Calm Collaborations: Chin Rest Tips from a Trainer (VIDEO)

By Mikkel Becker, CBCC-KA, KPA CTP, CDBC, CPDT-KA, CTC

Since the beginning of her training career, Laura Monaco Torelli has strived to encourage willing participation from animals during veterinary handling and procedures.

That goal began in 1991, when she first began teaching cooperative husbandry behaviors to zoo animals. Her positive reinforcement-based methods helped motivate zoo animals to participate in their daily care and in veterinary checkups and procedures. Cooperative behaviors, such as moving onto a scale for a weight check or remaining in position during a blood draw, were amply rewarded in a step-by-step training process. Pairing positives such as food rewards during care and giving the animal a choice to participate are both important for increasing an animal’s happy expectation of the environment and handling. The result is decreased stress and struggle.

These days, Torelli, whose certifications include CPDT-KA, KPA CTP/Faculty, and Fear Free Certified Level 2 Professional of Animal Behavior Training Concepts, applies the same principles in her Fear Free efforts to help pet dogs stay calm during trips to the veterinarian or groomer. If the giraffes, dolphins, beluga whales, penguins, horses and otters she trained in zoos can learn to remain calm and actively participate in their care, pet dogs can learn to do the same, she says.

Torelli preps pet parents and their pooches for care using trained behaviors. One foundational behavior Laura teaches dogs to perform in preparation for care is a chin rest. The dogs learn to rest their chin on a towel placed on a person’s lap, which keeps the dog still. Chin rest training can progress to the dog remaining in place while being handled or cared for.

The same happy, Fear Free techniques that benefit her clients work equally well for Torelli’s own dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Santino.

Santino has learned to calmly offer a chin rest or other behaviors while being cared for, happily receiving treats in exchange for his participation. Santino’s training involved preparing him for the experience in the actual veterinary environment, including performing the chin rest with another person nearby and eventually being handled while holding the position.. Adding variables gradually is key for success and helps pets transition into real-life situations such as veterinary visits.

Santino is also learning to willingly place his nose into a basket muzzle. Calm dogs like Santino don’t have to “need” a basket muzzle to be introduced to one. Teaching dogs that muzzles are fun to wear and result in receiving tasty treats while wearing one reduces the likelihood of stress if a muzzle is needed later in life as a safety measure to protect staff during a procedure.

A key to success that Torelli emphasizes for helping pets to remain calm and cooperative during veterinary care is to partner with a veterinary team invested in protecting pets’ emotional experiences during care. During Santino’s recent blood draw, Kelsie Dolezal at the Medical District Veterinary Clinic at Illinois demonstrates the importance of conducting care in a way that helps Santino, Torelli, and the veterinary team remain safe and comfortable. Santino’s willing participation in a voluntary blood draw and the team efforts that encourage him to remain relaxed in the process are inspirational and are working to provide a Fear Free future during veterinary care.

Mikkel Becker, CBCC-KA, KPA CTP, CDBC, CPDT-KA, CTC

Mikkel Becker is a certified trainer and certified behavior consultant who specializes in training dogs and cats. Mikkel is the co-author of six books and has been the featured trainer on Vetstreet.com. In her professional work, Becker uses positive reinforcement and non-force based training strategies that are rooted in scientific learning theory. Mikkel is committed to helping pets and their people live better lives together through kind training and bond building methods that partner closely with the pet’s veterinary team.

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