Hi, I’m Dr. Kwane, a veterinarian and member of the Fetch's Veterinary Advisory Board — I meet new patients with different backgrounds and preferences daily. Take Dodge, a Labrador Retriever I met with for the first time not too long ago.
Before meeting Dodge, his dad called me on the phone to warn me that the pup hated the vet’s office and would likely need to be muzzled for the entire procedure — even during the basic exam. That’s where my Fear Free training came into play.
Fear Free is a systematic and scientific approach to reducing fear, anxiety and stress while pets receive medical care — I am a certified Fear Free vet, which is why I had a different plan in mind for Dodge.
During Dodge’s vet visit, I asked his dad questions about his health history and gave the pup treat after treat. The pair ended up leaving without an exam because it was more important to ensure Dodge was comfortable in the vet’s office, even if that meant we had to sacrifice our original goal. The following week, Dodge came back for his exam and actually pulled on his leash to get inside our office. It's safe to say Dodge's dad was stunned.
As an advocate for Fear Free practices, I believe in the benefits of its mission, which is to create a universally accepted method in which caregivers can deliver stress-free services pets. In the case of Dodge and so many other pets, Fear Free allows them to have positive, happy experiences at the vet's office and beyond.
Fear Free started around 10 years ago, but its practices have become the norm over the past 3 years. Dr. Marty Becker created Fear Free and has been changing the landscape of my profession, for the better, for decades. He's been a mentor and inspiration of mine and a personal friend.
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One of the basic tenets of Fear Free is to not force procedures on pets at the expense of their emotional well-being. This practice has made interactions with my patients far more pleasant. Once upon a time, we'd be doing something as routine as vaccinating a patient, and the goal was to get it done at all costs — even if that sometimes meant harshly restraining or muzzling a pet. But that's all changed.
Fear Free encourages us to employ tactics like gentle control (which is where we use slow, patient movements), using the touch gradient to determine which areas pets are comfortable with us feeling or being very, very patient. And not only do the pets benefit emotionally, but their stomachs are lucky, too. We use high-reward treats, like peanut butter, cheese and hot dogs, as distractions, and the pets love it.
Our pets are highly intelligent and emotional animals. Like us, if they have a negative experience (even with something we believe to be routine as a nail trim), they'll likely store these memories away forever, and sometimes it can lead to behavioral issues.
If you’re a veterinarian, or deliver care in the veterinary profession, visit Fear Free’s website to learn more about getting involved with the practice and getting certified. Unfortunately, pet parents aren’t able to become certified, but there are ways you can employ Fear Free lessons for events like visiting the vet, stress-free ways to travel in a car and training tips.
I think Fear Free has reshaped the veterinary profession. Veterinarians have known to treat the emotional well-being of our pets as much as the physical, but sometimes, in the scramble to deliver care, that gets lost. We've never had a tool like Fear Free that is consistent, efficient and backed by science.
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Image source: @drkwane Instagram