Happy Handling! Part Three

Beth Friedman CDBC and Wayne Bolen MAEd


October 14, 2021

In this series of articles we have discussed various aspects of dogs that behave aggressively when handled. In this post we focus on going to the veterinarian or groomer.

How do you get a blood sample from an elephant living in a zoo? What if that elephant was also fearful of humans? You certainly can’t hold an elephant down for a needle. The blood draw can be done, but it takes training and the cooperation of the animal. Similar techniques can be done with our canine companions, even ones that are aggressive. Cooperative Care is a term used to describe cooperation and consent between the dog and a human during nail trims, grooming, medical examinations, and more.

Many practitioners and pet parents are now making routine procedures less stressful and even fun. Forcing an animal to do something is not necessary if we put in a bit of time and training in beforehand. We can teach animals to accept or even want handing for a procedure that needs to be done. We call this Happy Handling. Happy Handling teaches your canine to accept, or even want handling for medical examinations, grooming and other routine necessary procedures. Teaching your canine companion Happy Handling for procedures can decrease the stress for you and your dog for his lifetime, regardless of size, breed or age. Canines are often afraid or uncomfortable going to the groomer, veterinarian or animal hospital. This is the place they may get poked and prodded, and it sometimes occurs when they are already not feeling well.


Happy Handling starts with getting to your destination, usually via the car. Some dogs are very comfortable riding in the car while others are not. If your dog is uncomfortable with car rides I would start training there. If the dog is already anxious because of the car ride and then we combine being anxious in the car and now I have to go and get poked and prodded; this could be like being locked in a small room full of spiders and snakes!

From the dog’s perspective, how do they know where they are going when we invite our dogs to get into the car? We can ease their anxiety by putting cues on where you are going so your canine companion does not need to wonder, especially if you have an anxious, aggressive or fearful dog. When I ask my Sammy, “Do you want to go to the Vet?” He gets super excited and runs to the door by the garage because he has learned this phrase means yummy stuff at the fun place, the Animal Hospital!

Once your dog is comfortable with car rides, take your dog to the parking lot of your groomer and veterinarian. Walk your dog around. Enjoy some sniffs and give your dog chicken. This will make going a fun experience. Once your dog is comfortable with this step, call your veterinarian or groomer and ask them when it is quiet at the office and if you can bring your canine in for a walk around the office without an examination. This will help your canine associate being at the hospital with good things instead of getting his temperature taken.

A Happy Visit for our Sammy is a trip to the vet to walk around the hospital to get chicken from me. He does not get poked by needles and does not get an exam, bath, or a nail trim. No one tries to touch him at all. While at the office, we will practice basic cues such as a chin rest, getting on the scale, nose touches to a person’s palm, nose work, and sits and downs. Sammy associates these visits with good things like fun training and chicken and not being being uncomfortable, touched or fearful. Often, our pets only go to these appointments for medical treatments or baths, which are necessary, but may not be pleasant from our dog’s perspective. 

If staff at your vet clinic are willing to participate in some Happy Handling, the next steps is to have staff, and even the vet or groomer, if possible, toss some yummy stuff to your canine companion from whatever distance is safest and keeps your dog calm, even if he is still outside at this point.  Ask the staff to give your canine special, yummy treats but no pets or handling. Do this only as long as your dog remains calm and leave before he gets even a little anxious. Being at the vet’s office should only be associated with the happy feelings of yumminess. It is incredibly important to keep the sessions short and successful rather than trying to put in more time but your dog is starting to build up stress and anxiety. Short and sweet sessions leads to Happy Handling.

Practice handling your canine at home like a veterinarian or groomer would, but only do this if your dog is comfortable with you handling him or her. When you are at home relaxing with your canine, look in his mouth and ears, feel his abdomen and touch those paws, nails, and paw pads. Notice places your canine is sensitive to, and give your canine treats when you are touching those areas. This will help to desensitize those areas to being touched. You can also start to practice this at the groomer or animal hospital. If your canine is aggressive or uncomfortable with you touching him, then this step is not appropriate for your dog.

Another option for some dogs is that some veterinary hospitals have daycare, canine behavior training, or other fun activities for your dog to participate in. This is another great way for your dog to associate positive and even fun things at the veterinarian hospital. Bring your dog in for a fun day at the vet so when the time comes when he must visit the vet, it is not so bad. Again this may not be appropriate for all dogs but is very beneficial for some.

When you do need to go in for an examination, don’t forget your dog’s favorite treat and or toy. 

Additional steps may be needed and some may not be appropriate for all dogs in all situations. Consult a canine behavior consultant for a specific plan to set your dog up for a successful visit to the veterinarian or groomer!


Learn more about Beth and Wayne at CanineCompanionConsulting.com