Over the past few years, various certification programs to reduce fear, anxiety, and aggression in animals receiving veterinary care have been established. Currently, four of the most well known of these programs are:
- Cat Friendly Practice®
- American Association of Feline Practitioners
- Low Stress Handling® Certification
- CattleDog Publishing, founded by Dr. Sophia Yin
- Karen Pryor Clicker Training
- Karen Pryor Academy
- Fear Free℠
- Fear Free, LLC, headed by Dr. Marty Becker
Other sources for learning how to reduce pet fear and aggression during veterinary care also exist, such as a day of handling labs and lectures at VMX (formerly NAVC) and the Animal Behavior Network program by Dr. Rolan Tripp.
There are numerous choices in how to become educated in less stressful veterinary care. Each program has authors, contributors, marketing teams, websites, exhibitor booths, and seminar speakers. Financial support for each of the programs does vary and can come from corporate sponsorship, private funding via sales (un-sponsored), or association affiliation. Each program has their own policies for access to educational resources such as handouts, webinars, videos, lectures, books, or DVDs. Some programs offer free resources, some programs require membership for access, and other programs are a blend of the two. Each program has their own policies for use of trademarked/service marked words, images, logos, and content. Financing is part of the business of education because websites do not run for free, online platforms cost money to host, staff needs to be paid, and marketing and advertising is needed to promote these programs.
The cost to the student for certification programs or immersive seminars can be expensive. When an employer is paying for your certification, the cost can be even higher – employee hours may need to be paid during learning if this is a job requirement and if this employee leaves the workplace, that investment in the employee goes with them. A practice manager or other staff person will need to track staff progress. This is a worthwhile investment, yet be aware that the time and management cost is often more than the price per student. The return on investment is an important factor for all practices to consider when analyzing certification benefits. So, if the cost for the certification is higher than what the practice budget can allow this year, then certification is not going to happen. There are several avenues that a practice can take to be Low Stress educated without the stress or financial burdens of certification programs.
- Attending speaking tracks at conferences that one is already attending
- Downloading the posters and handouts on body language and animal behavior on the CattleDog Publishing website
- Watch the various open source YouTube channels for Dr. Sophia Yin, Catalyst Council, and Dr. Sally J. Foote
- Purchase the Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats book, by Dr. Sophia Yin, and share that with the staff.
With this education, a practice can change and become part of the transformation of veterinary medicine.
As the Executive Director of CattleDog Publishing, I am partially responsible for the financial solvency of the company. We do not receive any sponsorship for the development of educational products like the Low Stress Handling® Certification program, for the supporting of business operations, or for marketing. This was a personal choice by Dr. Sophia Yin, the founder of the company, to which we still adhere. Dr. Yin’s policy to provide free posters, blog access, and short educational videos is also honored and central to the mission of the company. Our slow-growth strategy, unbiased and unaffected by sponsorship, was very important to Dr. Yin and has worked well for our company. Some certification programs may require membership or continued payment for access to program resources; this is a common business model that provides the money to grow and develop quickly and protect branding. In short, it takes money to create, maintain, and develop educational programs. These strategies will differ between programs and is a part of that program’s identity.
There is a fine line between a certification program promoting and advertising certified members and creating a “we are better than you” image or creating a public image that non-certified professionals have no knowledge or skills. Recently articles informing of a national marketing campaign directing consumers to Fear Free℠ certified practices have been published. The approach in these articles makes sense for increasing awareness of the program and an opportunity for sponsor exposure. An article in the December 2017 Midwest Veterinary Supply magazine, however, has created some stir within the veterinary community. The tone of the article, intended or not, gives the impression that non-Fear Free℠ certified practices will lose clients and may not be able to exist, simply because they are not Fear Free℠ certified. This assertion was taken as a challenge by many veterinary practitioners and has begun to develop into a sense of division within the veterinary community. Fear Free℠ is a wonderful program, but at the same time, it is not the only certification / educational program that has many numerous benefits to the veterinary practice and industry.
Veterinary medicine is a small profession. Individual practices do not have deep pockets to invest in every certification and educational program available. There are many practices that use techniques in reducing fear and stress in patients and do a good job at it. They may even become certified in one program or another in the future if they are encouraged and feel accepted. When change is happening, it takes time. As a general practitioner in a solo practice in rural Illinois, I can attest to the real-life costs of running a practice. I, like many other practice owners, have to weigh the costs and benefits of all the various certification programs out there and decide for my practice in my community what blend of education, staffing costs, and benefits to my patients and practice works best at that time. If someone inferred that I was not “adequate” or “qualified” in pain management simply because I am not certified in this, I would be offended. I am both knowledgeable and skillful in pain management, yet the costs of this certification, on top of my other professional certifications and requirements needed for my practice, is too much. I, like many others, appreciate the acknowledgement that my knowledge and skill base is still “adequate” and “qualified,” despite my lack of certification.
The Low Stress Handling® Certification program has a registry of certified individuals and organizations (in development – available in early 2018), wherein we offer ways to promote those who are certified through our program, yet we also support those who are engaging in Low Stress education at any level and through any certification program. “To all of the dogs and cats who could have had a better hospital experience” is the dedication of the Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats book by Dr. Sophia Yin. A better hospital experience starts one step at a time. Small changes count – you are part of the change in veterinary medicine when you use even one technique from this book or any other resource you use. Please support your local veterinary clinic, staff, and all animal professionals who are a part of “a better hospital experience”.
Dr Sally J Foote,