A Profound Experience Filming Dog Handling

Filming Dog Handling

I just returned from Seattle to film humane methods in dog capture and handling to train disaster responders.  My colleagues were former students, Shawndra Michell, who specializes in film making and Linda McCoy, who runs Happy Hounds Hotel in Sammamish, WA.  Linda’s hotel specializes in large dogs and can offer special care for dogs needing socializing.  Shawndra and Linda, like myself, volunteered rescuing dogs after Hurricane Katrina and they are members of the Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART).  After taking my course in Olympia, they were inspired to get my training on video and gathered camera equipment, dogs, and volunteers to film at Linda’s hotel.

Volunteers brought dogs who were typically large and fearful, many were pitbulls, and most of them were rescued animals being socialized. The owners were willing to share their four legged family members because they knew that through this filming their dogs would help dogs all around the world.  They also knew that this was a fresh approach in humane dog handling.

Filming Scruff with Leash Muzzle Wrap

The topics we filmed included: 1) calm, compassionate methods of physical restraint such as the scruff, leash muzzle wrap, lateral restraint, and hobbling, 2) Dr. Mark demonstrating how to use the Y pole with a fearful dog, 3) new people using the Y pole with a fearful dog for the first time, 4) how to lift and crate a dog into a crate, 5) how to catch a dog running in a large pen, and 6) how to lead a dog into a crate using a long line and a Y pole.   In some cases we filmed how the procedures did not work!  (no procedure works every time).   I will post some of the video on this blog, our website, and on our GWRFeralDogs YouTube Channel as soon as segments become available.

It was a very profound experience for myself, the camera crew, and volunteers.  And through it all, the owners can testify that their dogs were no worse and sometimes better for the experience of being handled.

It was profound for me to see the changes in the dogs after their experience.  Handling street dogs who must be captured is one thing, but asking someone’s socialized (but still fearful) dog to submit to the Y pole and get handled was difficult for me.   I do not want to make any dog more afraid of people after my handling, especially not someone’s pet!  And so after every filming segment, the owner would let me spend a moment with the dog so I could reassure the dog and evaluate my impact from the handling.

Confirming Our Friendship After Filming

It was remarkable to see how some fearful dogs were more comfortable with people (including me) after the handling experience even though they had been cornered with Y poles, covered with a towel, slowly lowered to the ground and their feet taken out from under them, then hobbled and slowly released from all of the handling.  Ruby in particular was a rescued pit bull who was very afraid of people, especially men.  When we removed the hobbles and towel, she was a bit rattled, but accepted treats and moved among both men and women accepting pets. Something significant – and good – happened to her.  She had been asked to briefly give up her protection only to find it to be a safe and kind experience.

And it was also profound for the volunteers.  A fundamental aspect in the dog handling I promote is to observe ourselves as well as the dog.  If we observe ourselves before we begin our handling and look at our own behavior throughout, we can relax and settle our energy to help the dog settle and feel more safe.

The Camera Crew - Linda, Mark, Shawndra, Andrew

One volunteer, Suzie, handled a dog with the Y pole for the first time.  She was hesitant and did not really know how much pressure to put on the dog.  Her energy was all in her shoulders as she held onto the Y pole.   The dog slipped away feeling no reason to accommodate.  After the attempt, we evaluated what she was doing and what she was “being”.   Holding the Y pole, she put pressure on my knee and learned how much pressure to apply (very little), but she also learned how it felt to settle her energy down to her belly (her “one point”) and generate a compassionate strength from her core.  It was very empowering for her.

The camera crew was in awe over the dog’s relatively relaxed expressions as they were handled.  For example, even with the proper two-handed scruff holding the head, the dog was given a way to relax and it showed in their eyes.  And like me, the crew was amazed at how safe each dog felt with us after this conscious approach to capture and handling.  Dr. Mark

7 Responses

  1. It’s a treat to see my very own rescue dog, Katrina, featured in Mark’s article. It was a remarkable training session; it was my first experience using a Y-pole, and I found it a great tool. Ironically, we had reason to wish we had one with us just two days later, when we were trying to catch a very wary, fearful stray. I believe we could have caught him had we had the Y-pole and the burlap fence Mark showed us how to use. It was a great training experience.

    • Bill,
      Thanks for volunteering to help with filming humane dog handling. It was great working with you. It was also an honor to have you there since you assist with dog rescue operations throughout the U.S. Best wishes, Mark

  2. Just wanted to comment on these handling techniques actually being helpful to pets. I recently adopted a new dog into the household – we discovered that he is hyperactive and fairly high-strung. He’ll be playing with the other dogs, get a little too into it and start behaving aggressively, and when we step in to stop it from becoming a true fight he sometimes snaps at us too. At the same time, raised voices and sudden movements make him fearful.

    Compassionate dominance as explained on your blog has helped a LOT with this particular dog. When he gets ‘spastic’ I find that restraining him until he relaxes and calms down is often the best way to break the cycle of aggression and fearfulness. Once he is calm I can release him and resume gentle playing, so he is learning to keep his play at acceptable levels and not spiral off into aggressive behavior.

    I am especially grateful for the scruffing technique. This is a small dog, a dachshund/beagle mix, and very agile. My usual methods for restraining a large dog simply don’t work on something as limber as the dog we nicknamed Weasel! But scruffing holds him so he cannot bite and cannot escape, and it actually seems to relax him.

    Thank you for providing this resource.

    • Anissa,
      I am very glad these handling techniques are making a difference. For me it feels like a clarity in my relationship with the dog. You are being wonderfully thoughtful and compassionate and over time I hope over time there will progressively be less need for the scruff. Thanks for your comments and for working hard to create a nice home for “”Weasel”. Dr. Mark

  3. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to watch Mark use his calm, centered energy in each situation, and to respectfully take his cues about how to proceed from the body language of the dog. For my own pit bull mix, Zoe Rose, it was a breakthrough experience in that Mark and the volunteers were able to take her through each step, and when she was released, she calmly stayed in the presence of several people, and happily took treats from two men, Mark and Andrew. Normally, she is not at all confident around strangers, especially men.

    Recently, I read about a young companion dog who got loose and was running around in the streets. Local police tried a catch pole, a taser gun, and when these methods didn’t work, they shot her four times as she hid in a neighbor’s yard; she died that day of gunshot wounds. Mark, we need you.

    • Mary Lou,
      Thank you for sharing Zoe Rose for our filming. It was such great affirmation for me to see how open she was to us after so much Y pole work, hobbles, and handling. Mark.

  4. Do you have any more courses like this planned for the future?

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