Downeast Dog News
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What do dogs want?

An introduction to “Fear Free” pet care
By Elsebeth DeBiase | May 31, 2019
Elsebeth DeBiase - Coastal Creations Pet Salon

Have you ever wondered what your dog thinks about going to the groomer, the vet, or the dog park?

The answer is different for every dog depending on its individual personality and experiences. Most pet owners today understand the importance of a properly socialized pet and seek out dog parks, doggie play dates, or doggie daycares. More often than not, dogs enjoy social interactions and opportunities to stretch their legs. On the other hand, grooming salons and veterinary clinics might be viewed as less fun to the dog. The answer to how your dog is feeling lies in Fear Free pet care, a transformative pet care industry program whose goal is to educate veterinarians, groomers, trainers, and owners on animal behavior and methods that reduce stress, anxiety, and fear.

Regardless of your destination with your pet, Fear Free begins in the home. Fear Free educators suggest it’s best to set pets up for success as opposed to expecting negative outcomes. A few ways to ensure the success of your pet’s visit should include allowing for potty times, preparing the car so it is the appropriate temperature, and to not be rushed. Remember if you are rushed, you are also stressed, and your pet will in turn be stressed too.

Along with your training progress at home, the Fear Free professional such as your groomer will incorporate certain training techniques into a customized plan for your pet. A Fear Free plan set forth by your groomer could first involve a “Meet and Treat”, an ice breaker if you will where the pet is introduced to the professional and the salon environment while receiving yummy treats. Another example of the Fear Free grooming component is “Gentle Control” which allows your pet to maintain a comfortable position on the grooming surface. Other key components to the Fear Free grooming protocol include but are not limited to desensitization, evaluation of a stress scale, and building trust.

As a team, pet owners, groomers, veterinarians, and trainers can utilize Fear Free techniques to safeguard pets’ overall emotional well-being. Many dogs, depending on the breed, will see a professional groomer more times in their lives than other animal professionals. Despite this, the Fear Free program for professional groomers is brand new. A few highly committed groomers have taken on this challenge realizing collaboration with pet owners and veterinarians make happier, healthier pets. One such groomer, Renee Pierre of Joyful Grooming was the first Rhode Island groomer to become Fear Free certified. Renee praised Fear Free grooming on social media posting examples of how she was already able to make pets feel more comfortable in her salon. Renee says she was excited about the program because “For years, my focus has been on working with dogs and cats labeled as difficult, fearful, or anxious. I have seen the body language but Fear Free taught me how to put what I was seeing into words. In turn, I was able to more successfully help pets through the grooming process. I now partner with the pet owners, and together we support their pets with Fear Free techniques.” In addition, Renee is lucky enough to work with a nearby companion animal trainer, who is also certified Fear Free.

As a Certified Master Groomer at Coastal Creations Pet Salon in Bucksport, ME, I recently heard of Renee’s success with the Fear Free program and was eager to give it a try. It is important to me that pets feel as comfortable as possible while being groomed. Just as I wanted to test my own knowledge and ability in each breed that might cross my threshold, I wanted to make sure I was handling every pet in a way that would keep its stress level as low as possible. This Fear Free Pets program allowed me to do that. Plus, I think it reassures clients to know that I care as much about their dogs look and styling as I do their safety and well-being.

In summary, your pet doesn’t have to feel anxious or stressed while visiting the veterinarian, groomer, or trainer because utilizing Fear Free will set them up for success. In fact, many perceived unenjoyable experiences can be made much more pleasant for pets with the help of their human team. Lastly, communication and consistency are the key to effective Fear Free program.