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Fear Free Makes for Happy Pets, Happy People

Kim Campbell Thornton

Fear Free experts tell their own stories of how Fear Free has changed their practices–and their patients–for the better. Get inspired!

A Tale of Three Dogs

My two “post-certification” dogs adore their vet visits. My “pre-certification” dog, who has gone through several clinics and had countless unpleasant experiences before we found our current Fear Free veterinarian, is slowly learning to trust the process again. She recently had a dental cleaning and is back on track with regular annual exams. We are thrilled to know that she will be cared for by understanding and gentle veterinary staff during her senior years.

Joanna Meleiro, CTC, CPDT-KA, Elite Fear Free Certified Professional, Plucky Puppy, Vancouver, Washington




Better All the TIme

One recent case empowered the entire staff to shoot for “better” at every opportunity. Meet Mason, a 2011-model neutered male German Shepherd Dog. He had a history of lunging in the lobby at other animals and in the exam room at all staff. On his last visit, we were unable to do an exam as the owner could not muzzle him. This 96-pound dog was sent home with T.A.G., our acronym for our multimodal PVP.  We dispensed Trazodone 300mg, Acepromazine 20mg, and Gabapentin 600 mg to be given on an empty stomach three hours prior to the visit, with the plan of the owner placing the muzzle at arrival. Mason was dropped off for boarding, nail trim, and vaccines, with drugs on board. He was still reactive at intake and had no muzzle on, so we placed him in a familiar kennel to “marinate” for another hour. We cleared a large area in the treatment room and alerted surgery-area staff and front staff to stay clear and avoid sudden noises. As Mason was led in, we tossed treats in his direction with our backs to him and the three of us avoided all eye contact. As Mason ate treats from the floor, a slightly large nylon muzzle, sprayed with Adaptil, was placed as he continued eating high-value treats off the floor. As he completed picking up the treats, we presented him with a paper plate smeared with peanut butter. He was so relaxed licking the plate that he voluntarily lay down sternally. We gently lured him to his side with the plate (he shifted; we just slowly moved the plate). He allowed all nails to be trimmed; he DID stop licking for a moment with a vaccine, but immediately turned his head and attention back to the plate. When all was done and all supplies and people out of the way, he was allowed to lick the remaining peanut butter off the muzzle when it was removed. He was led back to his “blackout kennel”—which had a visual barrier from other dogs–without arousal.  A text was immediately sent to his owner, who was quite stressed at drop off that he was still reactive, letting her know that he did very well and we will look at using this protocol for now, but with appropriate wait time (the full 3 hours). Notes were made to use cervical area for vaccines instead of our usual right rear leg for the rabies vaccine as he stopped licking the plate when the vaccine was administered in the right rear leg. We also noted who handled Mason and what methods worked well. For safety, we had a more fitted muzzle at the ready to place over the large one had we needed it to get him back to his space. We had other staff aware and ready to help if he escalated unexpectedly. All staff there that day were very pleased, as was the owner. Mason wins, because we have a starting point to build good experiences from.  Our entire staff wins, because things went well. Future Mason-like patients win, as we have a vision of how well a visit can go despite past history.

Stephanie Ensley, DVM, Elite Fear Free Certified Professional, Sugar Creek Animal Hospital, Bentonville, Arkansas

Little Changes Go a Long Way

Fear Free has completely changed my clinic’s environment and has helped me become a better veterinary technician. Since we began applying all of the Fear Free lessons and techniques, our overall patient FAS has significantly decreased. Who would have thought a little squeeze cheese and a less-is-more approach would go so far! We have clients who travel one-plus hours to visit our practice solely because they appreciate how we treat their pets! Fear Free has changed everything for the better at our practice and in my career.

Alexis Allen, Elite Fear Free Certified Professional

Cooperative Cats

Recently I was helping clients  at North Idaho Animal Hospital to create a more Fear Free veterinary care visit for their two cats. The primarily outdoor cats were very hesitant about human contact. During the interactions, exam, and vaccination, the clients were amazed to see the simple but effective techniques that were used to get the cats to willingly cooperate with care when possible (such as getting onto the scale themselves, getting out of and back into the carrier on their own, and taking treats or being distracted by petting during their care to reward staying in place). They also appreciated the use of two towels that allowed the cats to willingly hide and to remain focused on their caretakers while I distracted them with treats and petting. This allowed the veterinarian, Dr. Dawn Mehra, to complete the exam, check their vitals, and give vaccinations from behind without the cats even seeming to notice. The owners said they could really see the difference that Fear Free made and they appreciated the extra time and attention given to their cats’ emotional wellbeing. In the future, they have a plan for bringing their cats in even less stressed. Not only were the cats’ caretakers happy, it’s also amazing to see the difference Fear Free makes for the people working in the hospital. There’s a greater sense of camaraderie, a more peaceful flow, and most of all, a sense of true joy getting to care for and work with animals in a way that’s less stressful and more enjoyable for both person and pet.

Mikkel Becker, CBCC-KA, CDBC, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA, CTC, Elite Fear Free Certified Professional







This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Kim Campbell Thornton is content manager for Fear Free Pets and is an Elite Fear Free Certified Professional. She has been writing about dogs, cats, wildlife, and marine life since 1985.

Happy Paws Magazine

Spring/Summer 2020 Issue Available Now!