Creating kinder, gentler experiences for pets


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Gentle Grooming



Pet Perception Management® by Dr. Rolan Tripp

Gentling Exercises to Build Trust & Relaxation

Unless you teach your pet good manners, the same pet who gives so much pleasure at first can develop bad habits that cause some people to have their pets destroyed. The goal is a pet that trusts you so much, he or she acts like a limp rag doll, and you can do anything to his or her body (that does not cause pain!)

is a collection of handling techniques to help you intentionally develop the
personality that will make your pet a delight for life. Gentling Exercises have three components: Body Massage, Range of Motion, and Gentle Restraint. The goal is to massage, move, hug, and restrain the pet in many different positions until he relaxes.

For best results, the pup should begin these steps before 14 weeks old, or a kitten before 7 weeks old. For older pets, go much more slowly and gently.

Use caution when starting these exercises. Go gradually and keep each session a positive experience. Gentling must be accomplished by adults first. Children must be taught how to be gentle with pets under direct supervision by adults.

Reasons to do Gentling Exercises

1) These exercises help establish that you are bigger and stronger than the pet, and yet gentle and non-threatening
2) When you are trusted, the pet will bond and want to follow you, and your instructions
3) Demonstrating gentle leadership significantly reduces the likelihood of aggression.
4) Do not allow anything bad to happen so the pet develops trust in you and others.
5) This prepares the pet to accept without fear routine examinations and grooming

The pet will (and should) experience a small amount of stress. When mild stress is experienced, but nothing bad happens, it builds puppy stress tolerance and self confidence. Stress tolerance develops a more relaxed, friendly, confident personality. If the pet becomes stiff or threatens aggression during any of these exercises, stop and consult a behaviorist.

Gentling establishes you as a gentle trustworthy leader without punishment or yelling. This bonds the pet to you stronger than anything else you can do, so that you can enjoy a long and happy life with a gentle, relaxed adult pet.

Before humans can teach pets anything, you must communicate that you have the right (hierarchy status) to teach. This means showing the pet that you and all humans in your house control all the valued resources and are consistent, reliable, and trustworthy.

Eventually, you want the pet to have such trust in people that he or she acts like a floppy rag doll when handled.

Massage is different from "petting" or "grooming." During massage, you move the skin over underlying body as far as it will go. Do this gently with a loving touch. Move it back and forth and in a circular motion. Do this body massage over every square inch of the dog. This is how the dog becomes accustomed to having people touch its ears, paws, belly, tail, etc.

The most common mistake is to only massage the back. Probably the two most important areas to massage are the back of the neck, and the muzzle. The back of the neck is a natural "power spot" since that is where the mother dog grabs the pet to carry it resulting in a "passivity reflex." Massaging the muzzle is important to prepare the dog for teeth brushing.  Since control of the muzzle is another "power spot" and we want the pet to learn that humans control all forms of power.

Range of Motion means gently moving the pets extremities. Once you can massage your pet without him struggling, begin move his head and limbs in every comfortable position. This uses your hands to teach the pup that you are the leader and trustworthy. Be sure that there is no discomfort while you are doing this exercise.

Gentle Restraint means gently holding the pet as a POSITIVE interaction. (e.g. a hug!) Ideally, you start this the day you get your puppy or kitten home coupled with the tastiest food treats and gentle praise. A good time to do these exercises is before a meal to give the treats higher value.

f the pet seems fearful, proceed in small steps. If the pet seems to panic, put the pet down and walk away. Give panic NO attention. Later, start again and go more slowly. In each case, allow no more than a small amount of stress, then hold the pet still until he or she relaxes. This is very age dependent. An 8 week old puppy will usually accept this immediately, but the same pup at 12 weeks might resist, and at 16 weeks it becomes VERY difficult. Therefore, do these gentling exercises at least weekly during the first year of the pet's life.

Watch The Body Language For These Signs
Signs of Anxiety - and reasons to go more slowly Signs of Relaxation
1) Muscle tone increases, or mild struggling Muscle tone relaxes
2) The pet begins mouthing your hands Mouthing becomes gentle licking
3) The pupil size and white of the eye increase The wild look in the eye goes away
4) Thrashing, urinating, crying or obvious panic occurs The pup may take a deep sigh

If you see #1 or #2 above or any mild signs of fear or anxiety appear, act and talk relaxed. See if food treats help as distractions. If the pet relaxes after several seconds, or will nibble on a food treat, then continue. Then, see if you can return gradually to the level of handling that previously caused the first sign of stress. You are literally, "expanding the pet's comfort zone." Using the food treat does not reward the stress; it couples gentling with a positive and offers some distraction.

If #4 above (thrashing) is reached, you have overdone the handling for this pet on this day. Stop, try for a relaxed "make up" time to end on a positive note. If the pet does become stressed to this degree, it means this pet is at high risk of developing serious fear or aggression in the future, and it is important that we return to these exercises with a more gentle touch. Vigorous handling that causes severe stress actually decreases trust.

The purpose of these exercises is to develop a pet that has trust in gentle human handlers.

When beginning these techniques, it is common to cause mild stress. This means the pet is unsure of your intentions, and a little nervous. Just go slowly, and  allow some nibbling of a food treat hidden in your fingers while you do the Gentling. Reward relaxation with freedom and praise the relaxation. By doing this physical manipulation, then releasing after relaxation, you help decrease that pet's fear, build confidence and increase trust in you.

You want your pet to learn the way to gaining more freedom is not by struggling but by relaxing, "giving" in to your gentle, trustworthy leadership. 

When the pet is relaxed with your handling, begin a routine monthly health examination. Even if you don't know what to look for, just begin to look at every inch of the pup to learn normal for this dog. Look at the teeth, ears, paws, nails, belly (and all over for fleas), and around the tail area for tapeworm segments. Again, keep this a positive experience.

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