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Fear Free Demonstration: Techniques & Props


Laura Muller, LVT, nursing manager at Cherry Hill Animal Hospital in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, demonstrates how a few Fear Free techniques and props—such as Easy Cheese—can benefit patients in your veterinary clinic.

Laura Muller, LVT, nursing manager at Cherry Hill Animal Hospital in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, demonstrates how a few Fear Free techniques and props—such as Easy Cheese—can benefit patients in your veterinary clinic.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“Here I have my dog—the world’s best puppy in the whole wide world. She’s 13. One thing we have in my house and in the clinic for geriatrics is the yoga mat down. In the exam room, we would have this on the floor and also covering the surface of the scale. Lower platform scales are most comfortable for dogs because they’re not raising up. For some dogs that have an aversion to a scale, if you don’t have a yoga mat, you can at least put a bath mat on it or at least a towel to cover it. Shiny surfaces are really, really scary if you’re a pet, and we want to make sure we get an accurate rate that’s part of their exam.

With Bella, she’s obviously not afraid to go on a surface, but this really helps provide traction. When you’re doing an orthopedic exam, especially, and you’re on those hard laminate surfaces, it’s really easy for your assistant or technician to stabilize the patient. You can do good range of motion techniques when you have a traction mat in place. It also helps with those fuzzy, feedy dogs, your shelter dogs, border collies—it makes it a lot easier.

Some props we keep in clinic. Starting up in terms of Fear Free using a treat ladder, that’s the starter treats to the really, really good stuff—I call it ‘puppy crack.’ My secret weapon is Easy Cheese. It’s really fragrant, really, really palatable, doesn’t have to be refrigerated, and dogs go crazy for it. Your most easy to work with patient is one that is food motivated. Bella is a really good example. She likes to do things as long as there is food involved. We will just use her as an example to see what you can do in clinic.

[Dr. Muller sprays Easy Cheese on the spoon.]

At this point, we could have a doctor evaluating the skin, checking any lumps and bumps, we’ve actually been able to even get fine needle aspirates just from doing this.

[Dr. Muller gives Bella the Easy Cheese on the spoon.]

Right now, you could do anything you wanted to her, she’s focusing on me. You can even do an eye exam, you can do so many things. If you wanted to, you could stick your finger in her ear. The only thing that’s hard to do with cheese is an oral exam, but it can be done.

The benefit with Fear Free is just making sure you have that extra person. If you don’t have a technician in the room, what you can do is incorporate the client. They really, really like seeing their dog happy. If they’re able to combine a good experience with a comprehensive wellness exam and their pet happy—that’s going to give you a good return on your investment. So, use a lot of treats, tongue depressors, frozen peanut butter, a lot of squeeze cheese, whatever it takes to get the pet in a focused area.

Another thing just for distraction technique is using the Zoom Grooms, I believe they’re made by Kong, but Bella is a pretty itchy dog—white Pit Bulls tend to have a lot of itch—so she will stay as still as possible as long as you’re giving her a brush. Just as a consideration approach, you want to make sure you have your hand on your patient at all times. You’re just going to want to make some gentle movements, especially with older dogs because they might have some spinal sensitivity. It’s a thing that’s $10, it’s easy to incorporate it, you can easily clean and disinfect it later, it costs nothing to do that experience, plus it gives the client the feeling that you’re just natural with their dog; you’re doing what they do.

The important thing during Fear Free is still for the clinician to talk about what they’re doing. A lot of times I’ll work with my doctor and they’ll say, ‘Oh, Laura is just going to tickle her butt so I can feel that mass on her right front shoulder,’ or, ‘Laura’s going to give her some peanut butter so I can get that ear cell cytology and get that started in the lab for you.’ Even though it just looks like I’m petting my dog, we’re able to really do what we need to do to complete our exam, and that’s the most important part.

Dogs that are a little more rambunctious, they can have a basket muzzle and they can still play with toys. If they’re not food motivated, that’s the easiest way to work around it. But if they’re not food motivated, what you can do is get attention that way.

[Dr. Muller squeaks the toy and throws the toy to Bella.]

Now you have a distracted dog. If it was a dog that really liked to play with treats, you can see how their gait is. You can also have owners distract with toys and treats if you’re doing a blood draw. Sometimes we use back legs because it’s a little bit less out of their vision and we can have owners distract with food.

Another good technique is just using towels and comforters. Clients drop them off at all times, they cost nothing as long as their clean, and a visual barrier is the easiest way to make sure that a pet is not seeing what’s scary. One of the scarier things for Bella is nail trimmers. So, what I would do for her if she was a fearful patient in the clinic, I would start out by priming her with treats, making it a positive experience. Then I’d have an assistant come in, we’d cover her head, tell her she’s a good girl, she can hear her owner’s voice—we can do all of this with the transparency of having the client involved. We’re not taking her into the back, it’s not the scary unknown, and that’s what people really want to be a part of. We do all of that in front of the client. They’re not expressing their anal glands, they’re not having bowel movements or urinating.

It’s very, very easy to understand, and as long as you’re explaining what you’re doing—you’re putting that visual barrier so they don’t see a scary lady coming with nail trimmers because they’ve had a bad experience with it—it’s easy, it’s simple, it’s not rocket science, it’s just decreasing fear in your pets just for a better client experience and also to get them the care that they need.”

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