Creating kinder, gentler experiences for pets!



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- Pet Perception Management by Dr. Rolan Tripp -

Gentling - Building Trust & Relaxation

Gentle Suspension    Kitten Gentling  

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 pet 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, just go much more slowly and gently.

Reasons to do Gentling Exercise

1) It establishes that you are bigger and stronger than the pet, but still gentle and non-threatening
2) Once you are trusted, the pet will bond and want to follow you, and your instructions
3) Demonstrating gentle leadership significantly reduces likelihood of aggression.
4) During Gentling, nothing bad happens so the pet develops trust in you
5) The pet becomes more accustomed to routine examinations and groomings

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 pleasant 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 you can teach your pet 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.

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 dog carry it resulting in a "passivisity reflex."

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 still against its will as a POSITIVE interaction. (e.g. a hug!) Start this the day you get your new pet for seconds coupled with the tastiest food treats and gentle praise. Do this daily right before a meal until the pet has such trust that he or she acts like a rag doll. If 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 Pet's Body Language For These Signs...
You can see fear/anxiety when: You can see the pet relax when:
1) Muscle tone increases, or mild struggling The muscles relax
2) The pet begins mouthing your hands The mouthing turns to 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

When any mild signs of fear or anxiety appear, (1 or 2 above) act and talk relaxed. Offer a food treat as distraction. See if the pet relaxes after several seconds, or will nibble on a food treat. Try to get the pet to relax before releasing. Then gradually return 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 causes a distraction.

If level #4 (thrashing) is reached, you have overdone the handling for this pet on this day. Stop, try for a relaxed "make up" then go much more slowly and gently after several minutes of time out. Note that if the pet does become stressed to this degree, it means this pet is at high risk of developing serious behavior problems in the future, and it is important that we return to these exercises with a more gentle touch. The purpose of these exercises is to develop trust in the handler. Vigorous handling that causes severe stress actually decreases trust.

When beginning these techniques, it is common to cause mild stress such as levels 1 and 2. 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.  When relaxation signs appear, let your pet go and praise the relaxation. By doing the manipulation, then releasing after relaxation, you have just decreased that pet's fear, built its confidence and increased its trust in you. You want your pet to learn that the way to get freedom is to "relax." 

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.

 Copyright 2000-Present - All Rights Reserved by
Rolan Tripp, DVM Susan Tripp, MS Animal Behavior Network