Thursday, December 20, 2018

One overlooked detail could be hampering your dog walking efforts

Being out on an adventure with our dogs is a fun way to engage with them and is great for our mutual well-being. As a professional, I've had the opportunity to try out different leashes and other pieces of equipment, for example, harnesses—my requisite choice—to enhance the experience for myself and the dog I'm with. Comfort and safety are paramount for both of us, and since I'm in the driver's seat so to speak, it's up to me to ensure that and to gauge if my 'passenger' is having trouble. 

Safety and ethics

There are things that, for safety, ethical and professional reasons, I unable to use: choke, prong and shock collars and retractable leashes—the latter being my focus here—are off limits.

Many families love them, and it's not hard to see why. They offer dogs more space to roam while still being tethered, the lead itself retracts back into the handset as the dog moves closer and further away. Some models have lights and even a dog waste dispenser attached to them. 

Convenience is attractive. But it, like other things, comes with a trade off: safety. Are you willing to sacrifice that? I hope not. Though there's an inherent level of liability that comes with having a pet in our custody when we're out in public, there are just too many variables that are not predictable and can contribute to very dicey situations. I've addressed this in past posts, so feel free to click here and here for more on that. 

An equally important issue

There's is another issue with retractable leashes that I find dogs don't like and it's easy to overlook. Though I find this is more the case with dogs that are touch-averse, it's not limited to them. The constant tugging feeling of the lead as it releases and retracts when a dog moves toward and away from the handler. It's distracting for the dog and to some degree can be confusing for them—after all, the leash itself is a communication conduit of sorts between dog and handler. At least that's what I've always felt. I've tested this theory on several of my canine charges, and overwhelmingly, a traditional leash yields more favorable interactions.

If your dog isn't doing as great on leash as you'd like and you're still using a retractable, consider instead using a lightweight, comfortable leash (it does not need to be expensive, just sturdy) that feels good in your hand. A lightweight leash can help mitigate any undesirable sensation (the constant tugging) at the point of contact and improve the dog's ability to focus on the things that are most important during a walk: any clear communication that you offer up, and having fun. 

A final word 

Many families note that they prefer that their dog be afforded more distance to roam when out on adventure, and that a retractable gives them that flexibility. My solution—one that I employ professionally—is to use a 20 foot long training lead. Typically made from lightweight cotton web, they are inexpensive, easy to find and can be let out to extend to the full 20 foot distance when safe to do so. Having one would be a great investment. 

Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion, and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's also a member of Doggone Safe (where she completed the Speak Dog Certificate Program), as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, Pet Sitters International, Pet Professional Guild, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (supporting member) and Ann Arbor Area Pet Sitters. Lorrie can be found at She tweets at @psa2.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Offering advice about a pet's serious medical or behavioral issue requires permission, context and sensitivity

Having a pet with a chronic illness that requires special care can be hard. The same is true if you have a pet with a life limiting diagnosis, or if you have a pet with profound mobility issues or behavioral limitations. Though enriching, sharing life with these loves, it can be mentally draining, especially when the situation lends itself to being progressive.

And there’s never any shortage of unsolicited though well-intentioned advice about all-things-behavioral-or-medical when it comes to pets. I hear a lot of chatter about what a family should do through my own filter as a pet care professional—especially on my social media feeds where everyone can speak up—and I’m able to appreciate the thoughtfulness that is intended by other pet owners. I'll admit that feeling is also cobbled with a tinge of uneasiness.

We don’t like to see others suffer, and a natural instinct is to react.

'You have a cold? Here, you should take this and then do that.'

Sound familiar? 

To me, it doesn’t feel as though people want to act like a know-it-all necessarily or actively seek to interject themselves into a situation. I like to say that we are allergic to suffering. And if we recognize a type of suffering, it's tribal: I see your pain, I feel your pain, I’ve known your pain. Here is how, looking back I would have addressed it or this is how I did. 

Nothing has taught me more in working around death and grief than that we humans inherently want to reach out and fix, to remove what we see as wrong or troublesome or broken. We don't want pets or other humans to struggle so much. And sometimes, they need not: things can be fixed, illnesses can be cured, hurdles jumped, palliative and hospice care can extend the number of really good days by providing solid comfort care and emotional support. We have the world of veterinary and integrative medicine that has come so much further than sometimes financial and emotional resources of families can allow; the knowledge of how we can help dogs and cats to expand what I call their proverbial sandbox through behavioral management and enrichment; the ability to offer more options for healing and physical freedom to pets with limitations with their mobility. 

It's my job to know what's out there, what's available, working with families in capacities not just as a Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner, and as someone who acts as a resource and in a supportive role with families who are facing a pet's diagnosed chronic or life-limiting illness or age-related decline. I can attest to the fact that, yes—there are all kinds of wonderful ideas to help pets and their families. And I'm happy to help families get plugged in to the options that are a fit. But in doing so, I must to first be observant and sensitive in my conversations with them and what they demonstrate to me—often paying attention to those spaces in between that could easily go unnoticed. I need to understand the context and the dynamics of a situation. 

For many families, they've likely heard all about the tricks and tools and products and treatments and studies that could help (because, well the Internet), but in their pet's case, no, they wouldn't be beneficial.

I'd learned quickly to not be a know-it-all, but instead to be acutely aware that a family's resources, financially and with time can be thin, as can their physical ability or emotional bandwidth. Access to specialists or the right veterinary facilities can be limited, geographically, and ditto with regard to those professionals that work with pets to enhance their well-being behaviorally. The truth is that sometimes, getting the right help in place for a pet isn't dependent upon any of that so much, families find a way. It's just that the pet won't make space for it, they can't tolerate the standard never mind the integrative therapies that might make a difference and equipment like wheelchairs, booties, slings, acupuncture, chiropractic? Forget it. In a lot of cases, a pet is touch–averse and can't tolerate being physically handled. The pet won't give permission in some cases, and we need that in order for things to work, short or long term. I can't tell you how many families have cupboards of medicines, closets full of costly tools and products (booties and wheelchairs are the most common) and stories about treatment options that weren't a fit and ended up being useless in their efforts to help their pet. But, oh, have these families done their best, no matter the situation or circumstances.

So, you can see that my sage advice—though well-meaning, would fall far short of my intended mark and only alienate and diminish the family if I simply asked questions the wrong way or interjected what would be seen as my useless knowledge. In my efforts to serve, the best strategy that I follow is to be curious and eager to discover what is working for the family to help the pet and maintain their sometimes already stretched human-animal bond. I just listen to them, I hear them, I see them, I support them. That doesn't mean that I forgo using my expertise to offer suggestions and options about enhancing the pet's and family's quality-of-life, I've just learned to tread thoughtfully and in some circumstances, I get permission before proceeding. That's something that each and every one of us can practice. Doing anything different than that has the propensity to cultivate a sense of you're not doing this right, a sense of shame and guilt and that isn't something anyone with a pet in need of special care requires.

With over 20 years of experience in pet care and the past 8 of those focused on animal 
hospice, Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner and Certified Fear Free Professional. She is CXO of Telos Companion Animal Services, LLC and can be found at