In my previous blog entry I described having a connection with the wild animals I work with and how I saw zoo caretakers asking their animal to cooperate with procedures such as blood collection and nail trims. This is not physically forcing an animal to do anything. There is give and take between the animal caretaker and the animal.
I have seen how skilled animal control officers understand and practice this with dogs. They work with the personality of that individual dog. They work with it and entice it if they can. And if the animal control officer is not sincere in his or her enticements (i.e. “I am going to catch you whether you want to be caught or not” instead of “Yes, I really want to help you by getting you off the streets”) – if the handler is not sincere, the dog will feel it and the capture may not be successful and will likely NOT be as easy or calm as it could have been.
People have said that the Y pole is a waste of time and will not catch anything. If those people use the Y pole as a stick just with physical force, then they are completely correct. But many people understand that when a dog is terribly afraid and won’t allow anyone to touch it, calm mannerisms and conveying compassion can build enough tolerance or trust to allow you to pet the animal with the Y pole or handle it in other ways. Once this has been successful, the animal has usually submitted or is relaxed enough for you to place the Y pole over the neck and a towel over the head. Then usually it will relax even more.
At times when I have caught street dogs, many of which have never been touched by people, the initial capture with the net or leash (if they are dozing off with people milling around) gets to be a bit of a circus. The dog is understandably terrified and will struggle to escape or protect itself. Obviously my goal is to get the animal under control as safely, humanely, and quickly as possible. At the end of that struggle it is easy for us to get very tense and worked up. We tend to keep the tension in ourselves much longer than the animal does.
In my courses I always teach that, “The crazier the animal gets, the calmer you should be.” It is so remarkable to see a dog stop struggling only to notice how relaxed and calm you are! Although touching truly feral animals can be stressful for them, in the right situations just after the struggle (even if a dog is in the net), it is very effective to give the dog the softest most compassionate petting you can possible create. I swear, some dogs suddenly notice something soothing and look up to see who you really are! It is really cool.
Successful dog handling is not just physical. It involves having empathy for the animal, understanding how it may be feeling (is it truly aggressive or just very afraid?), and utilizing the feelings and behavior of the animal to help you be successful. It also involves you choosing to be calm and compassionate and understanding that the dog feels whatever tension you are carrying.