top of page

What is cooperative care and the bucket game?

Updated: Apr 10

Black dog biting brushed during dog board and train program
Black dog biting brushed

Cooperative care for dogs is a practice that emphasizes mutual trust, respect, and collaboration between dogs and their owners during various aspects of care, grooming, and medical procedures. Instead of resorting to restraint or force, cooperative care relies on positive reinforcement, patience, and training to make these experiences less stressful for dogs and more manageable for their human companions. In this blog, we'll explore the principles of cooperative care, its benefits, and practical tips to implement it effectively. We practice cooperative care during all dog Boarding and Training Programs.


Understanding Cooperative Care


Cooperative care is founded on the idea that dogs can be active participants in their own care. Rather than resisting or fearing procedures like nail trimming, ear cleaning, or vet visits, dogs can learn to cooperate willingly. This approach not only reduces stress and anxiety for dogs but also strengthens the bond between dogs and their owners.


Benefits of Cooperative Care


Reduced Stress: Cooperative care techniques focus on creating a positive and stress-free experience for dogs. This reduces the likelihood of dogs becoming anxious or fearful during care routines.


Improved Safety: Cooperative care allows for safer handling during procedures, minimizing the risk of accidental injuries to both the dog and the handler.


Enhanced Trust: Dogs learn to trust their owners as they associate care routines with positive interactions, treats, and rewards. This trust can extend to other aspects of their lives.

Better Behavior: Dogs that are comfortable with cooperative care tend to exhibit better behaviour during vet visits and grooming appointments, making life easier for both them and their owners.


Practical Tips for Implementing Cooperative Care


Start Early: Begin cooperative care practices as early as possible with puppies to establish positive associations from the beginning.


Positive Reinforcement: Use treats, praise, and rewards to reinforce desired behaviours during care routines. Make it a rewarding experience for your dog.


Gradual Desensitization: Introduce care activities gradually and in small steps. For example, start with simply touching your dog's paws before progressing to nail trimming.

Use of Props: Tools like treat-dispensing toys or mats can be helpful to distract and reward your dog during procedures.

Respect Boundaries: Pay attention to your dog's body language. If they show signs of discomfort or stress, pause the activity and give them time to relax.

Consistency: Maintain a consistent routine for care activities, so your dog knows what to expect.


Professional Guidance: Consider working with a positive reinforcement trainer or behaviourist who specializes in cooperative care techniques.


At #CareyTrainsMe we use food rewards, affection, and praise. The bucket game was introduced to me at the BCSPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium 2018 and has been a hit with our board and train dogs ever since.


The Bucket Game – The Game of Choice


This fun and easy animal training game is designed to empower the learners.

By creating an environment where our dogs have a choice and can communicate their intentions to participate.


The Bucket Game gives animals the ability to tell us:

● When they are ready to start

● When they need to take a break

● When they want to stop

● When we need to slow down


The bucket game was designed and brought to the world by Chirag Patel – a training and behaviour expert from Domesticated Manners. Chirag encourages conversations between animals and people.


a. when they are ready to start

b. when they want to take a break

c. when they want to stop

d. when they want us to slow down


The bucket game can be used in many instances, not only for husbandry training and caregiving

behaviours, but also as a confidence builder, phobia reducer and for fun.


This game uses shaping, targeting, stationing and many other behavioural principles in a way that makes it fun for both the dog and the caregiver.


What you will need:


● A bucket (size appropriate for your learner)

● Rewards (high value food or toys)

● A bed/mat or safe place

● Access to water

● The tools that you will be using, a brush, nail trimmers, ear cleaner if you are cleaning ears etc.


Bucket Game Steps


Step 1: Teaching manners and impulse control around the bucket (put your reinforcement in the bucket)


Start by putting the rewards in the bucket and holding the bucket out to the side.

Reward your dog for looking at the bucket but maintaining some distance from it (20-50cm), with the rewards from the bucket.


You can put the bucket on the ground/chair and reward the dog for looking at it but not jumping in it.


It doesn’t matter what position your animal is in (sit/down/stand). What you are rewarding for is engagement with the bucket.


Start reinforcing when the animal maintains eye contact with the bucket for longer durations.



increase your criteria too soon or quickly as this may cause your learner confusion.

The dog is allowed to look around between focusing on the bucket – remember this is a game of choice and a conversation between you and them. No need to call them, shake the bucket, tug on lead etc. Let your dog choose to engage to participate in the training program.


Allowing access to a bed/mat and water – will give your animal confidence that they can take a break as needed and is recommended for all training sessions.


Step 2: Choose what you want to train the dog to do – for this example – A dog being



Wait until your dog can focus on the bucket (remember it doesn’t matter what position the dog is in – it could be a sit/down/stand).


When your is focused on the bucket and able to hold his focus for a few seconds, start moving your hand to their side (not touching them etc). Do this with and without the brush.


At this point they can choose to continue to look at the bucket – and if they do they will be rewarded. If they look at my hand, they have communicated that they are uncomfortable, and I will stop – remember the game of choice.


When your dog re-engages with the bucket, the game begins again. This time, don’t move the hand so fast or far. If they can maintain focus on the bucket – they are rewarded.

This continues until the dog can be brushed, examined, trimmed etc.



The game of choice will only work if you allow the dog to communicate that they wish to begin, break and stop the game.


If the dog looks away from the bucket, the game breaks/stops. When they re-engage with the

bucket, the game continues. Be prepared to take many breaks.



Domesticated Manners, (2015). "Teaching with Head & Heart" . [online] Available at:

Patel, C. (2015). The Bucket Game . [online] Available at:


Cooperative care for dogs is a compassionate and effective way to ensure their well-being while fostering a trusting and cooperative relationship. By employing positive reinforcement, patience, and gradual desensitization, you can make care routines enjoyable experiences for your furry friend. Ultimately, cooperative care benefits both dogs and their owners, promoting a healthier and happier life together. So, start building trust and cooperation with your dog today through these gentle and positive techniques.



Beoordeeld met 0 uit 5 sterren.
Nog geen beoordelingen

Voeg een beoordeling toe
bottom of page