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 Fear Free Expert Series

Fear Free Trainer Certification - Mikkel Becker  

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

Over the past year, there have been many veterinarians who have become Fear Free Certified along with pet owners who are making their homes Fear Free Happy Homes. Now, certified behaviorist and dog trainer Mikkel Becker is joining us to talk about Fear Free Training.

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.

The Fear Free Happy Homes movement is set to do two things. One is to reduce fear anxiety and stress in the home. The other thing is to increase enrichment activities.

Now, we have Fear Free Certified Trainers. It's directed primarily towards dogs and cats. However, the Fear Free Certified Training Course really encompasses all species. The course is for trainers that have gone through certain educational courses or have certain level of certification. This is done for the veterinary professionals who partner with the Fear Free animal trainer as well as for pet parents. This allows them to find a trainer who has those credentials and allows them to separate them from maybe those who don't have the same level of knowledge or the same type of commitment to protecting the pet’s emotional well-being. That’s one of the main reasons that they really wanted to find trainers that they could train in Fear Free, but who were also already at the level that they really wanted and knew that pet owners could trust.

Mikkel Becker is on Animal RadioSo what sort of pet owners should seek out professional training? Mikkel tells us that all pet owners should think about professional training. She states that training is very beneficial both preventively and also if you're dealing with an issue. Preventively, when you look at Fear Free, it's much better if you can teach your dog, your cat, your pig, or your bird, whatever it is that you have, to enjoy veterinary care and home husbandry care. This includes things like giving medication or just doing normal grooming and making everything positive from the start. So both preventively, but also if you're dealing with issues and you already have fear, anxiety and stress, the time is now, whether it's something that you do early on or if you're already tackling an issue.

How does the Fear Free message make a difference in training and behavior? Mikkel explains that it makes a huge difference because it's all about both the physical and the emotional well-being of pets. In the past, there has been some separation between veterinary professionals and trainers and the Fear Free Course encompasses both. It takes both those reputable trainers and veterinary professionals and merges them together. This enables them to form a collaboration and a partnership where pet owners are better served because their animals are receiving care both for their physical well-being through veterinary care and also their emotional well-being.

So how can you find a certified trainer? Mikkel says go to where you will find a searchable directory. You can then search by the professional type, whether you want a trainer or if you need a veterinary professional. You can also search by your location and find those that are closest to you.

If you are an animal trainer and would like to become Fear Free Certified, you can also go to to find information about the course.

Mikkel is very excited about this new course and says it has been months in the making. It has been a collaboration with a lot of really highly skilled professionals and there's some really good content for everyone.

Mikkel has many training tips and gives one of her favorite tips for pet owners. She says one of the best things that you can do when you are grooming your pet, whether it is a dog or a cat, is to have a non-slip surface on the bottom of the sink or the tub where you’re bathing your pet. Whenever a pet slides and slips, it's really scary for them. One of the easiest ways to make bath time less frightening is to have a non-slip surface underneath them, which will make them feel a lot more comfortable and calm.

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

The Fear Free Exam Room - Dr. Julie Reck DVM  

Dr. Julie Reck is on Animal RadioDr. Julie Reck, Veterinarian and Author of Facing Farewell

Dr. Julie Reck opened the Veterinary Medical Center of Fort Mill, South Carolina in 2011. Her practice grew quickly and she now has a bustling practice with four full time associate veterinarians.

As her practice grew, Dr. Reck also wanted to cultivate the type of medicine and services that were offered. She worked hard to become AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) Certified, which is a voluntary action in veterinary medicine.

However, when the Fear Free Movement emerged onto the scene in veterinary medicine, she was really quick to see that this was a direction that the veterinary profession needed to head in. She quickly got eighteen people, everyone who is involved in handling animals in her office, Fear Free Certified. She is very proud to have achieved that. Now they are all getting ready to work on their level two certifications and get the practice officially Fear Free Certified when that launches in 2018.

Dr. Reck now has 'fear free exam rooms' in her office. So what does that mean? She tells us it's all about setting the stage for an excellent experience; not only for pets, but also for their clients.

It goes back to really good communication leading up to the appointment. So they go over important things like the benefit of bringing a stool sample in with each appointment. They may or may not use it, but now they don't have to be invasive and retrieve that from an animal. That's one very negative experience that they don't have to have every single time they visit the vet. So they certainly appreciate it.

