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What is Cooperative Care?

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Featured in the Fall 2018 IAABC journal.

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What is Cooperative Care?

Cooperative care involves training an animal to not only tolerate handling and husbandry procedures, but to be an active, willing participant in these experiences.

Cooperative care is quite common in zoos, where large or potentially dangerous animals cannot otherwise be safely handled without physical or chemical restraint. For example, hippos can be taught to hold their mouths open for dental treatments, lions can be taught to offer their tails for a blood draw, and gorillas can be taught to sit still for cardiac ultrasounds.

One of the most important aspects of teaching cooperative care is that the animal is allowed to “say no.” They can indicate using a non-aggressive, safe behavior that they want the procedure to stop. Teaching a duration target behavior is a vital foundation in cooperative care – not only does it help to keep the animal still, but we teach the animal through the process that if at any time they break the target position (lift their head, etc.), then the handling procedure will stop.

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