Husbandry: No, It Isn’t About Marriage

Posted 2 Mar 2018

Put yourself in this situation: During zoomies, your puppy has taken a fall. You aren’t sure what’s wrong but you know something isn’t right, so you take them to the vet to get everything checked out. However, now your darling pupper has become a growly monster from the deep. Never fear! All it takes is a little husbandry training to ensure you never see Grumpy Pup at the vets again. 

You can’t blame your dog. They’re scared, maybe sick or in pain, and suddenly, they’re in a strange white room that smells like a billion other animals. The clinical light is shining down, temperatures are being taken, mum or dad is stressed, the weird person in the lab coat is touching the sore area. It’s stressful, right? None of us like going to the doctors, and it’s the same for our puppies, so you can understand why injured and sick animals have the propensity to lash out. This is where the concept of husbandry training comes into play. Throughout our education on animal training and care, all the trainers at SFD are taught the importance of husbandry, and therefore we emphasise on it throughout all our different classes.  
So, what is husbandry training, and why do we harp on about it? Husbandry training is essentially utilising training in a way that creates positive associations with places such as vets and kennels, and uses different learned behaviours to make the stressful parts of your dog’s life a more pleasant experience. A perfect example to highlight the importance of husbandry training is something as run-of-the-mill as teaching your dog a roll-over. Ok, yes, teaching your dog to roll-over is incredibly cute, and so much fun to show off to your friends and family. I can hear the echo of “Look what my dog can do!” from countless graduating SFD students now. Despite the cuteness of this behaviour, it can be extremely useful when trying to inspect your dog’ stomach, whether for stitch removal, rash and tick checks, or even just a good old belly rub. Trying to wrestle your dog into a position that their belly can be checked is going to be stressful for both parties, and teach your dog that someone coming near their belly means it’s not time to stress, which can lead to a negative impact on the relationship between animal and human. Therefore, asking your dog for the roll-over that they have done a billion times beforehand means that something positive (treat parties!!) is paired with something not so fun (tummy inspections) and as a result, in the dog’s mind at least, these two are linked, and it’s happy days from here on out. Essentially, pretty much every dog “trick” has a husbandry reason. You’ve taught your dog a shake? Now you have a way to inspect and clip their nails. Your dog knows how to target to something? Perfect, now you can manoeuvre them on and off the scales or vet table. Rover knows how to smile on cue? Bam! Now you can inspect his teeth. All of these little tips and tricks can be used to make the few times your dog is sick or injured not too bad. 
Now, why do we need husbandry training? As I mentioned above, your puppy is scared, stressed, and maybe injured or sick, so they are already over threshold and in a stressed frame of mind. Then the vet comes along. Are they heroes? Undoubtedly. As you can imagine, often the amount of time a vet spends on animal is critical, and therefore the handling of an animal in a way that isn’t stressful is a luxury many can’t afford, and results in many animals having a negative association with handling of sensitive areas. Therefore, it is vital that we, as responsible animal parents, undertake at least some form of husbandry training that will turn Mr Growly Stressed Dog into Mr Happy Just Feeling Kinda Sick Dog. Of course, for any clarification or advice on husbandry, contact the trainers at RSPCA School for Dogs for advice, or better yet come to one of our many classes and learn first-hand from our wonderful professionals.  
Looking forward to seeing you in the future