Animal handling skills don’t just involve various methods of safe, effective restraint for medical procedures. It also includes safely approaching a frightened dog, leash-walking rambunctious puppies, picking up aggressive cats, and handling animals so they remain calm throughout an examination. In other words, animal handling skills are any techniques used to approach, manipulate, and keep calm an animal, as well as any methods of restraint used to protect yourself and others, and specialized restraint methods devised to allow various medical procedures to be performed.
This last few examples depend heavily on the person’s ability to read an animal’s body language, infer its mood, and tailor his or her approach and handling accordingly. The importance of taking into account an animal’s emotions cannot be overstated, since it should inform which methods of handling and restraint you use. I could go through and list all the various methods of restraint, and when I’ve used them and why, but I’m pretty sure that would be boring and, ultimately, wouldn’t help you. Animal handling is something you have to learn for yourself, over time and through lots of practice.
Honestly, I think the easiest way to get some basic animal handling skills is by volunteering at your local humane society. Not only will it give you unique insight into the issues of stray animal populations, but you get to see and handle a large variety of animals, from cats and dogs to ferrets, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, and birds. Humane societies and other shelters really appreciate the help as well, and if you tell them you’re looking to go to vet school, they will let you work with the vet when he or she comes by to examine the new arrivals.
Other ways to gain some animal handling skills would be to pet-sit for neighbors; work with a groomer; or get a job at a horse barn, mucking out stables and letting horses out to pasture. Several of my peers picked up some milking shifts at local dairies during undergraduate college. Once you have gained some handling skills, more doors will open now that you can be safe with animals.