Temple Grandin’s Unique Voice is Helping To Create A More Fear Free Experience For Pets Visiting the Vet

Temple’s voice in the Fear Free Advisory Group continues to enhance the emotional wellbeing of animals, including companion pets in veterinary care

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

Veterinarian and Fear Free founder Dr. Marty Becker was moved recently by a conversation with animal scientist and autism advocate Dr. Temple Grandin. Grandin, now a member of the Fear Free Advisory Group, shared insights for protecting the emotional lives of animals during veterinary healthcare.

Dr. Grandin, commonly known by her first name, Temple, has dedicated her life’s work and research toward practices that protect and enhance the emotional wellbeing of animals. Her research has led to improvements in handling and living environments for animals in food-production and slaughter, based on her belief that food animals should live minimally stressed and comfortable lives all the way to their final moments. Her efforts are well known for their positive effect on slaughterhouse design and processing.

Dr. Becker admired and followed Temple’s work for years. With the development of Fear Free, which had a mission that complemented Temple’s life work, it was a natural fit to invite her to join the Fear Free advisory board and partner in mutual efforts to advance animal wellbeing.

“Temple is the epitome of someone who combines both science and soul,” Dr. Becker says. “She has a gift for working with and understanding animals. It’s not just her gift; she’s an experienced researcher.”

Insights from a unique perspective

In particular, Temple emphasized two aspects of safeguarding emotional wellbeing during veterinary care.

“Temple said the number-one mistake we are doing as veterinary professionals is stripping familiar scents away from pets,” Dr. Becker says.

She explained that when a dog or cat goes to the vet, familiar scents are stripped away, replaced by scents that are offensive or threatening. To better help the pet, these new and frightening scents can be replaced with an aromatic environment that is both calming and familiar to the animal.

One way to make such a change is to bring familiar scents with the pet, such as a blanket, towel, or bathmat from home. Much like a child’s security blanket, the familiar scented resting space can move with the animal throughout care or during hospitalization.

Temple also recommended a toy called Scents of Security: a soft animal-shaped item with an inner pocket that can be stuffed with familiar objects. Dr. Becker now incorporates Scents of Security into puppy packages at North Idaho Animal Hospital where he practices.

“The second mistake made during veterinary care that Temple emphasized is that animals are kept off balance all the time. She said that when animals are off balance, they are uncomfortable; this goes for any animal, from horses and camelids to dogs and cats and, yes, humans.

Temple explained that the veterinary exam on the exam table is the worst possible scenario because the animal is off balance and doesn’t have secure footing. That’s a situation likely to cause an animal to panic.

“We naturally want to have our footing and to feel in balance. But for a pet on the exam table, it’s probably a lot like what we might feel like if we were elevated off the ground onto a slippery surface and were standing on roller skates,” says Dr. Becker.

Temple’s tips

One of the greatest takeaways from their discussion on keeping pets in balance is to incorporate nonslip surfaces into the veterinary care environment. Temple’s nonslip surface of choice is a bathmat.

“She likes those because they have a nonskid bottom, they’re soft on top, and they can be laundered,” says Dr. Becker.

Temple also addressed the importance of paying attention to nonverbal communication of animals.

“She highlighted the importance of people being in tune with the different signals animals send. She said that animals are constantly telling us through their body language when they feel calm, safe. and connected and when they’re in a state of fear, anxiety, and stress,” says Dr. Becker.

Temple ended the conversation by having Marty place the family dog, Quixote, up on the desk area in front of him to work through an exercise of keeping an animal in balance.

Similar to the way pets often react on the exam table, Quixote trembled slightly as he tried to stabilize himself on the slippery surface.

“Temple walked me through exercises I could do to help him keep calm in this situation he’d never before encountered—a veterinary exam on top of my desk,” said Dr. Becker.

Temple encouraged Marty to use long, stroking touches along Quixote’s neck and down his sides, keeping one hand in constant contact while doing so. At the same time, she encouraged him to avoid eye contact and to talk to Quixote in a calming voice. In little time, with Temple’s guidance, Quixote’s demeanor changed from one of alarm to happy relaxation.

“Temple’s like a supercomputer that’s analyzing data and processing all of these experiences she’s had with different animals as you talk with her. She talks with very thoughtful responses based on a big brain and a big heart. You can see, or hear, the stuff processing and her responses are a further realization of how deeply intuitive and thoughtful she is,” says Dr. Becker.

Having Temple’s ongoing voice in the Fear Free Advisory Group is a true gift to animals and to those who care for them.

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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