Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Staying safe when tending to certain tasks that could make your dog ill-at-ease is a must

During the cold or soggy months I joke that I feel like a kindergarten teacher because I spend much of my time bent over putting on dog booties or drying off wet paws, or putting on or removing a charge's fleece jackets.

I get a few laughs from saying that, but in truth it can be a very dangerous situation for me: my face is level to a dog's body, and more easily within reach of my charge's teeth. You get the picture.

The fact is, just like you, I spend a lot of time in physical contact with the dogs in my care all year whether it's putting on a collar, harness or leash, checking them over for ticks or burrs after an adventure or tending to a minor (or goodness forbid) a more serious injury.

Though I am confident that my charges by and large are behaviorally safe around their bonded humans (including myself), there are times that my touching them might become uncomfortable for some reason — or be downright painful, and as you know, canines often try to hide their pain. If I locate an especially painful area that I'm not privy to and/or startle the dog, they can easily act out in response to the pain. This kind of thing is especially prevalent in arthritic dogs.

I don't get up-and-close to my canine friends in a casual way: believe me, there is mindfulness behind my close interaction, though it might seem quite off-the-cuff (years of doing so and relationship-building helps!).

Whether I'm interacting with a fearful or anxious dog, or one that is fine with being touched, I make a point to follow these rules:

Give fair warning: As I build a rapport with a dog, I touch them a lot, an act that builds trust: petting, rubbing their ears, scratching their rump — things that most dogs find positive. As I get to know them, it's then that I incorporate the word "touch" immediately prior to my performing tasks that they not find as favorable, like checking for ticks or burrs, putting on booties or if I am having a look at things around their head or face. The dogs in my care seem to catch onto this quickly and appreciate it.

Keep their mouth busy: Yes, I use a lot of treats in my work and for good reason — they work! In this case, I have them munch on some dog treats as I set about tending to whatever it is that they might not find favorable. If they are happily munching away on a yummy treat, they are less likely to be paying attention as closely to me, they'll associate what I'm doing as something positive and honestly, it's harder to snap or bite if your mouth is full.

Position strategically: Whenever possible, it's ideal to approach a dog from the side, and facing the same direction as they are, as opposed to approaching from from the front. This conveys, "We're working on doing this together, and I'm honoring your space.". (Fearful or anxious canines benefit from this greatly.)

Pay attention to body language: dogs use non-verbal language and they speak clearly when they are uncomfortable. If I see that a dog is not okay with what I'm doing, I stop and give them space. Click here to get a better understanding of how dogs tell us when they are having difficulty in social situations and otherwise.

With a fluid action, If I'm attaching a harness around a dog, as an example, I will have a couple of treats in one hand, the harness in the other, and as I approach I'll say, "Okay, here we go! Touch..." (as I pop a treat into their mouth with my right hand as I slip the harness around their facial area, then another treat as I fasten the harness and clip the leash.)

Staying safe when interacting with my charges, large or small is paramount. By incorporating these tips, you can do the same while trust-building all the while.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a regular contributor for The Ann Arbor News -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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