Handle With Care: Why Low-Stress Handling is Key to Achieving Optimal Outcomes

Dr Emily demonstrating fear free handling.

In the field of canine rehabilitation, rehab therapists work closely with dogs of all sizes, ages, and breeds over a period of weeks or months to improve strength, flexibility, balance, or a combination of the three. Often we ask our patients to do things they would not normally do in their daily doggy life. For that reason, establishing trust is a must!

By using low-stress handling and practicing patience, especially in the first few sessions as we are just getting to know each other, we can build the special bond we need to achieve the best possible outcomes.

What does low-stress handling in canine rehab entail exactly? Here are the highlights:

  • Knowing how to read a dog’s body language for signs of pain, fear, or anxiety
  • Approaching and handling dogs in a calm manner
  • Creating a safe and relaxed environment through the use of various sights, sounds, smells, and surfaces
  • Knowing how to select and implement the appropriate handling techniques to improve the dog’s participation in therapy

If you’ve ever experienced physical therapy yourself, you know that physical therapists frequently ask patients to perform certain movements they have never done or even thought to do before. Some patients may be bit apprehensive at first, but they are usually willing to give it a try. Why? They are able to understand the purpose behind the movement because their physical therapist has taken the time to explain it to them. (That’s hopefully how it goes, anyway!)

Now, imagine if you and your physical therapist spoke different languages, neither of you understood each other, and within 5 minutes of meeting he or she tried to move your painful arm quickly and with a forceful grip, seemingly without giving you any warning. You probably wouldn’t have been too trusting of the person after that, right? In fact, you may have even growled at the sight of him or her (if not out loud then on the inside)!

Trust takes time to build, and canine rehab is no quick fix. It takes time, patience, and effort on the part of the therapist, pet parent, and dog over several treatment sessions to achieve great outcomes. Trying to force a dog to do something they do not want to do is a quick way to break trust and fall short of meeting meaningful goals, like being able to walk down the stairs or be able to walk down the street!

A skilled canine rehab therapist will be able to pick up on behavior cues from the dog to know how they are responding to therapy and when to adjust the approach if needed. Even though canines and canine rehab therapists do not share the same spoken language, there are still ways we can communicate with each other to express our wants and intentions. Keeping it calm with no ruff stuff will help ensure the success of everyone involved!

Check out this FREE E-Book for more information about how you can help your dog feel more comfortable with veterinary visits, grooming, and more through Cooperative Care!