Also, when an animal comes into their practice, they have their lobby and exam rooms full of what are called pheromones. These are little diffusers that they plug in. Dogs and cats have their own specific calming pheromones and receptors that are unique to each species.

Cats can't smell the dog ones dogs can't smell the cat ones. Humans can’t smell either one. These oftentimes have an immediate calming effect on their patients. They also have either bandanas for dogs or towels for cats that are infused with pheromones as well as calming scents like lavender, or chamomile essential oils that clients can pick from.

They put a bandanna right on the dogs they as soon as they arrive. So they're not only getting the layering of pheromones, they also get the pheromones dissipated through the air in the exam room and wearing that on the bandanas. For cats they have the pheromones on a towel. When they open up the carrier door, the towel also has catnip on it.

The other aspect of a fear for exam room is that they do very little of their exams actually on an exam table. Both Dr. Reck and her staff members actually get down on the ground with their patients. That's where they're most comfortable. Sometimes Dr. Reck has even examined pets in her client's laps or on the bench sitting next to a client. So ultimately the other big aspect of a Fear Free Exam Room is that the pet gets to choose where they're getting examined and what they're comfortable with.

When Dr. Reck learned about Fear Free last year, she made a decision that this would be a great thing for everyone in her practice to get some additional training on. She really just thought they were all going to go through these 10 modules and get on the same page with animal handling. It would be a little extra investment in all of their individual training and that would be fantastic. However, she said she really underestimated the fact that she was going to be embarking on massive organizational changes in her practice and what turned out to be organizational change in the best direction possible.

It’s also really completely changed the culture of her practice. The veterinary field is hard. They suffer from compassion fatigue and burnout, which can have a negative undertone. They’re always looking for ways in this profession to combat that. And what was so surprising was that she really embarked on her Fear Free journey for the obvious pet benefit. However, she had no idea that it was actually going to benefit them as professionals, make them fall in love with their jobs more, make them feel more fulfilled and more rewarded and have a positive impact in their practice. Ultimately to Dr. Reck, the real gem of Fear Free is not just what it can give their patients but what it can give them as professionals.

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 for Pet Owners and Enrichment - Steve Dale  

Steve Dale is on Animal RadioSteve Dale, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant

Steve Dale, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant and host of his own pet show, talks about the Fear Free Movement. The Fear Free Movement makes veterinary visits easier for your pets and now there's Fear Free Happy Homes. Steve provides us with tips on ways to make your home Fear Free too.

Before the Fear Free movement had it's name, Steve Dale and the other veterinary behaviorists, including Dr. Sophia Yin and Dr. R.K. Anderson, were practicing this type of veterinary medicine, but it did not have the marketing term Fear Free.

One day at a veterinary conference, the brilliant Dr. Marty Becker came up to Steve and said, "I have an idea!" His idea was the Fear Free Movement and Steve instantly got it. In fact, Steve is not even sure he let all the words fall out of Dr. Becker's mouth before he interrupted and said, "I get it!" because he had been talking about this sort of thing for a very long time.

What Dr. Becker did, however, was encompass the sorts of things Steve had been talking about, even the architecture of exam rooms in veterinary clinics with the latest research that's out there. This included what colors pets may prefer along with the idea of playing classical music in the clinic.

Steve tells is that the concept of Fear Free really begins in homes. He's so glad that Dr. Becker also began this notion of Fear Free Happy Homes.

One example of a Fear Free Happy home involves the cat. The carrier comes out and where is your cat? He's out of there! Steve says even if they do build that wall to Mexico, the cat's going to climb over it. And by the time, even if you can do it, run all over your house, grab the cat who's screaming and stuff them into the carrier (there are people that can't physically do that), but even if you can get that done, by the time you get them to the veterinary office there isn't much even the best veterinarian on earth can do to calm that cat down at that point. And in fact, Steve believes that many cats and dogs at the veterinary clinic believe they are going to die. That's how bad it is.

Now imagine this, the carrier comes out and the cat just hops in. Or, you drive to the veterinary clinic, you jump out of the car and your dog is actually dragging you into the clinic. Life can really be that way!

