By Sophia Yin, DVM, MS
This weekend featured another successful workshop and low stress handling lab in Chicago at Narnia Pet, a fantastic positive-reinforcement based dog-training facility. While I have held most of these labs for veterinarians and their staff, most of the attendees at this lab were dog trainers, groomers, doggie daycare providers, as well as some veterinary hospital staff.
With 9 little dogs and 8 large dogs participating, each team of three to four humans got plenty of practice while keeping the dogs comfortable and happy. We started with an exercise where attendees learned how to lead their large dog into position for a veterinary-type examination. Then they worked on communicating with clarity that they wanted the dog to remain in a sit while the one team member played the veterinarian and calmly approached in a manner that encourage the dog to remain seated and that was comfortable and safe for the pet and the human.
Next we worked on various holds for keeping a large dog stationary and the nuances needed to help keep the dog in an anatomically comfortable position. Attendees learned the importance of keeping a straight back so that their body could serve as a barrier without accidentally creating a triangle of escape between their body the dog and the table. They also learned that some standard holds could be unsafe.
Next, before the big dogs became weary, we switched to the little guys. Again we went through a series of exercise designed to help people learn how to adapt to the pet. Attendees learned that dogs often become agitated when placed in a sit or down because humans generally get them into these positions by placing pressure in the wrong places. This causes the dog to guard itself from injury. They pull the dogs legs out from under him so he feels like he’s falling, or push on the back instead of bending the rear legs when trying to get the dog to sit. Attendees learned to feel correct vs incorrect rather than just memorizing a hold. They closely monitored the dogs for signs of stress and noted that when the hold wasn’t quite right, the dog often stopped taking treats.
Whether trainer or groomer or doggie daycare provider, attendees could see how they could use their knowledge to help both their clients and their pets. I’m guessing that veterinarians in the area will soon be seeing dogs who are much happier to be handled since these exercises may now be incorporated into more puppy classes. Their owners may soon know more than their local vet or technician regarding the proper approach and handling for basic procedures.