Around the world, feral or street dogs are often handled strictly with equipment such as snare poles or nets. In India, I once trained some great young men who were dog catchers for a spay/neuter program who had never touched a dog! They had only caught and transported street dogs with nets. They were great at it! But they only recognized one kind of dog – in their eyes every dog was the same and they never attempted to use softer methods for capturing the friendlier dogs.
The body structure and behavior of the dog allows us to physically restrain them with our hands. This is unlike cats which require equipment, equipment, equipment! Physical restraint is a valuable tool for the dog handler. When we get confident to safely and humanely handle dogs with our hands, it gives us options to first try softer capture methods such as catching with a leash when it is safe to do so. It also gives us versatility for what we can do when the dog is in hand. Good physical restraint requires a calm dominance. Even when the dog is struggling in your hands, be calm and give compassion. Dog handlers should be confident in applying several types in order to be versatile in successfully and humanely capturing dogs. These types of restraint include: the scruff, lateral restraint, and hobbling. Part 1 talks about the scruff.
(DO NOT HANDLE ANY DOG UNLESS YOU FEEL IT IS SAFE TO DO SO.)
Here is how to properly scruff a dog. To safely control the dog you must control the head. Many people do not think much about how to do a proper scruff and can compromise the safety of the dog and the handler. Also read my previous blog entry about the Energy of Conflict.
The full scruff is a two-handed hold on the dog’s head. Each ear of the dog should be in the notch of your thumb and the thumbs are parallel on the top of the dogs head pointing forward. Stretch your fingers of each hand toward the corner of the mouth (be careful not to get bit) and curl your fingers to gather up the skin of his cheeks. It should make him grin.
Keep the ears deep in the notch against your thumb to get the most control. Do not let your fingers point to his neck. If you do, you will gather his neck skin which can choke him. People have a habit of shaking the dogs head as if to get a better grip. Do not do this. Not even once. You are sending a message to the dog that you are it’s opponent and wishing to create a fight. Compassionate animal handling is not only the right thing to do, it makes our work safer and easier!
Physical restraint should not be just physical. And physical restraint should not be the same as fighting the animal. It should be combined with heart-felt compassion. Think of using it as a strategy to kindly move the animal into a position you need to do your work. Maybe you need to examine a surgical wound after sterilizing it or giving it antibiotics, or moving it into another pen without a crate.
Think of physical restraint as a way to communicate to the dog. What do you wish to say to that dog? Many dog catchers want to tell the SOB who is in charge. I hope we get away from that common attitude. Around the world I have handled hundreds of street/jungle/beach dogs who have never been touched by a human. I am the first human, so what message do I wish to convey? I would like it to feel kindness. Even with physical restraint, the most intense struggling is typically brief unless you are continuous adding pressure, stress and threat. And when that dog relaxes, it will find me relaxed. Sometimes they look up at me like “who is this guy?”. I even teach people to pet the dog in these situations – as you maintain the physical restraint. The dog’s response is often quite amazing.
As you are holding the animal, watch your Self as you watch the dog. Keep your energy calm and relaxed. The crazier the dog gets, the calmer you should be. Even if it is struggling to escape or defend itself, stay calm and have a kind heart. Feel your body tension. Feel if your energy is up in your shoulders and if so, bring your energy to your center near your navel. If you are feeling tense and fighting the dog, the dog will be tense and defend itself harder. Remember people fighting with the dogs are actually making their situation more difficult and less safe for them and the dog.
Remember the young men I trained in India who had only handled dogs with nets? As they learned how to touch and physically hold the dogs, such as scruffing and lateral restraint they became must more confident and relaxed. And they learned that some dogs really did want to cooperate. They learned to give the dog a chance to be handled in a softer, more relaxed manner while still being safe. It was no longer just mechanical for them. They started evaluating the behavior and recognizing the gentleness and willingness that some dogs offer. And their confidence for all situations got better.
This may be obvious to many of you and that is wonderful. So share that approach with others. There are a myriad of “dog catchers” who are afraid of most dogs or see the dog as the opponent. At times, we all get caught up, get tense, and forget to really look at the animal. Discussions such as this help us remember how to “be” even when the pressure is on.