Typically we wait until our dog needs eye drops to find out that they don’t really like that experience at all! Cooperative Care practices have shown us that begin we should begin teaching our dog about the things we “may need” for medical treatment before we need them. My short list would include eye drops, ear drops, nail trim, baths and teeth brushing.
When we are sick, we are typically more sensitive to everything so new and novel things are often hard to handle at that time. If we have spent some time patiently teaching our dog that eye drops are fun and happy training games then they are willing to play the game and can actually come to enjoy it before we ever have to actual apply eye drops. Most importantly, they learn they have a voice in their care and that they can ask us to STOP if they need a break.
I am working with a client who has a dog that is 8 years old and has bitten her on numerous occasions when trying to administer ear drops for chronic, lifelong recurring ear infections. Now sweet girl needs eye surgery and must have drops for 2 weeks prior to surgery and for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, mom tried once and her put bit her pretty severely. She reached out for help. She can only provide her dog the best care with behavioral training so that she can allow the care to take place in as low a stress way as possible. Meeting Eva and her mom this week was such a joy. I could see how much her mom was willing to do to help her feel better in general and specifically regarding eye care. I could also see how stressed Eva was and that we would have to move at her pace so she felt safe as we taught her what we needed.
Week One – Teaching very basic muzzle conditioning and medicine bottle training.
- At a distance, not moving mom would just show her the bottle and then provide a piece of kibble. No pressure, no movement towards the dog we are trying to take away the old emotional response to eye/ear drops and replace it with a happy – “oh I love that bottle” response. Now we have paired the bottle with a more practical way for mom to apply eye drops, sitting comfortably on the couch as her dog is near her on the couch
Week Two – Teaching eye opening techniques and basic muzzle training
- We taught Eva that the muzzle game was fun way to get some extra special treats pr peanut butter licks. She learned to put her nose and face into the muzzle to retrieve treats. Mom made sure to remove the muzzle before she pulled her head out. Mom did this repeatedly throughout the week using part of her breakfast and dinner as the rewards so Eva doesn’t gain extra weight.
- Mom began finding the easiest position for both Eva and herself to eventually apply the eye drops. They decided on the couch, next to mom with Eva laying down (this may change to sitting, but we have to practice a bit more to know for sure what Eva prefers. .
- In addition, we had mom work on touching Eva around her face and eye. Eva seemed most comfortable doing this on Mom’s lap and she learned to open Eva’s eye with two fingers on her left hand. This is in preparation for opening the eye to apply the eye drops with her right hand (when we get to that step)
Week Three – Teaching a start button behavior and medicine bottle starts moving and muzzle training to the next step.
- The new thing we added this week was teach this sweet girl that the seeing (and smelling) a moving bottle of eye drops means good treats will come to her.
- Not moving mom would just show her the bottle and then provide a piece of kibble. No pressure, no movement towards the dog we are trying to take away the old emotional response to eye/ear drops and replace it with a happy – “oh I love that bottle” response. Now we have paired the bottle with a more practical way for mom to apply eye drops, sitting comfortably on the couch as her dog is near her on the couch
If you have a fearful dog, and are interested in a veterinarian who follows Fear Free Practices. Please get in touch with Dr. Tony and Dr. Allysa at Berkley Veterinary Center.
They were the first practice in New Jersey to have all Staff members certified in Fear Free Handling.