Cooperative care allows your dog to be a willing participant in a necessary activity that involves handling, such as nail trims, eye drops, brushing teeth, etc. It enables them to communicate when they are stressed and need a break from handling, creates a safe environment, and makes them more comfortable with the activity. For example, when a dog is experiencing stress during a nail trim, this creates negative associations and can make nail trims more stressful and more difficult over time. Instead, we can reduce stress by giving breaks when they’re communicated and heavily rewarding with treats and praise. Giving dogs choices helps build confidence, strengthens your bond, and gives a safe way to engage in routine vet procedures and other medical handling that may need to be performed throughout their lifetime. Here are some tips to get you started with working on cooperative care:

  • Teach a start button behavior that will express consent for handling, such as a chin rest, sit, or a lateral recumbent position.
  • Next, practice reaching towards them with your hand or a tool such as nail clippers while they’re performing the behavior.
  • When the dog withdraws consent for handling by stopping the behavior, refrain from continuing to reach towards them.

As you keep practicing, the dog begins to learn that the start button behavior is essentially an on/off switch for handling and allows you to gradually increase handling over time while keeping them comfortable and allowing them to opt out when they need a break.