of animal cognition at Duke, the head of animal cognition lab at Columbia, the head of animal cognition at Barnard and people that know about the non-human mind.

What they are trying to do is make veterinary care more like pediatric dentistry or pediatric medicine. This has changed so much from when we were younger and many of us were manhandled and manipulated, threatened and abused. Now, these offices are geared towards children to make them comfortable and relaxed to where they actually enjoy going. This is what they are trying to do for our pets.

For veterinarians, there is an online training program that veterinarians can take to make themselves and their office more fear free for their patients. When the Fear Free Movement started, they had hoped to get 1,000 veterinarians and veterinarian technicians the first year. Now fifteen months later, they already have 18,000 signed up.

Cat in CarrierDr. Becker tells us a story about a Cur Hound named Clyde. It was Clyde's last day, as he was set to be euthanized. However there is a group back east called the Underhound Railroad, who took Clyde from the south to the north, to a shelter in Pennsylvania. When a police officer, who was severely injured during an arrest and was on full disability saw Clyde, she fell in love with him an adopted him on first sight. This woman then took Clyde through the necessary training to become an assistance animal, like picking things up from the floor, answering the door and bringing her the phone. She also went though the training to have Clyde become a certified therapy dog. So now Clyde is both an assistance animal for her and a therapy dog for others.

However, as part of animal assisted therapy, before going in to nursing homes and hospitals, the animal must have a freshly groomed coat and short nails. The woman then took Clyde to her veterinarian, who she has been with for ten years, and asked them to trim Clyde's nails. She told them that it was very hard for her to do and they assured her that they could do it very easily.

They then took Clyde in the back while she waited. All of a sudden, she hears Clyde screaming, a scream she had never heard before. A few minutes later a technician came out drenched in sweat and looked shell-shocked. She handed her the leash and said Clyde does not like to have his nails trimmed and that it took four of them to do the job. She was then told that Clyde needs to go to a trainer. When she took Clyde to the car, he was covered in urine, feces, anal gland secretions along with the sweat of the people who held him down.

When she got home she called a trainer who had gone through the Fear Free Certification. She then decided to go to a local veterinarian who had also been Fear Free Certified.

Clyde went to the new vet office hungry, because they had really high value food rewards. They had turkey and cheese as well as bacon. Clyde got to go in and had a treat, while lying on a yoga mat infused with pheromones.

Dog with Food PuzzleSince they could gauge his weight, they gave him a small amount of sedative and he was perfectly relaxed. While they gave a pretzel stick with peanut butter on it, they trimmed his nails, and he never stopped wagging his tail. His owner couldn't believe it!

This shows you the difference. A veterinarian office that continues to treat animals like their feelings don't matter and that they need to restrain them with whatever it takes, needs to either change or go out of business.

The Fear Free Movement is being practiced in many veterinary offices, but you can also practice this at home. There is now the "Fear Free Happy Homes" movement.

If you visit a Fear Free veterinarian and even though your dog or cat has a great visit at their office, unfortunately they can still go home and have fear and anxiety. "Fear Free Happy Homes," is reducing fear, anxiety and stress at home and also increasing enrichment activities.

For example, for cats, carriers can be left out around the house to become a natural part of the landscape, perhaps sitting out near inviting food or with the top off so that it becomes an intriguing box to investigate. This way, the carrier doesn't suddenly appear as a menacing object that's inevitably associated with a trip to the vet. For dogs, it may be things like basic training, daily walks and food puzzles to challenge their minds.

Visit Fear Free Happy Homes for tips on making your home fear free and to locate a Fear Free Veterinarian near you. Go to Fear Free Pets to become certified.

Listen to this Fear Free Segment



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