Helping all animals cope with veterinary procedures.
Quite a big part of my work is breaking down fears associated with veterinary procedures or body invasive work like farriers, clipping or worming. In most cases the procedure was forced on the horse the first time around and in an unsympathetic way which then created a bad memory. When the owner wishes to repeat that task, the horse remembers the process used which is what they start to fear. The two things then go hand in hand.
When horses fear something , they just want to escape.
Fear associated with clipping will then start with the noise of the clippers, the approach of the noise and proximity to the clippers. If the human persists when such fear is present, the touch of them vibrating on the skin will send that horse way over threshold and into escape behaviours. It is very easy to cut a horse’s skin with the sharp blades, which is another reason for them to learn to fear their touch. Horses twitch their skin as a way of removing biting flies. It is an involuntary reaction which makes clipping even more difficult because the feel of the vibrating blades is aversive and the horse wants to remove that feeling. The key to easy clipping is to train the horse to relax using systematicdesensitising and then adding counter conditioning. Many owners need to have their horses sedated by their vet to make clipping possible. Sedating the horse adds big expense to the process but does not cure the problem. Depending on the horse, it may fight that sedation because the fear of clipping is so huge. Some relax immediately and the process is then easy all round. However, sedating does not cure the emotional problem. It simply disables the horse and prevents it from escaping.
Fear associated with vets and veterinary treatments like injections, is very common in horses.
Many horses, and dogs for that matter fear the vet. No different from children fearing a doctor after remembering a forced inoculation. Visiting the vets with your dog for absolutely no reason is a perfect way to habituate them. The staff will always treat them with nice goodies if you ask them to…it requires effort and time but is worth its weight in gold when your dog starts to feel safer there. I ask visiting vets to pet my fearful horses or hand feed them and give them a scratch, if the horse allows. These little stolen moments require a bit of planning but again, they help to create good memories. By building up trust accounts like this will reap huge benefit when real treatments need to be administered later.
Make a training plan.
Identify what your horse or dog fears and try to plan some small incremental training opportunities to start to help your pet cope in the future. Food treats and little pleasures like petting (or ball play with a dog) will all help to make that difference.
Watch my training video.
I recently put up a video on social media of my rescue pony Toby, who has been trained to participate in worming with a tube which goes into his mouth and the contents get squirted at the back of the throat. I was amused to see it receive over 30,000 views! Horses fear the process attached to being wormed rather than the actual wormer. A lot of force or trickery is usually needed to worm a so called “Bad Horse”. The owner knows that sight of that tube will elicit violent escape behaviours so will have the horse restrained first. Most restraint processes in horses equate to actual physical pain and so the cycle continues.
If you are interested in seeing the footage, follow this link or type it into You tube. https://youtu.be/lKIYHWENno8
Please feel free to contact me to talk about ways of helping your pets cope with the scary side of life.