To Twitch, or not to Twitch?
Yesterday, Lauren and I gave Oni his first bath. He came to us having never bathed before, and he would spook at the mere sound of the hose being turned on. Our first idea was to sponge Oni to get him used to the feeling of water on his body. We thought we would be able to progress from wet sponge to hose, but after a few weeks of sponging him Oni was no more eager to have running water touch him and we were no closer to giving him a bath. Short of forcing the hose on him, we didn’t know what else to do but we also did not want to create a negative experience and scare Oni either. So what do we do? We talked to our trainer and she encouraged us to twitch Oni anytime we wanted him to stand still and accept something he was afraid of. “Use any means necessary to create a positive experience.” is Kate’s motto. I’d never used a twitch before but Lauren had one and we were interested to see how effective it would be, so we broke it out and set out to give Oni his first bath. Oni accepted the twitch with no problem and relaxed after a few minutes with it on his nose. I laughed because he looked like an elephant seal with his nose bound but then I thought, “doesn’t that HURT?!” and I felt bad for twitching him. We got out the shampoo, curry, and hose, and proceeded to wet Oni down, scrub him, and rinse him clean. Bubble bath mission: successful! Without the twitch, we would never have gotten the hose anywhere near Oni. With the twitch we scrubbed him from head to toe.It didn’t seem to bother Oni, but I still wondered, how does it work, and is it humane?
Twitch: A twitch is a device that is used to restrain horses for various stressful situations, such as veterinary treatment. It is usually made up of a stick-like handle loop of chain or rope on the end, or a metal ring with a rope loop which is wrapped around the upper lip of the horse and tightened. Another design, sometimes called a “humane” twitch, is a plier-like clamp that squeezes the lip with motion akin to that seen in a nutcracker. The aluminium screw twitch is yet another form of twitch.
- How it is used:The upper lip of the horse is grasped and the loop of chain or rope is placed around it, then the handle of the twitch is twisted until the loop is firmly around the lip. A wooden handled twitch has the disadvantage that it requires a handler and the handle may injure the horse handler if the horse throws its head. Other twitches may be attached to the halter or head collar. An emergency twitch can be improvised by placing a loop of leather or heavy cord around the nose and tightening it by twisting a stick around and around until it is tightened sufficiently.
- How it works: The twitch works by triggering the release of endorphins from the horse’s brain, producing a calming effect.
- Is it humane?: The twitch is considered a humane method of restraint and is commonly used by horsemen and veterinarians to keep an animal still and quiet. The twitch is not intended for use on any other part of the body of the horse other than the upper lip. It may cause permanent damage and behavioral issues (such as a head-shy horse when used on the ear) if it is used incorrectly. Additionally, if a twitch is left on for an extended period of time, its effects will diminish. This may be because the endorphin levels of the horse are eventually expended, or because the lip goes numb.
So overall, I guess the idea of squeezing Oni’s nose with a metal clamp seems inhumane, but after doing some research and seeing first hand how effective it was I have come to a conclusion on the issue: To twitch or not to twitch?
While it appears to be a cruel and painful practice, Oni did not seem to mind. He did not object to having his nose clamped, and he did not appear to be in any pain while in the twitch. We removed the twitch carefully and palpated his nose afterward. He did not object to having his nose handled after being twitched, and he did not shy away from the twitch after having it on. We were able to safely introduce the hose to Oni and created a positive experience by encouraging him during the bathing process.
I say when used correctly, a twitch is a useful tool for controlling situations and creating positive experiences and I would definately reccomend this method of restraint.