What can you do so that you don't freak out your cat every time you pull the carrier out? Steve says it is easier to train a young kitten, but it doesn't matter how old your cat is you can still desensitize them and counter condition them to the carrier.

Steve says it takes some patience, but what you do is take out the carrier and leave it out as if it is a piece of furniture. Your cat will probably take a wide berth walking around it. But eventually they get adjusted to the fact that the carrier is just there like the sofa is just there. Over time, begin to drop some treats randomly into the carrier, so the carrier becomes a treat dispenser. So now your cat will periodically investigate it and wonder if there's going to be something really good inside. Next you begin to do is feed your cat just outside the carrier and work up to feeding them inside the carrier.

When your cat is comfortable eating inside the carrier, you're actually going to close the zipper with them in it. Just walk all the way into the next room. Then let the cat out of the carrier and feed them. This shows them that good things happen after they have been in the carrier.

Fast-forward the clock a little bit. You've given the cat a tour of your house. You've gone upstairs and downstairs, to this room and that room. The cat gets fed. The cat is not complaining. The cat voluntarily goes into the carrier because the cat knows they will get fed afterwards.

After you've got your cat conditioned to walking around the house, next you take your cat down to the car. These steps are also slow. You just start the car but go nowhere. You go back to the house and your cat gets fed after being in the carrier in the car. Eventually you drive down the driveway. Then you drive down the block. Then you drive around the block. Then you go to the veterinary clinic, but nothing happens there except the cat gets a treat or two. You go back home and your cat gets fed. This does take some doing, but it's totally worth it.

If you have a kitten, Steve's secret is finding somewhere in your area where they have kitten socialization classes. Or take it upon yourself, if you happen to have a kitten between the ages of eight and fifteen weeks, as it's really easy. Kittens just don't care. Put them into the carrier and go to the vet clinic. Give your kittens some treats. Do it again and again. The kitten will be absolutely fine with that or enroll them in a kitten socialization class. If you keep this up throughout the kitten's life, as the kittens becomes an adult cat, you've got it made.

We also have some tools available to help our cat during stressful times, which we didn't have five or ten years ago. One is Feliway, which mimics a cat's natural pheromone. When cats rub their cheeks pads against the table leg or against your leg, what they're doing is depositing a pheromone. That pheromone, translated from cat language means, "Ooh, I'm comfortable and happy to be here." Feliway comes in either spray or wipes. You just spray or wipe the Feliway into the carrier about 15 minutes before the cat goes into the carrier for all these dress rehearsals and you've got a less anxious cat.

Steve has owned pets for many years, so how has his personal experience at the hospital changed?
Steve says he cheats, because he has been a behavior consultant, which has been a passion of his for a very long time. He believes that cats are under-medicalized in this country. He says there are many reasons behind that and he can define exactly what those reasons are. He states the biggest most considerable reason from a cat caretaker's perspective is simply getting them there in the first place, which is so very difficult to do.

He goes on to say that the best veterinarian on the planet cannot treat a cat or a dog that's not coming in. You just can't diagnose an animal you're not seeing, no matter how good you are. So getting them there has been of prime importance to Steve for years. Steve has also been teaching kitten socialization classes for a very long time now and practices what he preaches.

For dogs, if you have a local business in your area that offers cookies to the dogs, when the dogs go by that place they will drag you and take you for a walk to get there. Steve states that this is how his own dogs now feel about going to the veterinary clinic.

So once you have a Fear Free Happy Home, why is it so imperative that pet owners seek out a Fear Free veterinarian? Steve explains that there are so many reasons for that, with the primary reason being that they don't need to feel terrified or like they are going to die.

In Steve's career, he's met perhaps thousands of veterinarians and thousands of veterinary nurses. He's never met one that hasn't gone into the business to help companion animals. But when our pets are terrified, their hearts break and the hearts break of the people that are bringing them in. This leads to a stressed owner and a stressed pet. This vicious cycle doesn't even have to begin. We can do better than that. Doing better than that isn't only on the veterinary profession. It's on all of us as well.

