Over the last few years, the attitude and approach to dog husbandry tasks have been changing. Although some may still be willing to get into a physical struggle or force care on their dogs on the rare occasion they need it, most people are moving towards less stressful methods.

restraining a dog
This dog is having to be restrained to get his nails done. He doesn’t look comfortable.

Ideally, desensitization and conditioning to handling are part of a good socialization program with young dogs. Before needing to do things such as giving ear drops, checking teeth, doing nails, giving body exams or asking to take pills, the pup or young dog can learn to be relaxed and comfortable with these procedures. Being proactive will prevent unnecessary stress and struggle. It also avoids making care increasingly challenging in the future.

Making Your Dog Part of the Husbandry Process

Want to take husbandry and vet tasks to the next level? Teach your dog the concept of collaborative care is the way to go. Cooperative care allows your dog to be part of the process by giving them agency and consent. By making the dogs feel that they have a choice and can indicate when they are ready, they are given a sense of control over what is happening to them. This is incredibly empowering and can shift a typically worrisome event into something they feel comfortable and willing to do.

Ideally, conditioning will still be done to prepare the dog for the specific task. In my experience, though, I have found many dogs that, after being taught a consent cue, will calmly accept tasks and handling with no previous preparation having been done.

What’s a Consent Cue?

A consent cue is an ‘OK to go’ signal that the dog is taught so they understand how to give consent. It gives them a chance to prepare and be able to signal to proceed. There are many potential consent cues. Which one you choose will depend on the task and the context in which you will carry it out.

Examples of Consent Cues in Cooperative Care

Here are some consent cues that I’ve used:

A Nose Target is great for just about any handling or husbandry task, as it allows access to most of the dog’s body. I teach it for vaccines, too.

A Chin Target is another one that is great for so many things! I like it for administering ear and eye drops.

Stationing on a Mat, either paw or full body targeting, is an easy-to-teach consent cue for all kinds of husbandry, including nail trims.

Play Dead is so much fun to teach! And you can use it for pretty much everything. The only downside is that you only have access to one side of their body, so you need to teach the dog to offer it on both sides.

play dead consent cue
This dog is offering his consent cue to indicate he’s ready to have his nails done. I’m using Miller Forge cliippers.

Teaching a consent cue isn’t hard to do. In fact, it can be a lot of fun! And once you have, your ability to provide care, visit the vet and even get through unplanned mishaps will be much more pleasant and less stressful for both you and your dog. Cooperative care IS the new black in dog husbandry.

Stay tuned for more on cooperative care in upcoming blogs!

A Day With Dogs blog