Cones of shame: how to make them less scary

Cones of shame are an inevitable part of your pet’s life. At some point they’ll come home from a vet visit wearing one. Most pets don’t like them or are afraid of them. Some will try anything to remove them. The quicker you get your pet used to wearing one, the less stressful his/her next visit will be.

Cones of shame: why they need them

Cones of shame, also sometimes nicknamed satellite dishes, are those large plastic collars that protrude from your pet’s neck and over his/her face after a vet visit which the vet will tell you must remain in place for several days at least. These are necessary to keep pets from licking a surgical site, wound or hot spot; chewing off bandages or splints; or scratching their ears or face.

By desensitising your pet to wearing a cone, it will be less stressful for your pet if and when they need to use one. There are several types of cones available some of which are more comfortable for the animal.

Getting your pets used to them

Desensitisation is only effective if your pet remains calm. If your pet becomes distressed, you will need to find a way to make the training easier.
Step 1- Introduction
• Leave the cone assembled in a corner of a familiar room
• Place it wide part down so that it is least likely to move
• Put treats around the outer rim of the collar
• Once a day check on the cone and put out new treats if your dog ate the previous treats
• If your pet is comfortable approaching the cone for treats, proceed to the next step
Step 2- Interaction
• Lay the cone on its side
• Put treats in and around the cone
• Encourage your dog to approach and get treats from the cone
• Your dog should see this as a game and want to move the cone for the treats
• Repeat as necessary to increase your dog’s comfort with the cone
Step 3- Hold the cone
• Encourage your dog to approach you while you hold the cone
• Choose to feed with either the hand holding the cone or the free hand based on your dog’s comfort
• Gradually work on getting your dog to approach the narrow opening and eat treats held in a hand in the cone
• Start with a hand in the cone, eventually moving the hand away from the narrow opening so your dog has to place their head through the narrow opening of the cone to eat the treats
• For dogs who are afraid of the cone while it is in your hand, back up to step two or try leaving it on the floor and steadying it with your hand so they can approach it and eat the treats. You could also try using a higher value treat.
• Repeat this step, only if your dog is eagerly participating
Step 4- Head in the cone
• Hold the cone as in step 3
• Have your treat hand inside the cone far enough away from the narrow opening that your dog has to put their head all the way through the narrow opening to get the treats
• Hold the cone so your dog can back out comfortably without the collar getting stuck on their head
• Repeat this step encouraging your dog to slip their head in and out of the cone with ease
Step 5- Wearing the cone
• Repeat the process from step 4, but this time allow the cone to rest on your dog’s neck and feed them treats
– If your dog is comfortable, feed them treats
– If not, help them out of the cone and back up to an easier step
• If they can keep the cone on, encourage your dog to walk to get a treat
• Repeat this process so that your dog can feel comfortable wearing the cone and walking around the house
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