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

Creating A Fear Free Happy Home - Dr. Marty Becker  

Dr. Marty Becker is on Animal RadioDr. Marty Becker, America's Favorite Veterinarian and founder of Fear Free Pets

Dr. Marty Becker is the father of Fear Free. While some veterinarians have been practicing this for a while, he's the guy who put it all together and is certifying veterinarians across the country. Now Dr. Becker is bringing it into your household so you can have a Fear Free Happy Home. He's doing this by teaching you how to enrich your pet's life.

The Fear Free Movement has been amazing. Dr. Becker states many veterinarians and veterinary technicians have become involved in this and are becoming certified. But there are things we can do at home to make our homes fear free happy as well.

It's no surprise that many people have behavior problems with their pets. They either know somebody, or they themselves have a pet that hates to go the vet and hates to go to the groomer. These animals have issues of emotional well-being, whether it's separation anxiety, thunderstorm phobias or some other kind of noise phobias.

What Fear Free Happy Homes is set to do is two things. One is to reduce fear anxiety and stress in the home. And the other thing is to increase enrichment activities.

Dr. Becker grew up on a farm and ranch in Southern Idaho. When you think of Southern Idaho you think of potatoes. And yes one of the crops he grew were famous Idaho potatoes. But back then dogs had a job to do. They had a utilitarian role and so did cats. The dogs herded cattle. They alarmed bark when somebody came over and they retrieved ducks for the hunters. The cats were barn cats, they were mousers protecting the grain. What has happened over the 40 years that Dr. Becker has been a veterinarian is that cats have gone from mousers to moochers and dogs have gone from guard dogs to lard dogs.

Think of this, the wild canine, like wolves, fox and coyotes, spend 80-percent of their waking hours in pursuit of food. Our dogs at home spend three minutes to eat. So the rest of the time they are bored. When we were growing up, we got the message that to have a pet you needed to have food, water, shelter and veterinary care. Shelter for pets sounds funny now, but years ago dogs and cats were mostly outdoors. Now we think of a doghouse as three bedrooms, a wide screen TV and a spa.

We've got our pets inside and now enrichment is the big thing. Unfortunately zoos do a better job of enrichment than we do at home with our pets. You go to a zoo, you go to a marine park, you see the focus on enrichment. We now have an obligation to do this for our family pets. What we are doing is not only returning a portion of what they give to us, but we reduce obesity, we decrease behavior problems, we just don't feed the body we also feed and stimulate their minds. Dr. Becker says he calls it helping pets live happy healthy full lives. ‘Happy' is fear free, ‘healthy' is high tech veterinary medicine and ‘full' is enrichment.

The first thing you need to do to achieve this is by throwing away the food bowls and using food puzzles or food dispensing devices. Dr. Becker's two favorites for dogs are Kong Genius and the Green Interactive Feeder. You can buy in both in pet stores or online.

The second thing he suggests is to teach them new tricks so you're constantly adding to their repertoire. Maybe there's a different trick every quarter. Frequently, and by this he means a couple of times a week, have them go through the standard tricks like to sit, to lie down, to play dead, jump through your arms and speak. Once you get your dog to do these basics, everybody will think about how smart your dog is. You can do the same thing for cats. Dr. Becker has a new little 12-week-old kitten. He claims it's like having a Cirque de Soleil performer in the house. Their little bodies are built for movement. They're very athletic. Their brains are exquisitely put together to detect, apprehend, kill and eat. So Dr. Becker is training his kitten to stand on its hind legs and to jump through his arms.

So the basics for a Fear Free Happy Home are using food-dispensing devices, making sure you do tricks with them and then try to find something to activate what's in their DNA. So if you have a retriever, retrieve. If you have a scent animal, do some kind of scent training. If it's a dog that likes to burn off calories, you might take it swimming or running. If you have a Labrador Retriever , there's nothing better than for them to retrieve a floating ball and a body of water.

The Fear Free Happy Homes website is really the only place on the web where you can find cutting edge resources to equip pet owners with everything they need to give their pets a full circle of a happy healthy and fear free life. It's the only place where the content is authenticated and based on clinical studies, not on a best guestimate or hyperbole, by two-thirds of the Boarded Veterinary Behaviorists and the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists in the world.

Registration is free and when you're a member, you get these exclusive deals on Fear Free products as well as articles about enrichment, exercise and at home care.

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

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 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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