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  • Liz MacHaffie

Tell-Touch-Treat for Cooperative Vet Care

Updated: Oct 18


Creating less stress for everyone at vet visits!


Many adult dogs develop a fear of being handled at the vet, groomer, and even at home. This means they might try really hard to avoid being touched or even aggress.

Here's how to maximize success and minimize stress as you help your dog feel better about being handled!

The Formula

  • Tell, touch, treat!

  • Tell: First, we tell our dogs what we're going to do by saying a word that corresponds to that part of the body.

  • Touch: Next, we begin to touch or manipulate that part of the body.

  • Treat: Immediately after we start this, we begin to feed our dog! Treats should continue until the touch stops.

  • We always work at a level our dog is comfortable with. (Watch that body language for any stress.)

  • If your dog shows signs of stress or frustration, give her a break.

  • Signs of stress can include:

  • Getting off their mat.

  • Turning their head away.

  • Trying to move away.​

  • Avoiding you.

  • Lying down.

  • Pawing at you.

  • Lip licking.

  • Mouthing you.

  • Growling.

  • Try a less intense version of that touch at your next attempt.

  • For example, say you're working on nail trimming and your puppy was relaxed when you picked up her paw and held it, but when you moved on to spread her toes apart, she pulled her feet away and laid down. Give her a break, and when you go to try again, go back to just holding her paw. If this goes well, then try just barely spreading her toes apart.

  • If your dog continues to be uncomfortable, stop and let us know!

What to Include

  • Ears

  • Touch the ear.

  • Lift the ear flap.

  • Lift the ear flap and stick your finger gently inside. (Can use a tissue.)

  • Eyes​

  • Touch skin above the eye.

  • Touch skin below the eye.

  • Touch and put very mild pressure above or below the eye (on the skin), as if to examine below or above the lid.

  • Mouth/Teeth

  • "Cheese" is a favorite phrase for this!

  • Touch one side of your dog's upper lip.

  • Gently lift one side of the lip for 1 second.

  • Lift one side of the lip for 3 seconds.

  • Lift both sides of the lips to expose the canine teeth.

  • Lift one side of the lip and move from front teeth to back teeth. ​

  • Feet and Legs​

  • "Footsies" is a favorite phrase for this.​

  • Run hand down leg.

  • Run hand down leg and touch paw.

  • Run hand down leg and gently lift paw.

  • Run hand down leg, lift paw, and separate toes. (Feel those webbies between the toes!)

  • Gently pick up leg. (Pick up at a natural angle, try not to pick it up and away from the body.)

  • Gently pick up leg and manipulate it briefly.

  • Tail

  • Run hand down back and then down length of tail.

  • Run hand down back and then down length of tail, pausing to briefly brush some hair in the opposite direction. (As if to inspect the skin.)

  • Lift tail from base and hold briefly. (As if to examine under tail.)

Transferring to Other People!

  • Once your dog is very comfortable with YOU doing these things, she's ready for you to have other people do the TOUCH step. (You'll do the TELL and the TREAT.)

  • You'll find out more about how to do this at a future session!

Top Tips

  • Keep sessions short and sweet. A few minutes is great!

  • Be prepared to have handling sessions with your dog throughout her life to help her maintain comfort. Aim for a 5 minute handling session at least a couple times a month to maintain your training.

  • If your dog is showing signs of significant discomfort and aggression, stop and let us know!

  • Some dogs are genetically predisposed to fearfulness, some learn to be fearful after one or more negative experiences. One common mistake people make is to regularly force our dogs to be handled even if they don't like it. This can actually create more stress and aggression. (Hence why we put so much time and effort into cooperative care, it gets us the best long-term results!)

Cooperative Care

  • A fantastic resource and way to really maximize your puppy's chances of feeling good about body handling and vet procedures is Deb Jones' Cooperative Care Certificate Program. There is also a helpful Facebook group and a book!

  • You can work on this on your own, and/or we're happy to integrate whatever you like into your dog's training program!

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