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December 2, 2017

Cooperative care for dogs is an important and growing topic in the worlds of dog lovers and veterinary medicine. Cooperative care for dogs simply means training dogs (typically using food rewards) to be compliant partners in the care they need. This could be anything from regular dog grooming and dog care tasks such as keeping toenails the proper length to prevent breakage or injury to teaching your dog to maintain certain body positions while being examined or even while getting an x-ray or ultrasound by your veterinary team. One of our canine heroines, Clover, helped me shoot a little video demonstration of what cooperative care means here at Champion of My Heart. 


Why cooperative care for dogs matters?

Cooperative care for dogs makes taking care of your dog easier and less stressful for you both. When you can provide routine care without behavioral drama, you're more likely to do it more often. And, the more you handle your dog and know your dog's body, the better able you will be to notice if something changes that requires attention by your veterinarian. 

In addition, cooperative care for dogs that you do at home pays off at the veterinary hospital too. Dogs who understand cooperative care typically make better veterinary patients. They can experience less stress and be much less fractious when your veterinary team needs to examine or treat them. 

Plus, it's a lot more fun to take care of a dog who enjoys (or at the least tolerates) it. 

Here's a video (about 10-minutes) of Clover showing off her cooperative care skills. 

My apologies that the lighting is a little extreme. The sun kept going in and out of the clouds, so to make the darker times more visible, I had to lighten the whole video. Eeeee!

Another example of cooperative care for dogs ...

Learn more about the physical therapy work that I do for Clover to keep her in good shape for the sport of dog agility.

Cooperative care is a life-long process!

Both Clover and Tori have good days and not-as-good days when it comes to their cooperative care. Here are a few tips for getting things done, even when it isn't going 100% well:

  1. Be patient. 
  2. Work with the dog in front of you on any given day. In other words, don't assume every dog care session will be the same, and don't get frustrated about it.

Ease into cooperative care for dogs with things that are EASIER for your dog. That might mean only doing one toenail per day, or it might mean -- like in the video -- that you need to do the back nails first so that your dog gets into the rhythm of what you're doing before you try to do her front nails. 

Do you have tips for teaching cooperative care? We'd love to hear them. Post a comment below!

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. This is such a helpful post. My sister does cooperative care training with her Dane and they are both really happy with the results. It’s just such a great way of doing things and does make it so much easier when it comes time to go to the vet. I wonder if some of the same kind of techniques could be used for cats – you’ve given me a bit of an idea to look into doing some kind of training like this on my cats and see how if it’s possible!

  2. Never would have called it Cooperative Care, but very thankful I started working with Honey as a puppy. As a result, SHE is excellent at getting her nails trimmed. I, however, am still a nervous wreck.

    I think I need someone to stuff bonbons in my mouth when I’m working.

    Sorry I don’t have the bandwidth to watch your video right now. But I’ve book marked it for future watching.

    1. That’s so good that you started early. The dremel really is SO much easier because the risk of taking too much off is much, much lower, and now that I need reading glasses to see what I’m doing, I like that the dremel doesn’t have to be as precise visually for me. Sorry about the video bandwidth issue.

  3. Great video. I have no luck with the nails. I need to get a guard and start with the back feet maybe. They become so anxious and then I get frustrated and it’s always a lose, lose situation. Thanks.

    1. Thanks. It can be really frustrating. We’ve definitely had our moments, especially if they wiggled and I accidentally cut a nail too short. That’s why the dremel is easier for me. Much less likely to make a mistake. Sometimes, you have to start with getting them okay with just the SOUND of the dremel first. Since I the one I use isn’t very powerful or loud, I didn’t really have to do that with the girls.

  4. This is a really good video and I am so happy that Clover wasn’t perfect because that is how real life is. It encourages me. You’re a really great trainer Roxanne!

  5. Thanks, Roxanne! That was very helpful. I’m looking forward to getting moved with Glimmer and my cat, to NM soon, and having more time work with her along these lines. I do have a Dremel tool; is the guard available through pet stores or how does one obtain a guard? Thank you.

    1. Great! Good luck with the move. I think all that packing and such is SO stressful!

      We’re looking to get a better / more powerful dremel tool. This one is specifically for pets, and it came with that guard over the sanding wheel. Here is a link to the brand.

      What I DON’T LIKE about the tool I’m currently using is that it’s battery powered (c batteries), and even with brand new batteries (which aren’t cheap), it isn’t very powerful, which means it can take a LONG time to do the girls nails … or if I try to do them both back to back, then it really starts pooping out on me and slows way down.

      It does have a bigger round sanding wheel, though, and I do like how that works vs. a garage-type dremel with smaller sanding wheel.

      I wouldn’t be as worried about the guard piece, but a friend of a friend (who is an extremely experienced dog person) recently BROKE her dog’s tail when the tail hair got tangled up in the tool. Eeek!

  6. Thanks, very informative! Have you ever noticed when a dog or cat knows it’s being videoed they just don’t act the same? 😉

    1. For sure. I guarantee you she was thinking, “Who the heck are you talking to?!” But, you know, that’s real life. We try hard, but we aren’t perfect, and I think it’s good for people to see that it doesn’t always go quite as planned … and that’s okay.

  7. My dog is pretty good about vet care and general handling. I can do her back feet toenails but she doesn’t like having her front feet done. So for the front, it’s one or two nails each session and lots of treats.

    1. That’s so smart! When Clover was a puppy, it was funny how *if* I greatly increased the food rewards how SUDDENLY she COULD sit still for nails … when mere seconds earlier she was trying to convince me that she could NOT possibly hold still. Often I would say > You. Are. A. Very. Good. Girl. and hand her a treat with each word after every single nail.

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