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Embracing the Dog Friendly Clinic Scheme: My Reasons for Joining

Earlier this year I was excited to fulfil a years-long ambition to become an officially recognised 'Dog Friendly Advocate'. This month I want to explain a bit about the Dog Friendly Clinic scheme and what it means for the dogs in my care.

Carole displaying her Dog Friendly Scheme certificate and badge

The Dog Friendly Clinic scheme is a joint project between the British Veterinary Behaviour Association (BVBA) and Dogs Trust (DT). Their website states:

The aim of the scheme is to reduce any stress brought about by the necessary provision of veterinary care and to make the provision of veterinary care the most comfortable experience possible for everyone involved.” (1)

We know that despite veterinary care being an essential part of dogs’ lives, many of them may find the experience stressful.  This experience may be exacerbated if the animal already suffers from anxiety or is in pain or discomfort.

I have long had an interest in behavioural medicine and especially how behaviour and pain are inherently linked. When I was a young farm vet I used to visit an excellent physiotherapist on a regular basis to sort out my muscular ailments derived from picking up horses' feet or castrating young bullocks!  She had a poster on the waiting room wall that stuck with me. It read:

Sign reading 'How you FEEL about your pain affects how it makes you FEEL'

She was aware, like most musculoskeletal therapists were back then, of the link between our pain and our emotional state. She was also the first to point out to me that my regular visits to her for physical relief of pain, were linked to my stress levels.

Stress > pain; pain > stress. It can work both ways. If I am a dog who is already anxious about being in a veterinary clinic because of the smells, the noises and memories of previous visits, my sympathetic nervous system (the ‘fight or flight response’) is on high alert, I have cortisol and adrenaline coursing through my veins and these will lead to a cascade of chemical changes in the nervous system which can increase my perception of any pain I already have.  

However, if I have previously enjoyed vet visits, but today I have injured myself and therefore feel pain when a vet is prodding or pulling my sore bits, and unable to get away from the excitable puppy in the waiting area, I will be feeling anxious, my muscles are tensed and my posture is guarded to ward off unwanted attention.  And so this can lead to more pain sensations.

Most practitioners, human and veterinary, who deal with chronic pain now know that we need to tackle this emotional influence as well as the tissue damage or inflammation that may be present in order to effectively manage pain.  In fact the course I am currently pursuing in Chronic Pain Management actually talks about 4 aspects of chronic pain:

  • Sensory (what we feel physically)

  • Affective (What we feel emotionally)

  • Cognitive (what we think and believe about our pain) and

  • Motor (how the pain changes how we move)

Of these, only the sensory component can be effectively managed by pain-relieving medication, and so if your pet is on just pain medication for a chronically painful condition we are not tackling the three other factors at all. This is what my Recover Programme aims to correct (see my previous blogpost for more info on that!)

Anyway back to the Dog Friendly Clinic scheme. Having already been aware that reducing stress and handling my patients sensitively, being aware of their body language etc. can make a difference to how they feel -  about me, or about acupuncture, as well as their pain levels - I felt it was important as a pain specialist to undertake some formal training in this area to ensure I wasn’t missing any vital aspects, and so I was keen to undertake the Dog Friendly accreditation.

The scheme can cover either a whole clinic or individual vets can become a Dog Friendly Advocate (unlike the long-running Cat Friendly Clinic scheme which is clinic only).

Upon application I had to study a series of articles and then complete an assessment form detailing how I would apply these principles in practice, both in a clinic setting and in my individual approach to my patients. 

The articles covered:

  • an introduction to dog-typical behaviour and communication

  • advice for implementing behavioural knowledge in the veterinary context

  • guidance on preparing the clinical environment to reduce stress and promote positive experiences

  • tools to help enhance the client-clinic bond through positive patient, owner, and clinic interactions.

I then had to submit two videos demonstrating my use of these principles in real life situations. 

It was lovely to receive the news that I had been successful in my application, along with the feedback: "Your application was very comprehensive and demonstrated your understanding of canine behavioural welfare. Your video of the low stress handling in particular really showed your patience and care when handling dogs"

By utilising low stress handling techniques and having a good understanding of canine body

language, as a Dog Friendly Vet I can help reduce associated stress during examinations, and use this knowledge to implement measures which minimise fear and stress in my canine patients.

Any person becoming part of the Dog Friendly scheme must abide by the principles of using measures and techniques that aim to reduce discomfort or fear in a dog, and positive reinforcement of wanted behaviours.

I hope that this accreditation will reassure dog owners that I will be approaching their pet and handling them in as gentle and compassionate a way as possible. So what might you see that is different?

The first obvious difference is time. I am thankful that don't have the constraints of a busy veterinary practice environment, with 10-15 minute appointments, nurses or reception staff popping in for some advice or important messages. I am thankful that I can give you and your pet all the time they need to carry out my examination and treatment. This sets the tone for the rest of the session.

Staged examinations. You may notice that I don’t do all the usual range of limb movement testing that a vet in clinic may have done, especially at my first visit. If the referring vet’s notes say ‘pain when hip flexed’ I will believe them! I don’t have to cause your pet pain to prove it to myself.  If your pet is a bit nervous I can stage the full examination over a few visits.

I actively encourage the use of treats and lick mats during sessions, not only as a distraction technique but because licking and using scent inputs actively promotes the release of endorphins and other relaxing chemicals in the brain. (2)

Chocolate labrador undergoing acupuncture treatment while licking a lick mat

Responding to your pet's body language. If your pet shows subtle signs that they are not enjoying my handling, such as leaning away, giving me a side-eye or licking their lips a lot, I may back off and give them a 5 minute break before trying again. 

Staged treatment sessions. Similarly, if I am placing needles in your pet and I inadvertently needle a painful area, and they let me know, I will stop there. I will make a note of it, and I may try alternative points around that area instead, after a suitable break.

Reliable advice. If I feel that your pet’s behavioural signs are in need of further professional help, I will signpost you to reliable sources for that help, rather than leave you to the mercy of the many unregulated social media savvy behavioural ‘experts’.

If you have any questions about the Dog Friendly Scheme or anything raised in this blogpost, drop me an email at 

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