5 Tips for Handling Dogs and Cats in a Caring Manner

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By Dr. Sophia Yin

Updated 04/07/2021

Frequently in our jobs at veterinary hospitals, shelters or even boarding facilities, we’re so used to dealing with animals and trying to get our jobs done quickly that we forget how our actions can affect the animal or look to the clients. For instance, Cindy Dean describes two different types of encounters she has had when she takes her dogs to the veterinary hospital she’s been going to for 20 years.

Some of the vets that our dogs have seen do not seem to know how to approach a shy dog,” says Dean. These veterinarians have had trouble examining the dog and have had Dean open the mouth to examine at a distance.

Dean continues, “In general, these vets haven’t taken the time to make him feel comfortable with them or to try to get to know him and would try to “force” him to get his shots and nails done. It was not a pleasant experience for him.

Luckily for Dean, this is not the case for all of the veterinarians at the hospital. She states, “We’ve found a couple of vets there who are ‘animal savvy’ and take their time approaching, giving treats and letting him smell them. They’ve improved even more after attending a half-day Low Stress Handling® Seminar. With the training, they now handle our dog even better, to the point where he is comfortable and friendly with them and allows them to do whatever they need to do—look at his teeth/gums, etc. They were able to give him a full physical without any struggle.” Dean also clarified, “I haven’t seen the other veterinarians since they went through the Low Stress Handling® Training so I don’t know whether they have improved.

Download the free poster How to Handle Patients in a Caring Manner, one of Dr. Sophia Yin’s Essential Low Stress Handling® Posters available for free or donation

While most veterinarians and petcare professionals want to help animals, sometimes even when we are trying to be helpful and friendly, we inadvertently do things that make the animal more uncomfortable or scared, which in turn makes each interaction more laborious and even unsafe. It may seem that some people just have a gift for knowing how to act around animals and others lack it; however, the difference is really about whether they can understand the animal’s point of view. In reality dogs and cats are a lot like us humans. The same things that make them uncomfortable would make us nervous too. Here are five tips that will help you.

Tip 1: Handle cooperatively rather than forcefully.  We wouldn’t want our children handled forcefully for a medical examination. Animals don’t like to be man-handled either. Such handling can establish negative relationships, which can quickly lead to resistance and defensive behavior by the pet. It’s best to learn more cooperative ways for handling pets (and people too!).
Tip 2: Greet your patient first. It’s disconcerting when a medical professional marches into the room and starts manipulating you before you have been properly greeted. The same behavior with animals can really freak them out too. It’s best for veterinary staff and other petcare professionals to spend a little time greeting animals properly before examining them.  That means approaching sideways, moving in a smooth manner and offering something they like, such as a treat. At minimum, give them time to get used to your presence.
Tip 3: Avoid getting angry or shouting. Communicate in a way that puts the patient at ease. You’d probably be pretty shocked if the doctor scolded your child for wiggling during an examination, especially if you knew she was wiggling because the procedure was scary, uncomfortable, or painful. The same demeanor can shock and scare a dog or a cat, or for that matter, a rabbit, bird or horse too. That’s why it’s best to make sure you are handling and communicating with the animal in a way that will put him at ease.
Tip 4: Avoid restraining in a manner that causes fear and panic. Handle in a manner that helps the animal feel comfortable and safe. Some medical professionals resort to using force to hold their young patients down while they are struggling in panic. Those who are more knowledgeable about child behavior can take those same patients and use words to keep them calm and cooperative. The same is true with dogs and cats. It’s best to avoid restraining in a way that causes fear or panic. It’s smarter to put the patient at ease by handling with skill.
Tip 5: Avoid manipulating in a confusing manner. Handle in a way that helps the animal feel supported. We’d be startled if someone tried to manipulate us into position in a confusing manner. Dogs and cats are positioned in a clumsy manner too frequently. It’s essential to guide and position patients skillfully. They should feel supported the entire time rather than off-balance and confused.


These are simple common sense tips that should guide interactions with patients on a daily basis. By keeping them in mind, pet care professionals can not only improve the experience for the patient and client, they can also improve their own satisfaction with their job. Every day becomes a reminder that the reason we working with animals is not just for the money, but because we love animals and want to help them.

Download the free poster: How to Handle Patients in a Caring Manner

For more on Low Stress Handling®, visit the Low Stress Handling® Website and University.

To read more about our Low Stress Handling® products and how they can help your practice,check out the blog post: A Suite of Low Stress Handling Products To Improve the Experience of Dogs and Cats in a Hospital

Dr. Yin passed away in 2014 but her legacy lives on.
updated 04/07/2021

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8 responses to “5 Tips for Handling Dogs and Cats in a Caring Manner

  1. In fact this is the best blog I’ve ever read about how to handle and care pet dogs and pet cats. Graphical illustration has been great. I think I should share this page with my kids as they always handle the dog crate in an insecure manner, they’ll find this helpful.

  2. This information for how to handle pets in a caring manner seems like it would be good for both vets and pet owners to know. There have been a few times when I felt like the only way to get my cat out of her carrier was to drag her out for the vet to examine her. It’s interesting how taking time to greet animals properly before examining them can help them feel more at ease. If doing this can make them more cooperative at the vet, then maybe avoiding handling my cat forcefully can make it easier for me to take better care of her at home. Thanks for posting this information!

  3. I do feel kind of bad for veterinarians. I know that my dog hates going in for his checkup, even with the best vets. He is just really shy and I have a hard time to just get him in the door. I just think of how I feel when I go to the doctor. It is just hard. However, I can imagine it is harder with pets and I do appreciate it when vets are calm and take their time with my dog. For me it is an automatic sign of a good vet.

  4. I really liked the insight you gave about avoiding getting angry or shouting. As you say, communication is a way that puts the patient at ease, which is interesting. That being said, as the pet owner, I would think that specifically looking for vets that communicate well not only with you but when your pet too will help you to find a quality clinic to regularly take your pet to. Thank you for the insight.

  5. I agree that people can mean well but want to get their job done quickly and forget how this affects the animals that they’re working with. You also said that some Veterinarians do not know how to approach a shy dog. I think it’s a good idea to choose a Vet that also has experience in pet nutrition.

  6. My wife and I just bought a puppy for our two kids and want to find someone good. I like how you mention “greeting the patient” first. We want our puppy to be comfortable and at ease with wherever we go. I’ll be sure to keep these tips in mind as we look for a place for our little one.

  7. I liked that you talked about how vets are training to restrain an animal in a way that won’t make it scared. That is a good thing to know about if you are worried about having your pets get shots. I have been thinking about getting a puppy german shepherd soon. So it is good to know that a getting his vaccines done won’t be too stressful if I find a good vet.

  8. Thanks for the great tips for handling a dog with care. We just barely got a new puppy, and I want to take great care of it. This means I also want to find a vet who knows these tips, like not scaring or confusing her when we take her in!

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