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- Gentling Exercises -

Indications for Suspension  |  Suspension in the Vet Clinic

Puppy Suspension and Gentle Handling Demonstrations
Puppy and Kitten Prime Socialization Period
The prime socialization period in small animals is approximately 4-12 weeks of age for puppies and 3-7 weeks for kittens. During this period, veterinarians and owners have the greatest opportunity to influence (positively or negatively) the future personality of the individual pet. Puppy and kitten veterinary visits are an ideal time to start shaping a pet’s future behavior, creating a friendly patient for life. The goals are to prevent dominance and fear, bond the pet and owner to the practice, and to encourage a friendly, cooperative pet personality.

The Suspension Technique
This technique triggers a parental leadership and calming reflex similar to the youngster being picked up and moved by its mother. Its effectiveness is inversely proportional to the pet’s age, hence an excellent technique for puppies and kittens. The ideal age range is 4 to 14 weeks, though the technique can be used in pets of any age who are small enough to be easily picked up. Although useful in young kittens, the results are enhanced with puppies because of their natural social instinct.

The technique can be described as picking up the puppy (suspending it) with one hand under each foreleg, and letting the back legs dangle for a few seconds as if picking up a human toddler. Kittens can be lifted the same way, or gently by the scruff. If possible, in the hospital setting, have the owner pick up the pet and hand it to you. The pet is often accustomed to the owner picking it up, and the “hand over” is a type of non-verbal transfer of trust. Your thumbs should be place under the pet’s chin to prevent any possibility of biting your hands. If convenient, give a small tasty food treat just before beginning a suspension of 3-10 seconds.

Some puppies will fidget with their rear legs dangling. If this happens, let the rear legs touch a table or your body. It is essential to smile and talk in a high, happy reassuring voice tone to the puppy to communicate this is not a threat. It is also recommended to keep the puppy’s eye level below your own to maintain leadership.

If the puppy panics or does not stop wriggling, just put the pet down to be sure there is no fear imprint. Then recommend to the owner that the puppy enroll in an off leash puppy socialization class that includes handling exercises to build confidence.

Shaking the puppy or verbal scolding is ineffective and contraindicated since it generates fear instead of trust. The goal of suspension is to communicate strong but positive leadership position. Some dogs grow up without ever experiencing non-punitive subordination, which may increase the likelihood of dominance aggression later in life.

Suspension is a type of non-threatening, “Situational Domination” because the pup has been put into a situation where it cannot fight, bite or escape. What it learns is that nothing bad happens, and the person doing the suspension is friendly and powerful.
During the suspension, look down at the pup and directly into its eyes while cooing and talking friendly. Because of the high happy voice, the threat is minimized, and the pup is being conditioned that a direct stare is not always a threat. As soon as the puppy looks away, pull the puppy in to your chest and give a firm hug for a few seconds. With these two acts, you have competed two additional mild leadership exercises; i.e. visually, then physically dominating the pup. In each case the pup is learning that by acting subordinately, (looking away, and submitting to the hug) nothing bad happens, and there is no fear generated.

In the ideal scene the next step is to cradle the pup on its back in one of your arms. Assuming this does not elicit a fear response (because of the verbal cooing), you should give a small tasty treat (with owner’s permission). If convenient, hand the pup to another staff member to repeat the suspension so that the pup generalizes the trust and leadership to all staff. If a pet accepts the first treat, then refuses one after or during suspension, it may be an indication of mild stress. In this case go more gently, and recommend to the owner to do the technique frequently to desensitize the pet to being touched by strangers.

In Summary (A typical gentle handling exercise takes 10 - 15 seconds to complete)
Builds trust: Have the owner pick up the pet and hand it over. Give a small food treat.
Handling safely: Don’t drop the pup, and don’t let it bite you.
Avoid fear: Smile and talk high and happy. If the pup panics, just put it down.
Suspend: Situation power (pup can’t "fight or flight" in this situation).
Eye contact: Visually dominate (when the pup looks away, go to the next step).
Hug: Physically dominate (pressing the pup’s body against your own).
Cradle: Position control (the pup is held cradled in a subordinate posture).
Reward: Give a very small bit of a tasty food (e.g. piece of freeze dried liver).
Generalize: Have other members of the staff also do suspension.

...::::::: Copyright 2000-2009 Rolan Tripp, DVM :::::::...